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  1. Blog
  2. Culture & Professionalism
  3. February 4, 2020 (Updated August 6, 2020)

How to Format a Business Letter

P.s. It’s still relevant

How to Format a Business Letter
Photo courtesy of Becca Tapert

Key takeaways

  • There are many types of business letters, but they can all use the same simple format.

  • If you’re unsure of the recipient’s preferred pronouns, simply omit and address the letter using their first and last names.

  • There is no standard length for a business letter, just make sure you state the purpose of your letter, provide necessary background/details, and request an action from or explain next steps to the recipient.

Some say letter writing is a lost art. When it comes to personal letters this may be true, but there are still some times in the workplace when a polished, well-written letter is appropriate and even required.

Here’s how to write and format your business or professional letter.

Types of business letters

The types of business letters, sometimes called professional letters, you're probably most familiar with are letters related to your personal career or position.

Another category includes letters written for specific company or business purposes, for clients, business partners, stakeholders, or even to coworkers and direct reports. If you’re a manager, work in HR, or conduct business on behalf of a company, you’ve probably written one of these.

  • Order letters

  • Formal invitations or requests

Sections of a business letter

There are many scenarios where you need to know how to write a business letter; luckily, all follow the same basic format.

1. Return address (usually your business address)

Start with your contact information and business address at the top left corner, as you would on an envelope. This will be separated into four or five lines.

Your name
Your phone number or email address
Your company’s name (if applicable)
Mailing address
City, state and zip code

Skip one line before moving on to the next section. 

2. Date

Include the date you write the letter.

Use the standard format of month, day, and year. For example: May 15, 2020.

Skip one line.

3. Recipient's address

Format this the same way you did your own address, and use the formal name of the recipient along with any official titles, such as Dr. or Ms. However, if you are not 100 percent sure of the person’s preferred pronouns, omit gendered titles and use their name only.

Recipient name
Recipient’s company name
Recipient’s business mailing address
Recipient’s city, state and zip code

Skip one line.

4. Greeting/salutation

The best greeting for a business letter is simple and formal. Something like Dear [First] [Last] is perfect. You could also use Dear Ms. Chan.

But, if you're not 100 percent sure of the person’s gender or preferred pronouns, play it safe and use their full name instead of Mr. or Mrs.

Skip one line.

Read More: How to Address a Cover Letter with No Name

5. Body

There is no hard and fast rule for how long a business letter should be, but there are a couple key points to know.

In your first two sentences you should reveal the goal of your letter

Dear Ms. Gatz, 

I’m writing to invite you to participate in the professionals panel at this year’s Women in Publishing Forum, hosted by Modern Publishers, Inc. 

Then, provide any necessary background information or important details

The Women in Publishing Forum is in its fifth year, and this year’s agenda is more impressive than ever. We would be honored for you to serve as a panelist during this year’s professionals panel, which will take place on Thursday, November 11, at 2 p.m. ET. You will be one of four panelists who work in various capacities across publishing. Already confirmed are Julie Jimenez-Nash of Nelson Rights Group and Jenni Patel of Pinecrest Books. 

Reiterate the reason for your letter and request action on the recipient’s part or let them know what to expect next

If you’re interested in participating or have questions about the panel or events of the week, simply reply to this letter or contact Martha Williams at 230.555.9832 by August 21. Martha can help you arrange travel, accommodations, and transportation. 

Skip one or two lines.

6. Sign-off and signature

At the end of your message, sign off with a formal closing such as sincerely, best wishes, or thank you.

Skip about four lines.

Type your name. The empty space between your sign-off and your typed name is where to put your signature after you’ve printed the letter.

If you’re emailing you letter, typing your full name below the sign-off is sufficient.

Sincerely,
Daniela Scott

Business letter format for email letters

If sending a physical copy of the letter is a little too 1980s for you, simply use the same professional letter format, save it as a PDF, and send it as an email attachment.

If you’re writing a business letter within the body of an email, you can omit both addresses and the date at the top. Instead, add your contact information and address after your name in your closing (perhaps in your email signature), and make sure to include a very specific subject line.

Read More: How to Start a Professional Email (An Easy Peasy Guide)

General business letter writing tips

  • Don’t use informal or slang language

  • Be clear and simple, get to the point

  • Always left-justify the text

  • Standard margins are 1.0–1.25 inches

  • Single-space lines in body copy, but double-space lines between paragraphs

  • No need to indent the first line of a paragraph

  • Use Times New Roman, Arial, or another standard, easy-to-read font, always in black

  • 12-point font

  • Use portrait layout (a.k.a., vertical)

  • If printing your business letter, use white, 8.5 x 11 inch paper

Business letter format example

Daniela Scott
999.999.9999
Modern Publishers, Inc.
125 Leigh Street, Ste. 6
Richmond, VA 23220

July 30, 2020

Jamila Gatz
Green Light Industries
456 Party Place
Kings Point, NY 11024

Dear Ms. Gatz,

I’m writing to invite you to participate in the professionals panel at this year’s Women in Publishing Forum, hosted by Modern Publishers, Inc. 

The Women in Publishing Forum is in its fifth year, and this year’s agenda is more impressive than ever. We would be honored for you to serve as a panelist during this year’s professionals panel, which will take place on Thursday, November 11, at 2 p.m. ET. You will be one of four panelists who work in various capacities across publishing. Already confirmed are Julie Jimenez-Nash of Nelson Rights Group and Jenni Patel of Pinecrest Publishing. 

If you’re interested in participating or have questions about the panel or events of the week, simply reply to this letter or contact me at 999.999.9999 by August 21. Martha can help you arrange travel, accommodations, and transportation. 

Sincerely,

[Signature]

Daniela Scott

Read more: How to Write an Email Like the Professional You Are

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Photo of Megan Hageman

Megan Hageman

Contributor

Megan Hageman is a Columbus-based freelance writer specializing in social media and content marketing.

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