How to Write a Business Letter
Though many aspects of the business world have changed, writing effective business letters should not be one of them. Unfortunately, many professionals have allowed themselves to lapse when it comes to their business letter writing style and ability. Whether because of the laid-back expectations the Internet has generated or just a more casual atmosphere in the office place, business letters have begun to read more like friendly notes than professional communications.
Here, we'll look at a few tips to ensure that your business letters keep a formal, yet friendly tone.
Use Correct GrammarNothing detracts from a business letter more than obvious misspellings or glaring grammatical errors. Too many people have become accustomed to using Spell check to catch every mistake that they forget to proofread their documents.
When you write a business letter, you need to ensure that it's properly formed, making sure that all the words are accurately spelled and used. If you have any questions, invest in a good reference book and/or always have someone else read over your most important business letters for accuracy and readability.
Keep a Professional ToneEven when you're writing to someone you know well, it's considered inappropriate to be too familiar in your business letter. Though it's acceptable to say, "Dear Sam," instead of "Dear Dr. Snyder", you will want to steer clear of phrases such as, "How the heck are ya?" or "Have you read any good books lately?"
Of course, you don't have to pretend that you have no existing relationship with this person; but if you're writing a note for business purposes, it's critical to have a semblance of professionalism. (If you want to add a personal notation, it's best to do so at the end in your own handwriting, right below your signature line. You can also jot something personal on a separate piece of paper and attach it to the business letter.)
Stick to One or Two PointsA business letter should read succinctly, not wander around; after all, it's a document, not a holiday trip. Ideally, you should have one or two ideas you want to make in your business letter; include more points than that, and it might begin to read like a legal brief.
For instance, if you're writing to remind your colleague that your company will be relocating to a city farther away, you might want to add a point or two about how you'll make sure that he or she doesn't experience a difference in his or her service. Just don't hammer the point over your recipient's head; be specific and move on.
Try to Keep Your Business Letter to One PageIn the same vein, one page business letters tend to fare better than those which are longer. For one thing, it's common to lose the second page of a two-page letter, especially if it's paper clipped and not stapled. Also, individual's attention spans are notoriously short. Thus, the more concise you can be, the better.
If your business letter comes in at just a little over one page, edit it for extraneous language. And if it's still just slightly onto the second page, you can adjust the margins and font type slightly (though it's better never to go below 11 point font, though some may recommend 10 point.)
Include Your Phone Number and Email AddressOne of the biggest errors even the most successful business letter writers make is not including their information at the end of the letter. Therefore, the recipient has no means of getting in touch with you quickly. Always include your "particulars" (i.e., phone number(s) and email); hence, any response, be it positive or negative, can be extradited.
End on a Polite NoteEven if your business letter is critical, it's important to end on a polite note. You don't have to gush; a simple: "Thank you" is appropriate. And you can always close with "Sincerely," rather than "Your humble servant"; after all, there's no need to be lovey-dovey. Even if you're tempted to write something nasty or unprofessional, resist the lure. If you've done your job in your business letter, you needn't end it on anything but a non-threatening, rather mundane, note.
The more you write, the better you'll become at the process. Even though you might prefer to send casual emails rather than "old-fashioned" business letters, make sure you occasionally mail out some of the latter. Doing so will make you a more well-rounded business leader; and make no mistake… people are still impressed by a well-written letter they receive via "snail mail."