Essential Characteristics of Business Letters

by Joanne Guidoccio; Updated September 26, 2017
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A business letter sets the tone for future interactions. When a prospective client receives a business letter, he immediately forms an impression of the writer and his organization. If the letter is too casual, the writer may appear insincere or unprofessional. Writing that is too formal can intimidate or alienate the reader. A well-organized and well-written letter will create a positive first impression.

Well Organized

Each business letter addresses a specific purpose or task. It could be a request for information, response to an inquiry or submission of a proposal. The first paragraph states the purpose of the letter. It answers the journalist's questions: who, what, when, where and why. The remaining paragraphs support this purpose with different points -- qualifications, attributes, features. The last paragraph restates this purpose and clearly outlines the writer's expectations. The writer uses appropriate transition phrases to ensure that all parts of the letter flow smoothly together.

Clear and Concise

A good business letter provides all pertinent information in a clear and concise manner. The writer uses an appropriate tone and language. He keeps the vocabulary simple and avoids using technical or abstract language to impress the reader. He varies the length of sentences, steering away from long, rambling sentences with excessive details. However, he does not limit himself to short, choppy sentences. Whenever possible, he uses the active voice instead of the passive voice.

Well Structured

Each business letter follows the company's format and font requirements. In a block format, the entire letter is left justified and single-spaced, except for a double space between paragraphs. The modified block format follows the block style, but positions the date and closing at the center. Most business letters include the date, inside address, salutation, subject line, complimentary closing, signature and enclosures. If the letter is shorter or longer than average, the writer makes the necessary adjustments to the vertical spacing.

Error Free

Before sending out any letter, the writer reads the first draft out loud. This is an excellent way to check for language that sounds awkward or unnatural. He uses a dictionary and writing stylebook to check all spelling, grammar and punctuation. Alternatively, he may use the spell-and-grammar check feature of his word processing program. He double checks the name, title and address of the recipient.

About the Author

In 2008, Joanne Guidoccio opened a wordsmith business. She has been published in the "Guelph Daily Mercury," "Waterloo Record" and "Winnipeg Free Press". A retired school teacher, Guidoccio has a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics and psychology from Laurentian University, a Bachelor of education from the University of Western Ontario and a Career Development Practitioner Diploma from Conestoga College.

Photo Credits

  • Young freckled woman sitting at the table with document image by Vasiliy Koval from Fotolia.com