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Business Letter Formatting

By Judy Vorfeld

Have you ever won­dered if there’s a “best” way to write a busi­ness let­ter, in terms of lay­out? Let’s look the full block style for some guidelines.

Before we begin, let me say that there are many ways to put together a busi­ness let­ter. While you want it to look good, it’s equally impor­tant that you pro­vide all rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion in a way that’s easy to understand.

You may even go with lit­tle head­ings, or bul­lets, or num­bers. Whatever works for the reader’s convenience.

MARGINS
Generally one inch on all sides, at a min­i­mum. If you have a very brief let­ter, you’ll prob­a­bly want to have at least 1.5 inches on the left and right.

HEADING
Do you have let­ter­head? If so, make sure your left and right page mar­gins are close to the same width as the let­ter­head. If you don’t have let­ter­head, type your busi­ness name, address, and other infor­ma­tion (phone, fax, e-mail, URL, etc.) start­ing at least an inch from the top, and cen­ter it. You might make your busi­ness name larger than the rest of the let­ter­head, and pos­si­bly in a dif­fer­ent font, and bold. Play around with it.

You might use a thin line to divide your cre­ated let­ter­head from the body of the let­ter. If you don’t want or need a for­mal let­ter­head, then right align­ing your address and the date usu­ally looks good. The remain­der of your let­ter will be writ­ten from the left margin.

DATE LINE
See above if you have no let­ter­head. Otherwise, press Enter at least twice from where the let­ter­head print­ing would end, then type in the date in the left mar­gin. Type the month, day, and year (January 14, 2002).

CONFIDENTIAL NOTATION

If you use the word “CONFIDENTIAL,” press Enter twice after typ­ing in the date, and type CONFIDENTIAL. Otherwise move on to the Inside Address.

INSIDE ADDRESS
Press Enter 2 – 4 times, then type the name and full address of the per­son or company.

SALUTATION — SUBJECT LINE
Press Enter twice, then your salu­ta­tion (like “Dear Mr. Hodgson”) fol­lowed by a colon. If your let­ter has an impor­tant sub­ject line, ref­er­enc­ing a legal sit­u­a­tion or a spe­cific num­ber or code, you may choose to use this instead of the salu­ta­tion. Or you can use both. If you use the Subject line, type it in all cap­i­tal let­ters on the third line below the Inside Address.

MESSAGE
Press Enter twice, then type the body of your mes­sage. Press Enter twice between para­graphs, and do not indent the first line of paragraphs.

(COMPLIMENTARY) CLOSING
Use a phrase like “Sincerely,” or “Very truly yours” fol­lowed by a comma, then press Enter about four times. If you want to be infor­mal, use some­thing like, “See you Monday!” and since it’s a com­plete sen­tence, don’t fol­low it with a comma. Hit the “enter” key 4 – 6 times.

COMPANY SIGNATURE
Type your name here, with your title below it, if appropriate.

REFERENCE INITIALS

Since the per­son dic­tat­ing or writ­ing already has his/her name directly above, use the typist’s ini­tials alone two lines below the com­pany sig­na­ture. It’s eas­i­est. If you are com­pos­ing and typ­ing the let­ter, omit ref­er­ence ini­tials. When using the typist’s ini­tials, use either upper or lower case (mrd or MRD) and when using both the writer’s and typist’s ini­tials (mrd/jhv or MRD/JHV), fol­low the same for­mat. Your choice.

FILE NAME NOTATION
Press Enter twice. Sometimes peo­ple use the area below the sig­na­ture to indi­cate the com­puter file­name. Completely optional.

ENCLOSURE NOTATION
Press Enter once (or twice, if you don’t use File Name Notation). Type in the word “Enclosure” or “Encl.“if you enclose any­thing. You might spec­ify the num­ber of enclo­sures and what they are, e.g.,
Enclosures — 2 Check #2343 dated May 13, 2001 for $5,000.00
     Certificate of Award

DELIVERY NOTATION

Press Enter once. In this area, indi­cate if you are send­ing it any way other than reg­u­lar mail. Example, “By Federal Express,” or “By Facsimile.” (Note: when pos­si­ble, insert the FedEx air­bill num­ber and the fax num­ber. Anything that may save time later!)

COPY NOTATION
Press Enter once, then type “cc:” You write in the names of those who will receive copies, e.g.,
cc: Ms. Jane Doe, Veterans Administration

     Mr. John Doe, American Legion
     File

ALL NOTATIONS are single-spaced and grouped at the bot­tom of the letter.

CHANGING SETTINGS FOR BETTER PRESENTATION

If you have a very short let­ter, you can increase your mar­gins and your font, and/or use a dif­fer­ent line spac­ing (e.g., 1.25 or 1.5). Verdana’s a good font if you’re try­ing to fill up space, since it’s wider and taller (or is that “higher”?) than most fonts. If you want a nice serif font that’s a bit larger than the default, try Georgia. Both were cre­ated for use on the Internet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use them in your office.

Print out a copy of your let­ter and look at it as a whole. Then go back to your com­puter and make any adjust­ments needed. You want a good pre­sen­ta­tion. And don’t hes­i­tate to use a footer if you use more than one page.

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