Business Letter Formats: Overview and Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 25 August 2020

Working as a professional often requires knowing several types of business letter formats for internal and external communications. Understanding how to write business letters can help you communicate effectively with colleagues and business partners. This makes it vital to know the different types of letters and the correct formats for writing them. In this article, we discuss different business letter formats and when to use them.

What is a business letter?

A business letter is a written communication between the personnel of a business, a company and its customers or other companies and external bodies. There are various types of business letters for specific situations, but any letter should always start with a salutation and end with the signature of the sender. Business letters have a formal tone, although internal letters may use more relaxed language.

Types of business letters

The main types of business letters include:

  • Inquiry letter: This letter asks the recipient for information.

  • Letters of recommendation: Employers ask a candidate's references to write this letter to endorse their claims before hiring.

  • Sales letter: This letter aims to motivate the reader to buy a product or service. It often contains a strong call to action and information to help the recipient make a purchase.

  • Order letter: This is a letter a client or customer sends to a manufacturer, wholesaler or retailer to order goods or services.

  • Letter of introduction: This letter introduces a company's products or offers to potential clients and customers.

  • Complaint letters: Individuals use these to report a complaint to a service provider or manufacturer.

  • Adjustment letter: This letter is often a reply to a complaint letter.

  • Follow-up letter: A follow-up letter can come after a letter of introduction or complaint. You can use it to remind a client about a previously discussed issue. Applicants can also use it to request for information from an employer about a job application.

  • Acknowledgement letter: Businesses and individuals send acknowledgement letters to inform a party of the receipt of correspondence. However, it does not determine whether the sender will take action on the communication.

  • Cover letter: Businesses attach a cover letter to a report or package to show content and the actions the recipient should take upon receipt. A cover letter is also one sent with a job application by the candidate along with a CV.

  • Letter of resignation: This is an official notice informing an employer of your intention to leave a position.

How to format a business letter

The aim of business letter formats is to make your message clear and concise. Here are the main steps of formatting a business letter:

  1. Choose a professional font style and size

  2. Use a proper structure

  3. Maintain proper margins and spacing

  4. Proofread and edit

1. Choose a professional font style and size

Use a professional font style and size to write your business letter to improve readability and cleanliness. Fonts sized 10-12 points will make your document readable and also give it a professional look. The best font styles for professional correspondence are those without tails (i.e., sans serif).

2. Use a proper structure

It is important to follow the general structure of business letters when writing your documents. Companies expect you to start with your contact information, the date and the recipient's contact information. Use a proper salutation and a body that clearly outlines your message, then end with your signature. Before writing, make sure the recipient's name and title are correct.

3. Maintain proper margins and spacing

How you use spacing and margins on your business letters can determine their readability and cleanliness. Allow for adequate space between each segment of the letter, such as the date line and the recipient's address. Use single spacing between the body paragraphs to improve legibility and white space.

The standard practice is to left justify the whole letter to make it easy for readers to flow from the beginning to the end. You can use 1-inch margins for lengthy business letters and 1.25-inch ones for shorter documents to reduce white space.

4. Proofread and edit

Before sending your business letter, take some time to read over and fine-tune it. Look for spelling and grammar errors and check for consistency of tone. Read the document aloud to determine whether it sounds too formal or informal. Whatever you do, it is important for your business correspondence to show you as a professional who can communicate ideas and thoughts clearly.

How to write a business letter

There are several types of business letters, but they all share some characteristics. Here are the standard segments of a business letter:

  1. Company address

  2. The date

  3. Recipient address

  4. Salutation

  5. Body comprising a few paragraphs

  6. Closing

  7. Sender's signature

1. Company address

You don't need to type this if you are using a company letterhead paper. If not, write out each word in the address and align it either right or left at the top of the page.

Example:

Joshua Kang Limited

66 Harbour Road, Singapore

2. Date

The date should be in full rather than abbreviation. Companies have different dating conventions, but month/day/year and day/month/year formats are acceptable. Place the date two to three lines above the recipient's address and align it to the left. If you are using a letterhead, place the date line three to six lines below the company address.

Example: 1 February 2020 or February 1, 2020

3. Recipient address

The recipient address includes the addressee's full name and courtesy title, business title, business name, street name, the city, state and zip code.

Example:

Mr. M. Gupta

Customer Relations Department

Chaturvedi Pte Ltd.

157 Loftus Street

Singapore 014430

4. Salutation

Use the recipient's name if you know it. Otherwise, 'Dear Sir/Madam' or 'To Whom It May Concern' are appropriate. You can use the person's first name if you have an informal relationship with them. Keep the salutation simple and one or two lines below the recipient's address.

5. Body

The type of business letter you write will determine the length of the body. Convey your message in a few short paragraphs, with easy-to-read and clear language. Get to the point immediately with opening statements such as 'I am writing you regarding...' While it is important to be professional, you can be conversational if you are familiar with the recipient. In the last paragraph, summarise your main points and include information about how the recipient can respond. Thank the person for their time.

6. Closing

Left justify your closing and follow it with a comma. Formal closings such as 'Sincerely' and 'Cordially' are ideal for all types of business communication. You can use informal closings such as 'Warm regards,' 'Best wishes' and 'Thank you' for people you have a friendly relationship with while still being professional.

7. Sender's signature

Include your signature about four lines beneath your closing. After the signature, include your name and professional title. Leave a line and write your telephone number. Type your email address on the next line if you are writing on paper. If the letter has multiple recipients, you can include a cc two lines after your signature, followed by the names of the other recipients.

Example:

Jacob Xi

Deputy Manager, Dynamo Stores

+65-5234-8769

jacobxi@email.com

Business format examples

Here are some examples of simple business letter formats:

Example 1: A business letter informing colleagues of an upcoming training workshop

March 1, 2020

Martin Lee

Terence Logistics

236 Clarence Road

Singapore 132210

Dear Mr. Jin,

I am writing to inform you of a training workshop on the use of our new data security system being organised for all heads of department. The training is intended to equip departmental heads with adequate knowledge of the new system to prevent a repeat of the data breach incidents which almost crippled our operations in the last quarter. The training will be from March 15 to March 28.

At the end of the workshop, heads of departments are to organise departmental trainings for their teams. The company has prepared educational materials for distribution to all the departments to facilitate a smooth commencement of the training.

Thank you for your assistance and cooperation.

Sincerely,

Janet Wu

Head of Training, HR Department

Example 2: A short resignation letter example

5 March 2018

Daniel Chow

Managing Editor, Canton Herald

33 Bishop Road

Singapore 123456

Dear Daniel,

I am writing to notify you of my resignation as the crime reporter for the Canton Herald, effective 28 March 2018. My last day of appointment will be four weeks from this date, and I will complete my notice period before that time.

I am grateful for the opportunity to work under your guidance. Your mentorship and feedback have made me a better reporter with a knack for in-depth investigative journalism and writing. I am leaving because I received a scholarship to study journalism at Cambridge. I believe this opportunity will help me further my career as a journalist and improve my ability to practise groundbreaking investigative reporting.

Please let me know how to help with the transition process. You can contact me for any information on ongoing stories and any other areas where I can be of help.

I wish you all the best in your future endeavours.

Best regards,

Tony Chu