At some point in your career you may need to or be required to write a formal business letter. You will need to use a business letter format for many professional inquiries, including writing a letter of recommendation, submitting a cover letter to get an interview, or gaining new clients by requesting a pitch meeting. It's appropriate to format these types of submissions as a standard business letter to come across professionally for your audience. In this article we will break down the basics of a business letter and provide you with a template to help you get started.
Sections of a formal business letter
The sections for your formal business letter should include the following:
- Your business contact information
- Today’s date
- The recipient’s contact information
- An opening salutation
- Body with formal written communications
- Professional closing salutation
- Your printed name and signature
1. Your business contact information
Your contact info should include your full name and address. You can choose to use the address of your business if you receive mail there, instead of your personal address. Likewise you can also input a work number if you do not wish to receive business correspondences on your personal phone number. Just be sure that whichever number you choose to leave has a working voice-mailbox that can receive messages, not one that is full or not set up yet. You may also include your professional email address if you have one.
Flush (meaning along the margin) on the left-hand side of your business letter, you should list your current contact info:
First and Last name
City, State Zip Code
2. Today’s date
After your contact information add a line of space and then add the date of your letter fully written out and flush to the left-hand margin:
Month Day, Year
October 3, 2021
3. Recipient’s contact information
The recipient’s contact information may be found on their company website, or if you do not know the contact info for the specific person you are writing to, you can use the address of the business or institution they are associated with.
Following the date add another line of space and then add the recipient’s contact information flush to the left-hand margin:
Recipient’s First and Last name
City, State Zip Code
4. Opening salutation
Add a line of space after the recipient’s contact information and then choose a professional salutation to open your business letter. Some popular professional opening salutations include:
- Dear [First and Last Name],
- Dear [Ms., Mr., or Mrs.][Last Name],
- Dear First Name, (if you know the recipient well)
- To Whom It May Concern, (if you cannot find a specific recipient’s name)
In the body of your business letter explain the purpose of your letter. Include key details on the specific topic that you would like to express, and use succinct professional or formal language without colloquial phrases, slang, or any obscenities.The body of a business letter is typically no longer than three to four paragraphs.
- Paragraph 1: Opening introduction
- Paragraph 2: The argument or request
- Paragraph 3: Closing summary and call to action
6. Closing salutation
Add a line of space after the 3-4 paragraph body of the letter and include a professional salutation to close your business letter. Popular and professional closing salutations include:
- Best Regards,
- Thank you,
Add two lines of space and sign your full name with ink if you are printing and mailing your letter. You can also sign digitally with a software program to make it look hand signed, or type your name in a cursive like font to represent your signature. Then on the following line, print your first and last name in regular font the same as the rest of your letter.
First and Last name
How to format your business letter
The format of your business letter should be clean and easily readable. Selecting the right font style, margin size, and greetings all come into play to make your letter come across professionally. Here are some tips to help make sure the format of your business letter makes sense.
1. Select a simple font style
When deciding on which font to use for your business letter, the most important things to pay attention to is the cleanliness and readability of your letter. It might be tempting to use a font style that stands out so that your letter is memorable but in reality you want to avoid any format that makes your letter difficult to read. Your reader should be able to get the necessary information from your letter as quickly and as simply as possible.
Here are a few examples of popular fonts used in professional documents:
- Times New Roman
- Gill Sans
- Open Sans
2. Use a Standard Font Size
You might feel the need to make your font smaller so you can fit more on a single page, however this too could make your letter difficult to read.
For font size, you should stay between 10 and 12 points for your font. Fonts smaller than 10 points are too difficult to read, and fonts any larger than 12 points would appear as unprofessional.
3. Pay attention to spacing and margins
It’s important that your business letter has spacing that makes sense and is common for most business letters so that the reader knows what they are looking at and how to interpret your words. There should be spaces between the elements of your contact info, date, and recipient’s information as described above. Don’t skip the spaces because you would like to write more in your body, it doesn’t look professional and can make it difficult to discern who the correspondence is reaching out to.
The body of your letter should also have spaces between the paragraphs, and the entire letter should be single-spaced so the document looks tidy and readable. You should include a space before and after your closing, with plenty of space for your signature as well. It is best to align your entire letter along the left side margin of the page, do not use any centered or aligned right type. Left alignment makes it easier to follow for the audience and is less distracting.
Any professional document typically has one-inch margins. It is normal for margins to be a bit larger than usual for business letters, so you could go up to one and a quarter inches on all sides.
Business letter format example
Here’s an example of a business letter format you can use when drafting your own business letter:
1457 Almond Ave.
Woodland Hills, CA, 91367
July 1, 2019
2981 Colombia St.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Dear Mr. Pressler,
It pleases me to highly recommend Anthony Richmond for acceptance into the University of California, Los Angeles Ph.D. program for aerospace engineering.
My name is Eleanor Gibbs, and I am a structural engineering instructor at Santa Ana College. In my 15 years of experience in teaching I have worked with many young professionals and students. Anthony is one individual I have engaged professionally with who stands out.
During our time in the classroom, Anthony exhibited strong talents in solving complex structural problems and working with a team to build their final project. From the very beginning, Anthony exemplified the ideal engineering student and took on new challenges that showed me he sought to exceed expectations in all aspects of the role on his team. It’s not just his technical skills that impressed his team, however. Anthony was such a pleasure to work with because of his positive attitude towards everyone and willingness to spend time in discomfort while solving a problem.
I am confident without a doubt that Anthony would be the right fit for your Ph.D. program. Not only does he have the kind of skills and experiences you’re looking for, but I am confident he will quickly become an asset in helping the Ph.D program grow to accomplish new inventions and technologies.
If you would like more information about my time working with Mr. Richmond, please do not hesitate to contact me. I would be happy to further elaborate on his achievements to date.
No matter what the occasion you have for writing a business letter, the above format could be used as a template so that your correspondence comes across as serious and professional. If you are emailing your letter it is strongly recommended you create a pdf version to send them so that the letter looks the way you formatted it on your computer. When documents are read with different software programs the formatting does not always transfer the same way you intended. Having correct formatting and concise professional language will set you apart from the competition and have your clients or higher ups impressed with your professional demeanor when writing for business purposes.
The Careerbliss Team
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