In today's digital world, most people are comfortable communicating electronically through emails or texts. However, there are still occasions when a business letter is a more appropriate method of correspondence. Letters are formal records of communications between companies and suppliers or employees and employers. Business letters are also useful when applying for a job, submitting a manuscript or offering an explanation or apology. The Modern Language Association of America has specific guidelines to follow when writing a business letter, which can be found in the 7th edition of the MLA Handbook.
If you are not using letterhead that includes your name and address, begin your business letter by typing your address in the upper left hand corner, about 2 inches from the top of the page. Include the street address, city and ZIP code, omitting your name, which you will include in the closing. Single-space the address, leaving a double-space between your address and the date. Type out the date using a comma to separate the date and year. Include another double-space before writing the recipient's name and address below the date. Include a formal title for the person you are writing to, using Ms. or Mr. if you are unsure of what title the recipient prefers. Use a colon after the salutation, or you can leave it without punctuation.
Use the body of the letter to make your point concisely. Begin with a friendly greeting, moving directly to your point. Single-space the body of the business letter, leaving a double-space between paragraphs. After you have made your point in the first paragraph, use the remaining two or three paragraphs to justify your point with evidence. Conclude with a request for some type of action or a clarification on the action you intend to take.
Double-space beneath the last paragraph of the letter's body and include your closing. Follow your closing with a comma only if your salutation included a colon, otherwise leave it without punctuation. Common closings are "Sincerely," "Thank you," or "Best wishes." If you use a two-word closing, capitalize only the first word. Leave four spaces after the closing for your signature; then type your name directly beneath the closing. Indicate any enclosures by typing the word "Enclosure" a double-space below your typed name. If you are the typist of the letter, but not the author, include your initials a double-space beneath the closing or enclosure.
A business letter can be formatted a couple of different ways. Block format is most commonly used, with left justification, single spacing and double spacing between paragraphs. If you use modified block format, you'll begin the date and the closing at the center of the page, keeping all other text left-justified. Semi-block style follows modified block style, except that you also indent each paragraph five spaces. Consider your audience when choosing a font, keeping it simple and easy to read. The most commonly accepted font is Times New Roman, size 12.
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- Purdue Online Writing Lab: Writing the Basic Business Letter
- South Pasadena High School: Style Guide for Research Papers; Business Letter Format
- MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Seventh Edition; Modern Language Association; 2009
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