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A business letter is usually a letter from one company to another, or between such organizations and their customers, clients and other external parties. The overall style of letter depends on the relationship between the parties concerned. Business letters can have many types of contents, for example to request direct information or action from another party, to order supplies from a supplier, to point out a mistake by the letter's recipient, to reply directly to a request, to apologize for a wrong, or to convey goodwill. A business letter is sometimes useful because it produces a permanent written record, and may be taken more seriously by the recipient than other forms of communication.
There are two main styles of business letters:
- Full block style: Align all elements on the left margin.
- Modified block style: with other elements on the left page margin.
Side, top and bottom margins should be 1 to 1 1/4 inches (the general default settings in programs such as Microsoft Word). One-page letters and memos should be vertically centered.
No special character or font formatting is used, except for the subject line, which is usually underlined.
The following is the general format, excluding indentation used in various formats:
[SENDER'S COMPANY NAME] [SENDER'S ADDRESS*] [SENDER'S PHONE] [THE SENDER'S E-MAIL] [DATE] [RECIPIENT W/O PREFIX] [RECIPIENT'S COMPANY] [RECIPIENT'S ADDRESS] (Optional) Attention [DEPARTMENT/PERSON] Dear [RECIPIENT W/ PREFIX] [First Salutation then Subject in Business letters] [CONTENT] [CONTENT] [COMPLIMENTARY CLOSING (Sincerely, Respectfully, Regards, etc.)] [SENDER] [SENDER'S TITLE] [SENDER'S ADDRESS (optional if placed on top**)] Enclosures ([NUMBER OF ENCLOSURES])
* - Sender's Address may be placed after Sender's Title below the Complimentary Closing. ** - Sender's Address may be placed on top before Recipient's Address in a more conservative style.
Business letters conform to generally one of six indentation formats: Standard, Open, Block, Semi-Block, Modified Block, and Modified Semi-Block. Put simply, "Semi-" means that the first lines of paragraphs are indented; "Modified" means that the sender's address, date, and closing are significantly indented.
- Standard – The standard format letter (1) uses a colon after the salutation, (2) uses a comma after the complimentary closing.
- Open – The open format letter (1) uses no punctuation after the salutation, (2) uses no punctuation after the complimentary closing.
- Block – In a Block format letter, (1) all text is aligned to the left margin, (2) paragraphs are not indented.
- Semi-Block – In a Semi-Block format letter, (1) all text is aligned to the left margin, (2) paragraphs are indented, and (3) paragraphs are separated by double or triple spacing.
- Modified Block – In a Modified Block format letter, (1) all text is aligned to the left margin, except for the author's address, date, and closing; and (2) paragraphs are not indented. The author's address, date, and closing begin at the center point.
- Modified Semi-Block – In a Modified Semi-Block format letter, (1) all text is aligned to the left margin, except for the author's address, date, and closing; and (2) paragraphs are indented. The author's address, date, and closing are usually indented in same position.
- Guffey, Rhodes and Rogin. Business Communication: Process and Product. Third Brief Canadian Edition. Thomson-Nelson, 2010. p. 183–214.
- Newman & Ober. Business Communication: In Person, In Print, Online. South-Western, 2013. p. 503–506.