Writing a business letter
Letter Link: Let's write a letter
Need to learn how to write a business letter? This section is for you!
Business letters are formal letters. They could be a letter applying for a job, posing a question to your local member of parliament, or sending an enquiry to a company or organisation.
How do I write a business letter?
- Begin your letter by writing your name and address in the top right-hand corner of the page. This will identify you to the recipient and provide them with an address to answer your letter. Your name should be on the first line, your street address on the second line and your suburb / town and your state / territory (all in capital letters) and postcode on the last line.
- Then on the top left-hand side of your letter (but below your details) comes the date. Write the day first, then the month and the year. You can write the date in full, or in abbreviated (shortened) form.
- Now to add the recipient's details. Directly under the date you need to put the person's name / title (if you know it) and the business or company name on separate lines. You must also include the recipient's address which is set out on separate lines, ie the street or post office box address on one line and the suburb / town and the state / territory (all in capital letters) and postcode on the next line.
- Next comes the greeting. Remember to be formal and use the correct title and name. "Dear" is an appropriate greeting for a business letter. If you do not know the name of the person to whom you are writing, you could use "Dear Sir", or "Dear Madam", as appropriate.
- Now it is time to start writing the content of your letter. You should start with an introduction to explain why you are writing, followed by the main part of your message, which will contain the detailed information. Finish with a conclusion that summarises the main points made in your letter.
- Once you have finished writing what you need to say it is time for you to "sign off" the letter. This is the way you end your letter. "Kind regards" and "Yours sincerely" are appropriate sign offs if you have used the recipient's name. If you have said "Dear Sir" or "Dear Madam", use "Yours faithfully" instead.
- Once finished, you need to sign your name. It is also a good idea to write your name in full underneath your signature. Remember that postscripts are not appropriate for business letters.
For a fun and interactive writing experience, check out Let's write a letter in the "Multimedia fun" section.
What can I write about in a business letter?
There are many reasons for writing business letters. Maybe you would like to write to your local council asking them to provide a skate park, or you might be applying for a job to earn some money during the school holidays. Perhaps you could write a letter to the Editor of your local paper. Whatever the reason, your message should be clear, to the point and courteous.
Have you ever been in trouble for using abbreviations such as "lol" or "c u l8r"? While these terms are unacceptable in business letters, there are many common letter-writing abbreviations which can be used. Here is a short list to help you out with abbreviations you might come across:
- "ASAP" – As soon as possible.
- "Enc." or "Encl." – Enclosed. This means that other documents or items are included with the letter.
- "PTO" – Please turn over. This indicates that there is more written on the other side of the page. However, this is more of an informal term.
- "RSVP" – From the French Répondez s'il vous plait, meaning "please reply".
- "pp" – From the Latin per procurationem, meaning "by agency". This means that the letter has been signed on behalf of someone else.
- "cc" – Carbon copy. This means the letter is being sent to more than one person.
Are there different types of business letters?
There are different types of business letters. They can include:
You would write this letter if you were recommending someone for a particular position, placement or award. If one of your friends was being considered for election to the student council, you might write a letter to your principal describing why they would be suited to a leadership position.
In an acknowledgement letter you might be expressing thanks for something that someone has done, achieved or contributed.
An appreciation letter is a formal version of a thank you letter. You would send a letter of appreciation to someone in a senior position, such as your principal or the chairperson of a company.
You might also call this type of letter a letter of interest. Perhaps you have heard about a fun holiday program and would like to find out more about it.
If you were writing a job application, you might describe your personal qualities, your educational qualifications and why you would be suited to the position.
In a reference letter you describe someone's characteristics or skills in order to help them get a job, placement or position.
You write this type of letter to announce something. You might receive one saying that a teacher is leaving your school, a new teacher is arriving, or perhaps announcing an engagement, wedding or birth.
Political campaign or lobbying
These are likely to arrive in the period leading up to election times. Politicians release statements and leaflets describing why you should vote for them. Your household might sometimes receive letters from your local council alerting you to something happening in your suburb or community.
Tips for writing business letters
Keep the person you are writing to in mind. If you are writing to someone official, such as a chairperson or a member of parliament, remember to be respectful and use formal language. Most importantly, make sure that their title is correct. You do not want to get off on the wrong foot by accidentally calling a "Mrs" a "Mr"!
- Address your letter to "Dear Sir" or "Dear Madam" if you do not have the person's name.
- Include your address if you would like a reply – and don't forget the date!
- Include a title or heading line that tells your reader what your letter is about.
- Keep your letter clear, simple and to the point. Business letters should never be too long. If someone is busy they may not have the time to read the whole of your letter.
- "Yours faithfully" is a polite way of finishing a business letter to someone you don't know (if you have used "Dear Madam" or "Dear Sir"). If you know the person's name, "Yours sincerely" is appropriate.
- Always keep a copy of the letter as a record of having sent it.
- Write a draft or a plan of your letter first.
- Remember that if you do not know the recipient, your letter will be their first impression of you. Be polite and respectful, just as you would be if you were meeting them in person.
- Remember that postscripts are not used in business letters.
- Lastly, it is best to type a business letter, so that the reader does not have to interpret any messy handwriting or muddled words. It also looks more professional if you are writing a job application, or a letter to your local council.
Let's write a letter! Online interactive
This is a fun way to learn about letter writing and to write your own letter. Check out the sample letters, helpful hints and fantastic letterheads. You have the choice to write a business or personal letter (or both!)
Play – Let's write a letter! Online interactive
We asked one of Australia's leading resume writing services for some tips on how to write a cover letter that works.
Here's what they had to say:
Cover letters are important. They can make or break an application. In essence, a good cover letter is one that:
- Makes it clear you meet the job requirements
- Makes it clear you specifically want THIS job
With these goals in mind, here's how to write a successful cover letter in 5 steps:
- Address your letter correctly
Do you have the name of the hirer? If not, can you find it? Addressing people by their name and position title is standard business etiquette. It's something you can do that many others will not.
- Make it clear that you meet job requirements
The easiest way to do this is to reflect the wording of the job advertisement. Don't parrot the advertisement word-for-word, but pick out the essential requirements and make sure it's clear that you meet them.
- Be specific
Rather than saying "I have strong skills in Photoshop", it's much more convincing to say "I have 3 years' experience working with Photoshop as an image retoucher at the Sydney Metropolitan newspaper".
- Don't just focus on yourself
Your cover letter shouldn't be a summary of your resume. Make it clear you meet job requirements, but also include points about what the company is looking for. A company needs to know that you have read their advertisement, understand why they're hiring and are confident you could do well in their team. Include points about the company's brand, their clients, their market - this let's the reader know you've taken the time to get to know what they do, and that you'd be committed to their goals.
- Make it clear that THIS is the job you want
Even though you're applying for the job, you need to go further to make it clear you really want it. This seems obvious, but is missed by many candidates. Is the job short-term? Does it pay less than your current role? Is it in a different city?
Whatever the job and its conditions, you need to give compelling reasons why this is specifically what you're looking for.
If you need help with your job application, you're welcome to get in touch with us here. One of our friendly resume writers will be very happy to help you.
By Edward Grant, Director of Metro Resumes - visit us at www.metroresumes.com.au