When you’re just starting, writing a professional letter sometimes seems daunting. Still, as long as you keep a few key guidelines in mind, it’s not as challenging as it may seem. Business letters are polite, concise, and brief. Therefore, it’s important to consider format, length, and tone when writing one.
Read on to find out what a business letter is, when to write one, and how to do it. We will also provide an example letter, an easy-to-use template, and some tricks to help you become an expert in no time.
What is a professional letter and when to write one?
Professional letters, whether digital or paper-based, are formal documents exchanged between an organization, its stakeholders, clients, or other companies, as well as individual professionals.
In our digital age, the job application process, including offer letters, has been largely digitized. Yet, the importance of formal writing remains paramount, transcending the medium of delivery. Whether it’s a digital correspondence or a traditional paper document, elements such as reference letters and cover letters retain their essential role in professional communication.
Traditional business letters are eye-catching and possess an inherent element of formality and respect that goes a long way in the professional world.
These examples are the main types of business letters:
- Cover letters for job applications
- Letters of recommendation or commendation
- Offer letters
- Sales letters
- Offboarding letters
- Resignation letters
- Warning letters for employees
- Thank-you letters
- Interview follow-up letters
- Networking letters
- Letters that make a request, such as a proposed salary increase
- Important announcements
What do all of the above examples have in common? These letters clearly represent their writer’s integrity and communication skills. Thus, they demand an air of formality to create a positive impression.
Basic steps to write a professional letter
Here are a few letter-writing steps to help ensure that your business letter is effective:
1. Determine the format
Selecting a clean, understated font such as Times New Roman, Ariel, or Calibri is crucial to establish a professional tone in your letter. It’s also wise to make the font size 10, 11, or 12.
Professional business letters are usually single-spaced with an extra space left between each paragraph, making it unnecessary to indent new paragraphs.
2. Provide your address
If you are writing your message on paper with a letterhead (a heading that includes contact information and a logo or pattern), don’t relist your address. However, if your business letter does not have a letterhead, you must introduce yourself at the top of the page. Remember to include the address for your business, school, or organization, not your home.
3. Add the date
Be sure to include the date you send the letter underneath your address, with one space between the two lines of text.
4. Identify the recipient’s name and address
After you insert another line of space underneath the date, address the letter to the recipient using their proper salutation (Ms., Mrs., Mr., or Dr.) and name. If you are unsure which salutation to use for a woman, use Ms. Here, only include the recipient’s name, not a salutation like “Dear Mr.” or “Greetings.”
Directly beneath the recipient’s name, include their address (as if you were mailing the letter).
5. Start with a professional greeting
Skip a line after the recipient’s address and greet your reader using a proper salutation. To maintain a professional tone, greet your recipient with “Dear” or stick to the recipient’s name alone. In either case, follow the person’s name with a colon.
Use a professional title if you don’t know the recipient’s name. For example, if you were writing to a superintendent, address the letter as “Dear Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools.”
6. Write the body with concise ideas
Sometimes, drafting an outline to follow when you write your letter helps with conciseness. Other tricks for keeping your letter concise are: eliminating repetition and flowery or excessive language, keeping prepositional phrases like “to” or “of” to a minimum, shortening phrases or replacing them with a single word, and changing negatives to affirmatives.
7. Choose a formal closing
After the last paragraph, skip a line and include a closing. Two standard professional closings are “thank you” and “sincerely.” Choose the closing that best matches the tone and intent of your letter. If you are making a request, “thank you” is appropriate. If you inform your recipient of something without making a call to action, “sincerely” works better.
Next, skip four lines to allow space for your signature, then type your name. Once you print the letter, sign your full name with a blue or black pen in the white space between the closing and your name.
8. Proofread your work
Before you send your letter, you must ensure that there are no typos. Reading your letter out loud is a great way to catch tough-to-spot errors.
7 Elements every professional letter should include
Almost all professional business letters, and formal letters in general, contain some of the same essential elements. These elements include but are not limited to:
1. Sender’s contact address
Having the sender’s contact information helps the recipient send their response or other important information.
Dating your letter helps provide context regarding when it was sent, which is especially helpful if you’re mailing a physical letter through the postal service.
3. Inside address
The recipient’s street, city, state, and zip code belong below the recipient’s name.
As previously stated, “Dear” and “Greetings” are two common options. If you are unsure who will receive your letter, use the salutation “To whom it concerns.” Remember, salutations are followed by a colon (:), not a comma (,).
5. Letter body
Here, you’ll share the important information that led you to create this letter in the first place.
6. Closing valediction
The counterpart of a salutation, a valediction is used to sign off the letter.
7. Sender’s signature
The signature includes your typed name and signature in ink.
Depending on the purpose of the letter, professional letters also include other elements, such as a call to action (CTA) or additional relevant documents at the bottom of the letter. If you mention additional documents, list them by name after your signature and name.
Professional letter example + template
Here is a professional letter template to use as a guide when writing your own:
1234 Hurst St.
Bethesda, MD 20814
Jan. 2, 2023
American Civil Liberties Union
1234 SW Yew Ct.
Prineville, OR 98842
Dear Ms. Smith:
Thank you for taking the time to interview me today. Learning more about the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was a pleasure. I’m very excited about the opportunity to join the ACLU and help increase its donor base.
I look forward to hearing from you about the next steps in the hiring process. Please don’t hesitate to let me know if I can provide additional information.
Thank you again,
Additionally, here is a fill-in-the-blanks professional letter format template to use to further simplify the writing process:
[Your street address]
Dear [Title and last name of recipient]:
[Explain why you are writing the letter and include any relevant details.]
[Insert blank space here to later sign the letter with a pen.]
Additional tips for writing a professional letter that stands out
The ability to write formal documents is an important skill in the business world, albeit one that sometimes seems difficult, given the growing prevalence of digital messaging, which tends to be more casual.
Let’s recap some of the tips on how to write a professional letter. Clear structure and proofreading are essential to leave a lasting positive impression on the recipient. To help your letter stand out, include plenty of details but remember to use concise language. Also, maintain a positive voice properly tailored to the specific purpose and recipient of the letter. Good luck!