Dr. Judith M. Newman

Writing an Effective Business Letter

Writing an effective business letter is an important skill. In this brief overview we will examine the five main steps in creating an effective business letter. With this knowledge you can quickly amend and personalize  business letters.

Main Steps

  • Identify your aims
  • Establish the facts
  • Know the recipient of the letter
  • Create sample Copy
  • Decide on Physical layout of letter
Identify Your Aims

Clearly establish what you want to achieve from the letter- whether it is to win back a dissatisfied customer or to reprimand an employee. Whatever the aim, create your letter from these goals.

Establish the Facts

Make sure you have the relevant accurate facts available. For a late payer, this might include relevant invoices, complaint forms, talks with your sales department and any previous correspondence from the customer.

Know the Recipient of the Letter

Write in the language of your recipient. Try to put yourself in the position of the recipient. Read it from his point of view. Is the letter clear or open to misinterpretation.

If you know the recipient, use this knowledge to phrase the letter to generate your desired response.

Create a Sample Copy

Having established your aims, amassed the relevant facts with a conscious view of the recipient, write down the main points of your letter.

Decide on Physical Layout of Letter

The physical appearance of a letter consists of the paper and the envelope.

The first thing a recipient sees is the envelope. It is essential that it is of suitable quality with the name and address spelt correctly. Quality envelopes and paper suggest a professional company.

It is wise to make sure the envelope matches the size of the paper. While you will use 81/2 x 11 inches(A4 size) sized paper for the majority of letters - a 4 x 6 inches(A5) can be used for specific shorter letters. But insist that correctly sized envelopes are used for this A5 size paper, allowing you maintain and convey an coordinated image.

Layout Of A Letter

The following elements will constitute the formal outlay:

  • Letterhead: Name, Address, Date
  • Reference
  • Salutation
  • Subject matter
  • Communication
  • Signature
  • Enclosures

This will include your company's name, address, telephone number, fax number and email address. Include your web address if available. Other information may be required depending on the legal status of your business formation. Contact your legal adviser for exact details.

Name and address
Always include the recipient's name, address and postal code. Add job title if appropriate. Double check that you have the correct spelling of the recipient 's name .

Always date your letters. Never abbreviate January to Jan. 31.

These are optional. They are a good idea if you have a large volume of correspondence. These days modern word processors made this an easy task to complete and maintain.

The type of salutation depends on your relationship with the recipient. Always try to personalize the  letter thus avoiding the dear sir/madam situation.

Subject matter
Again this is optional, but its inclusion can help the recipient in dealing successfully with the aims of your letter. Normally the subject sentence is preceded with the word Re: It should be placed one line below the greeting.

This will contain a number of paragraphs, each paragraph dealing with one point and one point only.

The signature should be clear and legible-showing you are interested in the letter and consequently the recipient. Your signature should also be followed underneath by a typed version of your name and your job title.

If you include other material in the letter, put 'Enclosure', 'Enc', or ' Encs ', as appropriate, two lines below the last entry.


Previously we created the main points of our letter, now we must transform this into a final version. To do this, four main considerations are necessary.

  • Format
  • Prose
  • Manner
  • Accuracy

• There are three main formats: blocked, semi-blocked and indented.
• The former has all entries tight against the left -hand margin. The semi-blocked format
   sets the references and the date to the right margin for filing and retrieval purposes, with
   the remaining entries placed against the left margin.
• The indented format follows the same layout as either of the above, but indents each
   paragraph by five or six spaces.

Clarity of communication is the primary goal. Don't use technical jargon if the recipient is unlikely to understand it. Short sentences are less likely to be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Be precise, don't ramble. Check each sentence to see if it is relevant. Does it add to the point ?

Always try to personalize your letters. Always try to be civil and friendly even if the subject matter is stern and sensitive. Give the impression to the recipient that some effort and thought has gone into the letter.

Once the final version of the letter has been created, polish it off with a final spelling and punctuation check.