Even in this day of instant communication technology, formal business letters are still commonly written. There are a variety of reasons that a person or business may choose to write a letter rather than send an email or fax. When sending a business letter, the three major parts – beginning, middle and end – must be written properly.
Business Letter Elements: Beginning
The beginning of the letter contains information not related directly to the message of the letter. The date appears at the top. The addresses of the sender and recipient are typed next; however, if the sender’s address appears in the header or footer of the letter, it doesn’t need to be typed.
This is followed by the reference line – seen as "RE:" – which is the part of the beginning section of the letter that relates to the letter's message. It summarizes the message in one to eight words. After that, there must be a greeting or salutation to whom the letter is addressed. It’s typically in the format of “Dear Sir:” or “To Whom it may Concern:” with a colon after the salutation; personal letters use a comma after the salutation, but business letters always use a colon.
Business Letter Elements: Middle
The middle of the letter is more commonly known as the body of the letter. It contains the basic message. The first sentence should introduce the topic being addressed. Details and points of consideration come next. Finally, there is a conclusion. The body of the letter should be to the point and concise. Personal items or issues between the sender and recipient should not be included as a part of the business letter.
Business Letter Elements: End
There are a few basic elements of business writing that constitute the ending of a letter. A closing salutation, such as “Sincerely” or “Best Regards,” is appropriate. Below that, you print the name of the sender. Include the sender’s title either on the same line as the name or directly below it. Leave about two inches of space between the closing salutation and the sender’s name; this space is for the sender's signature.
If the sender had someone type and prepare the letter, that person can be acknowledged beneath the sender’s name and title. There are several ways to do this. The most common way is to type the sender’s initials in capital letters, type a slash (/) and type the preparer’s initials (e.g., ABC/def). Enclosures should be noted at the end of the letter. Type the word “Enclosure (3)” with the 3 being the number of enclosures included in the mailing.
Mailing the Letter
The letter is neatly folded to fit perfectly into a business-sized envelope. Enclosures are not stapled to the letter. Business letters have the recipient’s name typed onto the envelope rather than handwritten. Many businesses have preprinted envelopes designed with a company logo and address. These are the most professional looking. Smaller businesses may use stick-on preprinted address labels. These are acceptable, as are typed return addresses. Handwriting is not considered professional and is to be avoided.
Dana Mial McMahon's writing career began in 1999 while working for a major pharmaceutical company in Cambridge, Mass., where she wrote technical guides and cross-functional instructional guides. She is publishing a children's book series called "Lemonade, Marmalade and Jam." She has also written for Lovey Girl Designs. McMahon holds a Bachelor of Science in natural science from Worcester State College.