Everyone in business has to write business letters at some time or other, but don't worry, the art of writing business letters is not rocket science and doesn't require mastering a huge amount of knowledge. Anyone can learn it in just a few days. There are a few "rules and regulations" that separate a business letter from an informal letter.
Letterheadings - Letterheadings should show the company’s address and the name of the person who has written the letter. If your organisation doesn't have letterheading paper a sheet of A4 white paper will suffice. Either way, the complete postal address of the company and the name of the person writing the letter should be clearly shown.
Date - A business letter should show the date so that the letter can be filed easily for future reference.
Recipient's Name and Address - The letter should also show the address of the person you're sending the letter to. If appropriate his/her designation should be mentioned too.
Reference Number - Whenever possible, include a reference number, this could be an invoice number / customer number, or if the letter is in response to any other previous letter, the date of the previous letter can be treated as the reference number. In the absence of a reference number, you should mention in the first paragraph the subject matter of the letter.
Salutation - In the UK we start the salutation with the word "Dear" followed by the correct salutation. Addressing the recipient by name is preferred. Use the person's title (Mr. Mrs. Ms. or Dr.) with the recipient's first and last name, or just their last name. Using the recipient's last name is more formal and should be used unless you are on first-name terms with the recipient. If you do use their first name, there is no need to use a title. If you do not know the name of the recipient, it's usual to write "Dear Sir or Madam".
Body - Introduce the topic at hand in the first paragraph of the letter.
In the next paragraph, write the subject matter clearly using simple language and in an unambiguous style.
Be brief and direct in your communication. Whether you are purchasing something, you wish to introduce your company or you are bring a mistake in the accounts to the attention of the addressee, you should be brief.
Use the final paragraph to wind up the letter and highlight any action that needs to be carried out.
Closing - Use the correct form when closing a letter, Yours sincerely and Yours faithfully are widely used in the UK. Use Yours sincerely, when the letter has been addressed to a named person, and use Yours faithfully, when the letter has been written to an unknown recipient.
Signature - Add your signature after the closure. In a business letter you should also type your name under your signature.
The Envelope - Use an envelope of the correct size, preferably with your business' name on it. Write the address of your addressee on the front of the envelope and your address on the back.
Stamps - Make sure you have used the correct postage. If not, the letter may not be delivered, or even worse, the recipient may be asked to pay any shortfall.
Type the letter.
Use a quality pen to sign it.
If you are responding to a letter, be Prompt. If you cannot respond fully in less than a week, tell them so and say when they can expect a response from you.
Make sure you post the letter in time. Take account of any bank holidays that may affect the delivery time.
Be Responsive - If you are responding to a letter, make sure you address the inquiry or problem directly. Many companies rely too much on a handful of form letters to answer all situations. You cannot build a relationship with canned impersonal letters.
Try using the "7 Cs":
Be Clear: Let your reader know exactly what you are trying to say. They will only respond if your message is crystal clear. In particular, if there is some result or action you want taken because of your letter, state what it is. Some people think that when writing business letters, they must use long words, try to avoid this, you want the reader to feel like they are reading a letter from someone who cares, not someone who has swallowed a dictionary.
Be Conversational: Letters are written by people to people. Avoid addressing letters to "To whom it may concern". Whatever you do, do not use a photocopied form letter. Please see how to use a form letter for the proper use of form letter if you have to use it. Avoid being too informal amd using colloquial language, idioms or slang such as "you know" or "I mean" or "wanna". Keep the tone businesslike, but be friendly and helpful.
Be Courteous: Let your reader know exactly what you are trying to say. Your reader will only respond quickly if your meaning is crystal clear. Even if you are writing with a complaint or concern, you can be courteous. Be friendly, build the relationship and avoid being too cold, or formal. Be Concise and to the point: When writing a business letter, explain your position in as few words as possible. Spell out what you can do and what they need to do. Use clear and easy to understand language so that any misunderstanding can be minimized. Think before you write. Ask yourself why you are writing? What is it that you want to achieve?
Be Correct: Take the time to make sure you have the facts straight before putting them in writing. Check your spelling and grammar, too, or have someone check them for you.
Be Convincing. Most likely the purpose of your letter is to persuade your reader to do something: change their mind, correct a problem, send money, or take action. Make your case.
Be Complete. Don't omit necessary information.
Emphasize the positive - Talk about what you can do, not what you can't. For example, if a product is out of stock, don't tell the customer you are unable to fill the order, instead, tell them the product is very popular and you have sold out. Then tell them when you can get the order to them.
Avoid using negative words. For example, don't say "With reference to your complaint about our product" write, "I'm sorry our product did not meet your expectations.
Before you start writing, use this 5 step process to organize your letter and keep it brief:-
- List out the topics you want to cover. Do not worry about the order.
- In each topic, list keywords, examples, arguments and facts.
- Review each topic in your outline for relevance to your aim and audience.
- Cut out anything that's not relevant.
- Sort the information into the best order for your readers.