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Notes on Writing a Business Letter

Those are collected bits on how to write a proper business letter. I am going to post them here once and for all. It might come in handy.

Business Letters (in the United States) usually contain the following information (in this order):

  • Letterhead or sender's address
  • Date
  • Recipient's address
  • Subject
  • Salutation or Greeting
  • Message(body of the letter)
  • Closing
  • thanking you
  • Place, date
  • Signature, printed name, and position of sender

In some situations, a business letter may also include the following optional information:

  • Reference (RE:)
  • Carbon Copy Recipients (CC:)
  • Enclosures (ENC:)
  • Reference Initials (of the typist)
  • Signature

Opening lines

Why do we need an opening line in a business letter or formal email?

- to make reference to previous correspondence

- to say how you found the recipient's name/address

- to say why you are writing to the recipient.

10 Good Opening Lines

  • With reference to your letter of 8 June, I …
  • I am writing to enquire about …
  • After having seen your advertisement in … , I would like …
  • After having received your address from … , I …
  • I received your address from … and would like …
  • We/I recently wrote to you about …
  • Thank you for your letter of 8 May.
  • Thank you for your letter regarding …
  • Thank you for your letter/e-mail about …
  • In reply to your letter of 8 May, …

* Salutations in formal letters end with a colon; salutations in informal letters end in a comma.

* Professional titles ("Professor", "Doctor") are preferred over social titles ("Mister", "Miss").

* Dignitaries are addressed by their titles. (e.g. "Dear Lord Mayor:")

When the recipient of the letter is unknown—for example, in a letter of recommendation, or when writing to a company—the salutations "Dear Sir or Madam" or "To Whom It May Concern" are used.

For each style of salutation there is an accompanying style of valediction.

1.  When should I use a professional title and when should I use a social title?

If the recipient has a professional title (such as Dr., Professor, or President), use that and the last name, followed by a colon.  (Use a comma only in less formal writing.)   Otherwise, address a male as Mr. and a female as Ms.

2.  How should I address a married couple when one person has a professional title such as Dr. and the other does not?

If the husband has the professional title, use Dear Dr. and Mrs. Smith, or Dear Dr. John Smith and Mrs. Mary Smith. If the wife has the professional title, use Dear Dr. and Mr. Smith, or Dear Dr. Mary Smith and Mr. John Smith (her title and name first).

3.  How should I address a married couple when both persons have professional titles such as Dr.?

Use Dear Drs. Smith, or Dear Drs. John and Mary Smith.

4.  When should I use Mrs. or Miss rather than Ms.?

If you know that the recipient prefers a title other than Ms., use that title, as in Miss Edwards or Mrs. John Victor.  Otherwise, use Ms.

5.  Should I use a period after Ms.?

Yes.  It is sometimes argued that the period should be omitted because Ms. is not an abbreviation but a made-up social title or courtesy title.  For just that reason, however, the preferred spelling is with a period.  Spelled with periods, both Mr. and Ms. have the appearance of parallel titles, and neither title denotes marital status.

The American Heritage Dictionary offers the following usage note regarding the origins of Ms.:  “Many of us think of Ms. or Ms as a fairly recent invention of the women’s movement, but in fact the term was first suggested as a convenience to writers of business letters by such publications as the Bulletin of the American Business Writing Association (1951) and The Simplified Letter, issued by the National Office Management Association (1952).”

6.  When should I abbreviate titles?

Use abbreviations for Mr., Ms., Mrs., and Dr., but spell out professional, religious, and military titles such as Professor, Father, Sister, and Colonel.

7.  How should I address dignitaries?

Many dignitaries – such as governors, senators, representatives, and mayors – are addressed The Honorable [first name/last name] and, in the salutation, Sir/Madam: or Dear [title/last name]:.  But those conventions are complicated, so consult a style manual.

8.  What if I can’t determine the person’s gender by the name?

Fudge.  Use a professional title in place of Mr. or Ms., or use both names and no title, as in Dear Chris Parker.

9.  What if I don’t know the person’s name?

Whenever possible, take the time to find out the recipient’s name.  Letters addressed to an individual have greater impact.  But if that is impossible or impractical, you have four alternatives:  Use the formal Dear Sir or Madam (which is correct but may sound old-fashioned), use a title (as in Dear Account Supervisor or Dear Auditor), use the all-inclusive but impersonal To whom it may concern, or simply omit the salutation.

10.  Is Dear Sir correct?

Dear Sir is acceptable when addressing a male reader or a group that you know to be all-male, though it sounds formal and perhaps old-fashioned, as noted above.  It should not be used to address a group that may include both males and females.  Instead, use Dear Sir or Madam or one of the other three alternatives suggested in point 7 above.

11.  When is it appropriate to omit the salutation?

The “simplified letter style,” described in The Gregg Reference Manual, uses a subject line in place of a salutation. (This style also omits the complimentary close.)  In addition, the salutation is often omitted in e-mail correspondence (where a less formal, Hi, Joe, also is common).


10 Good Closing Lines

  • If you require any further information, feel free to contact me.
  • I look forward to your reply.
  • I look forward to hearing from you.
  • I look forward to seeing you.
  • Please advise as necessary.
  • We look forward to a successful working relationship in the future.
  • Should you need any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.
  • Once again, I apologise for any inconvenience.
  • We hope that we may continue to rely on your valued custom.
  • I would appreciate your immediate attention to this matter.
  • Dear Sir … Yours faithfully
  • Dear Madam … Yours faithfully
  • Dear Sir or Madam … Yours faithfully
  • Dear Mr Hanson … Yours sincerely
  • Dear Mrs Hanson … Yours sincerely
  • Dear Miss Hanson … Yours sincerely
  • Dear Ms Hanson … Yours sincerely
  • Dear Jack … Best wishes/Best regards

When 'Yours faithfully' and when 'Yours sincerely' in a business letter?

  • When the recipient's name is unknown to you
  • When you know the recipient's name
  • When addressing a good friend or colleague
  • Addressing whole departments

Old formal valedictions

English language valedictions typically contain the word yours, a contraction of your servant; old valedictions were usually some voluminous statement, a complete sentence of the form

I beg to remain, Sir, your most humble and obedient servant,
Your Name

Increasingly common in business usage, "Kind regards" is often used as a semi-formal valediction in emails. In informal usage, for additional brevity it is occasionally abbreviated to simply "Rgds" or simply "KR". The use of "Kind regards" is most likely derived from the more formal, "Kindest regards," which is itself a phrase derived from the even more formal combination of "'Kindest regards, I remain," "yours" or "truly yours" or any one of the number of valedictions in common usage.

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