The way you communicate in a professional setting says a great deal about you even before the first personal interaction; from a simple business letter, a reader takes clues about your education, awareness of standard practices and attention to detail. By using a standard format, you convey a sense of professionalism and help the reader get right to the message itself.
The basic business letter format is the same across a range of industries, with few variations for content and style. The letter should be left-aligned, single-spaced with a one-inch margin and a standard 11- or 12-point type size. The top line below the letterhead should be the month, day and year, followed by one line of space and the address of the recipient. Place one line of space after the recipient's address and use a simple, professional greeting, followed by a colon and another line of space. Each following paragraph should be separated by a line. Insert one line after the last paragraph, followed by a closing and a comma; leave four lines of space for your signature, and type your name and title.
A well-formatted letter conveys an immediate sense of professionalism to the reader, particularly if it is printed on quality paper and folded neatly. It lets the recipient know that you took the time to craft a letter carefully, even before he reads the content. When it comes time to follow up, the reader will know where to look for the pertinent information, such as the date and return address.
When you use the accepted format for a business letter, it lets the reader know that you have a basic understanding of standard business communication practices. A poorly formatted letter, on the other hand, sends an immediate message to the recipient that you do not have the knowledge or you view the communication as informal; as a result, the content might not get the attention it deserves.
When writing a business letter, your main objective is to get a message across; the design of the letter itself should fade into the background. By using an improper letter layout, you immediately draw attention to the format rather than the message. By following the standard guidelines for the paragraph content -- introducing your point and providing immediate support -- you build your case quickly and concisely, making it easy for the reader to focus on the letter itself.
Elizabeth Smith has been a scientific and engineering writer since 2004. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, newspapers and corporate publications. A frequent traveler, she also has penned articles as a travel writer. Smith has a Bachelor of Arts in communications and writing from Michigan State University.