Reading Documents: Business Letters
Adapted from: http://www.prenticehall.ca/rogers/1_1.html
people often phone when, in the past, they would have written,
however we still need the ability to read business letters
Although you can
conduct much of your business by telephone, some organizations will
accept only written submissions. If you want to complain to the
press council about a newspaper with biased news reporting, the
council will want you to write your complaint. Even when you can
communicate by phone, it is often more effective to write.
You may use your
computer to word process a message that you fax or e-mail rather
than send it by post, but, however you send it, your letter will be
better received if you create informative content, organize it
effectively, express it in standard English, and format it with an
Content of a Business Letter
write business letters unless they want something. To create the
content of your business letter, you need to decide what you want.
Most business letters fall into one of three categories:
- or offers.
You might write the
Better Business Bureau to complain about a poor service, such as a
botched job of refinishing your kitchen floor.
A request can be as
simple as a brief letter to ask the bank to begin to deduct your
student loan payment from a different account or as complex as a
carefully crafted letter that asks an employer to hire you.
Sometimes you may write a business letter that is a mix of these
types. To create the content of an effective business letter, follow
Decide what you
want your reader to do
come to a clear understanding of the action you want the reader of
the letter to carry out for you.
Jot notes about
your complaint, request or offer
details that will lead your reader to take the action you recommend.
For a complaint, provide a description detailed enough that your
reader can only conclude that your concern is legitimate. Marshal
the reasons for why the reader should grant your request. Describe
your offer in enough detail that your readers feel they can make an
points in a convincing, logical fashion
Look over the
notes you've made, and use numerals to order your information to
best express your message.
message. Did you
provide enough background? Will your reader understand you? Set a
tone that conveys respect for your reader. Effective business
correspondence has a you-emphasis: Use the second-person pronoun you
to make your readers feel that you are concerned about what you can
do for them. Contrast these two ways to convey the same information:
- Emphasis on the
send you our new catalogue soon so that we can receive an order
before the Christmas rush.
- Emphasis on the
soon receive our new catalogue so you can order early and beat
the Christmas rush.
In the second
example, the writer has used you-emphasis to show that the reader is
a valued customer. When you write with a you-emphasis, you signal
that you are putting the needs of the reader first.
a student as she composes the content of a business letter that is
both a complaint and a request. The letter takes a direct approach,
a straightforward approach often recommended for business letters.
You can study the indirect approach (which tries to tactfully broach
unpopular or unwelcome topics) in more advanced books about business
correspondence. Most lay people will find the direct approach-candid
and straightforward-works for their personal business and volunteer
was concerned about the car drivers who sped down her residential
street. She mused that they were going too fast to stop and could
hurt-or kill-one of her children who might inadvertently step on the
roadway. She jotted some notes about the problem and her proposed
solution: The city should install a stop sign. Then she roughly
outlined her argument. She had created her content; now she had to
organize her message so that she could make a powerful impact on her
A brief essay
is organized into an introduction, a body of support paragraphs, and
a conclusion. A similar pattern of organization works for a business
letter, too, although business text writers use the terms
introductory paragraph, body paragraphs, and closing paragraph.
Follow these steps to create effective organization:
- In the
introductory paragraph, state briefly your main point. You can
usually identify your main point by identifying your reader and
then completing the sentence " I want to tell you
that...". Your sentence completion becomes the first
sentence of your introductory paragraph.
- In the body
paragraphs of the letter, provide the details that will inform
your reader of the specifics of your complaint, the precise
nature of or reasons for your request, or the details that
should convince your reader to accept your offer. In letter
writing, you often get more when you give more. A simple request
for a college calendar requires only a brief letter. But when
you show more than the usual amount of interest, sometimes the
sender goes to the trouble to include a college newspaper or a
brochure of local attractions. You end up much more informed
about the community you are considering.
- In the closing
paragraph, restate what you want the reader to do. Make sure
that the reader knows precisely what you want done, how to
resolve your complaint, how to grant your request, how to accept
your offer, and when.
In a business letter,
aim to present yourself as a reasonable person making a very
reasonable proposal. Be specific about what your reader must do to
make you happy.
Christine Guthridge's letter (figure 1, below). Notice the way she
follows the pattern of beginning the introductory paragraph by
briefly stating her main point. Note the way she provides, in the
body paragraphs, the supporting detail to make the reader see the
danger to the children of this street without a stop sign. Consider
how she briefly re-states in the closing paragraph what she wants
the reader to do and suggests a reasonable deadline.
Figure 1: Sample
ON L3C 1B6
and Traffic Services Engineer
East Main Street
ON L3B 3X4
Putting a stop sign on Aqueduct Street will reduce the chances that
a speeding car
kill one of our children.
Aqueduct Street looked like the quiet, safe environment I wanted for
my children. Many
the neighbourhood children—including my own—enjoy playing along
they sometimes cross it. Because Aqueduct Street runs parallel to a
thoroughfare, car drivers use our street to avoid the heavier
traffic and stop
on Niagara Street. Most of these people are driving too fast for a
with many families and many children.
My concerned neighbours and I feel that a four-way stop created at
the corner of
and Church would reduce non-residential traffic and slow down all
using Aqueduct Street. The expense would be modest compared to the
cost of a child's injury or death by a speeding motorist out to save
By installing the stop signs, you can help make our street safer for
children, as we
in the enclosed petition, signed by all the adults on Aqueduct
Please contact me before the next council meeting on November 15.
The residents of
Street are worried that heavy non-residential traffic is endangering
We urge the City Engineer to place a four-way stop sign at the
and Church to help reduce the danger.
Business Letter with an Effective Appearance
used the full-block style to format her letter. This style (all text
begins at the left margin and the paragraphs are not indented) is
easy to handwrite or key into word processing software.
All text is aligned
with the left margin. The writer leaves the right margin ragged,
unjustified. The text is single-spaced, but there's a blank line
between each element of the letter. Are the paragraphs indented? No,
the author uses blank lines to separate paragraphs.
Consider the parts or
elements of a business letter. Notice that the first address
indicated is the sender's. What do you read next? The dateline shows
the date the letter was composed. Some style manuals suggest that
the dateline immediately follow the sender's address with no blank
line, but other guides suggest that writers make the date stand out
by preceding and following it with a blank line. The date is so
important that it is a good idea to clearly designate it as a
distinctive element by separating it from the sender's address.
It is easy to use
word processing software to create personal (or business)
letterhead. Most writers choose a graphic from the selection
provided by the software. Others scan a photo or line art and bring
this graphics file into a letterhead file. The letterhead file will
also indicate the distinctive font and size of print of the sender's
name and address information. You can easily copy this file and
paste it into a new word-processing file each time you begin to
write another letter.
What element of a
business letter appears next? This is the inside address, the name
and address of the recipient of your letter. Look for a moment at
the punctuation at the end of the lines of the sender's address and
the inside address. What do you notice? There is no punctuation at
the end of these lines. Full-block format does not use commas to
separate the elements of the addresses. Is the punctuation omitted
between the address elements within the lines of the addresses? No.
Note the comma between the city and province. As usual, though,
there is no comma between the province or state and the postal or
zip code. Key two spaces before the postal code.
Look at the next
element, the salutation. Notice that it does have punctuation at the
end of the element. Some style manuals suggest omitting that comma
(for an informal letter) or colon (formal letter). The
introductory, body, and closing paragraphs follow after the
complimentary close ("Sincerely" in Christine's letter),
notice the blank line or two for the writer's signature.
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