When someone asks for a document printed on company letterhead, they want proof that the information they requested comes from an official, authorized source in your company. The person requesting letterhead also wants something difficult to forge or alter that will serve as an official, legal record of a transaction, event, agreement or contract.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Company letterhead is stationery that includes the organization's name, address and other contact information.
Effective Letterhead Elements
Merriam-Webster states that true letterhead gets printed or engraved on high-quality paper or cardstock. Despite advances in home printer resolution, the price of high-quality ink and paper means that home-based businesses should balance the added credibility of using physical letterhead with its overall expense to produce.
Your official company letterhead might bear a specific personal chop or seal, raised decorative areas and security features such as watermarks and metallic or colored threads in the paper you choose. The design elements you use to create your official paperwork testify to your position in the company hierarchy. These same elements underscore the receiver's importance to you, your company and the community at large.
Why Use Letterhead?
The trend toward paperless offices has reduced the use of headed paper in favor of logos, graphics and photos in emails and text messages. Even legal documents such as auto loans and insurance policies arrive as links to electronically signed files stored online. The parties in a given transaction or agreement can view and sign these documents without ever printing a single line of text.
In spite of this pressure to keep communications paperless, letterhead still lends the additional legitimacy to legal documents and contracts, queries and petitions that plain paper and handwritten script frequently lack. When properly designed, letterhead draws attention to itself and demonstrates that a business has real people behind the required registration of partnerships, corporations or governmental entities.
Creating Business Headers and Footers
Business headers should include the company name and address on separate lines followed by the telephone and fax numbers, in that order. Also include relevant names, phone extensions and email addresses: yours, your direct supervisor's and your supervisor's superior as well. Do not include anyone higher up in the header, though.
Instead, "CC" copies to the relevant department heads, executive officers or board members. "CC" used to stand for "carbon copy" in the days of mimeograph machines, but now it serves as a way to denote who else needs to receive a given document. Place a "CC" at the bottom left of the page followed by pairs of initials separated by the forward slash and followed by a period. The business footer should look like this:
Center the header at the top of the page for the most formal and official appearance. The date you sent the correspondence belongs at the bottom of the page, centered.
The History of Letterhead
It may surprise you to learn that fired-clay tablets with matching clay envelopes served as some of the earliest examples of letterhead. The Akkadians, Babylonians and Hittites all used these sealed clay tablets as bills of sale and title history. Today, we store such documents in the recorder's office.
Of course, bond paper and cardstock have replaced clay tablets. Sheepskin, papyrus, linen and parchment have all had their turns as the print medium of choice for official documents.
Although written from the customer or constituent point of view in 1922, Mary Owens Crowther's "Book of How to Write Letters" provides sound advice for business writing, including the basis for today's A/B testing sales letters. Crowther provides examples of eye-catching business headers and includes other advice for business owners who wish to improve response rates and establish their official voice and brand.