Activity 24 - Business Letters

In the days before computers, formal documents such as letters and reports demanded careful, painstaking typing and retyping before they were completed. The effort it took to prepare these documents was often greater than the energy initially required composing them. Today, modern word processors routinely handle the most cumbersome, time-consuming typing chores, allowing you to concentrate on what you are trying to say. Thanks to your word processor, you no longer have to worry about such nagging tasks as “whiting-out” mistakes, centering lines, or making sure you have the proper margins. Many word processors correct spelling and punctuation errors as well. No matter how well you write, your reader always reacts to the way you present your material. Nothing destroys a beautifully written piece faster than crowded, difficult to read text.

It is important to present all written communication in a precise, attractive way to make the best impression possible on your reader. Mavis now introduces you to certain standard forms for business letters and personal correspondence developed over the years. Remember that a clear, concise presentation enhances what you have to say. All formal letter formats contain the same basic elements. These are the Letterhead or Originating Address (that is, your address), the Date, the Inside Address (the address of the recipient), the Salutation, the Body of the Letter, the Complimentary Close, and the Reference. The illustration that follows shows the position of each of these elements.


  1. The Originating Address or Letterhead

Many people use preprinted letterhead stationary for both business and personal use. For business, your name, company address, and telephone number are usually included. For personal use, many people simply use their names, but your home address (and telephone number if you like, although this is rarely included) may be added as well. This information is located at the top of your first page of stationery and usually takes up about two inches of space. The letterhead may be centered or flush right or left, depending on letter style (which we will discuss later).

If you are using blank stationery for business, with no preprinted letterhead, you should type your address (and telephone number if you like) at the top of the page. You may either center it or put it flush to one side.

  1. The Date

    Type the date below the letterhead. Depending on the letter style you choose, it can be flush to one side or centered. Whatever the case, the following rules apply:

a. The date is typed two lines below the letterhead.

b. The name of the month is typed in full.

c. A comma separates the day of the month from the year. For example: January 12, 1995.

  1. The Inside Address

    Type the address in full, including the name and title of the person to whom you are writing. Make  this address similar to that on the envelope. The title may be placed on the same line as the person’s  name, such as:

    ​ Lorena Samson, Chair

    Or on the next line:

    ​ Lorena Samson

    ​ Chair

    If the company address takes up more than two or three lines, you might want to put the title and name on the same line, just to keep the address from taking up too much space. However, if Lorena’s title were long, such as “Assistant Manager Product Storage, Retrieval and Development, Section IIIA,” you might want to separate things out to keep the address neat:

    ​ Lorena Samson

    ​ Assistant Manager,

    ​ Product Storage, Retrieval

    ​ and Development, Section II-IA

    The point is to keep everything clear and easy to read.

    The company address goes under the company name. If it is too long, follow the same procedure as with the title:

    ​ Lorena Samson

    ​ Chair

    ​ The Great Midwestern, Atlantic

    ​ and Pacific Insurance Cartel, Inc.

    The street address is typed below the name and title. Again, simply type what is going to be on the envelope. Here are a few guidelines:

    a. Use numbers for all buildings except One (as in “One Mindscape Plaza”).

    b. Use numbers for streets, avenues, and so on above Ten.

    c. Write out directions such as North, South; abbreviate city directions such as Northeast as NE.

Type the city, state, and zip code beneath the street address. Learn and use the zip code abbreviations for the names of the states.

Sometimes an “attention” or “re” (regarding) line exists below the last address line and before the salutation. This directs your letter to one specific person or department, or declares what the letter is about.

Upon completing the last address line, insert one blank line by hitting the Enter/Return key. Now type your line flush, indented, or centered and hit Enter/Return. Insert one blank line and hit Enter/Return. Type the salutation.

Here is an example of each:

​ Lorena Samson

​ Chair

​ Bank of America

​ 6900 Melrose Ave.

​ Los Angeles, CA 90035

​ Re: Updated deposit procedure

​ Bank of America

​ 6900 Melrose Ave.

​ Los Angeles, CA 90035

​ Attn: Accounts Receivable

  1. The Salutation

    If you know the person to whom you are writing, the salutation generally begins: “Dear...” and if you know the person well, you may of course use his or her first name. If you do not, you might put “Dear Mr. or Ms.” or perhaps a generic “Dear Sir or Madam,” without mentioning a name at all. In any event, be courteous; do not assume any familiarity.

    1. The Body of the Letter

      Organize your letter into paragraphs and type it single-spaced. Depending on its style, (we will discuss this later), the first line of each paragraph is either indented five spaces or flush left. Always double space between paragraphs.

      1. The Complimentary Close

The words you use to close your letter should reflect the impression you wish to leave with your reader. “Sincerely,” “Very truly yours,” and “Regards” are the usual endings, but you may choose some other closing with which you are more comfortable. Beware, though, that silly endings such as “Grudgingly yours,” and the like rarely achieve the positive effect you may intend. When in doubt, stick to something a little more formal.

Following the closing, skip four lines and type your name, or the name of the person who has written, and thus will be signing, the letter.

  1. The Reference

    References are typed several lines down from the signature, depending on space available. They may tell the addressee who wrote and then who typed the letter. In this example, Sam Bronson typed a letter for his employer, Lorena Samson:

    ​ LS:sb

    References can indicate enclosures (attached pages) in a letter. Here are three ways of stating this enclosure:

    ​ Enc.

    ​ Enc. (5)

    ​ Enclosure

    They can also designate who received copies of your letter:

    ​ cc: Jack Remme

    ​ Mary White

    Postscripts may replace a reference:

    P.S. Your immediate reply is urgently awaited, Lorena.