In this day and age of internet, it seems that the old fashioned way of writing letters is finished. Why should you learn to format a letter when email is the primary form of communication?
The answer is simple: it looks so much more professional when you learn to write a letter correctly and the letter form can also be used for emails that have a business or professional purpose. So how do you write a business letter that will help you achieve the effect you want it to?
Begin with your address and phone number so that the person you are addressing can get in touch with you. Traditionally these are tabbed to the right of the page and each line is ended with a comma, thus:
123 Goldilocks Lane,
Tel: 12345 67890
Mobile: 09876 654321
Date (Often important for business letters although obviously emails are dated when you send them out)
Start with ‘Dear’ and a name. Finding out the name of the person you are writing to is one of the single most important things that you can do to help your cause. Check out websites and company listings to try and find out whom you are addressing. If the letter is really important, then ring up the company to find out the right person to address the letter to. Using the right name helps to give the right impression.
Get the tone of the letter right from the start. ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ is lazy and should be consigned to the bin!
Now you need to explain clearly and simply, but using the best English and grammar that you can, what you are asking for. Leave out the flattery and ‘how are you’s’ for personal letters. Get to the point as no one wants to read a long meandering business letter.
Dear Mrs. Drake, (You have rung up and discovered that this is how the person likes to be addressed)
I am writing to enclose the following small advert to be included in your classified ads. I would prefer the ad to be run Thursday through Saturday. Please find attached.
If you require the advert to be in another format, then please do get in touch. My mobile number can be found at the top of this letter.
Once you have explained the purpose of the letter and stated that you have attached anything that may be required such as a CV or proposal then make sure that you have attached it! Many a second email has had to be sent with an apology after the first!
How do you sign off?
This is a tricky one. I was taught that if you know the name then you sign off ‘Yours Sincerely’. If the name is not known, then the sign off is ‘Yours Faithfully’.
Dear Mrs. Drake,
Having said that I do know business people who deliberately adopt informal ways of signing off so that they stand out from the crowd.
Whatever you choose to do make sure that the tone of the letter is professional with no spelling or grammar errors. If you are prone to making mistakes, then run a spell check before you send it.
Photo Credit: Photo on Flickr by Victualis