But first, put aside your self-doubt about writing an English letter. The fact that you are reading this article means that you care about your output, which is appropriate and commendable. These steps will set you on the right path on how to write a business letter in English.
8 Steps to Write a Business Letter in English
Key elements, as well as content, will be addressed in this space. Because business letters are more formal than a business email, you will want to follow these guidelines to a “t.”:
Step #1: Determine the target audience
There are different levels when it comes to the relationship with the recipient of your letter. It’s important to define. Is this a business person with whom you have a personal relationship? Do you even know the person? Have you had previous contact?
There are three types of letters for different groups. These include
Very Formal Business Letter
More often than not, you have a formal relationship with the recipient. We will delve further into the groupings, so keep them in mind. Your answers about the audience will shape the content of your letter.
To begin writing your business letter (a formal letter or informal letter), we will start at the topmost portion of the page. Measure two inches down and write out today’s date. The date format for American English is as follows:
Month: It should be written out, i.e., no abbreviations.
Beginning one line below the date, write the recipient’s address. The proper layout is as follows:
Name: Ms. Pat Smith
Job Title: Chief Diversity Officer
Company Name: Data Central
Company Address: 309 Main Street
City, State, Zip Code: Easton, CT 06612
Step #4: Include your salutation
Two spaces below the recipient's address, you will kickstart your letter with a salutation. This is also where decisions concerning your audience will need to be made. Pay close attention because there are some nuances.
In a very formal or professional setting, it is customary to address your recipient as Mr., Ms., Dr., Mrs., or Miss. The last two are not as common, although “Mrs.” is still used. “Miss” is typically reserved for girls ages 17 or below. Use your best judgment, and choose how you anticipate your audience would want to be addressed. When in doubt, use “Ms.” instead of “Mrs.”
Make sure to put a period and comma after the salutation. The leaving off of punctuation gives the impression of having rushed through the formal letter.
If you do not know the gender of the individual, write out their full name, i.e., Dear Pat Smith. If you don’t know or have a contact name, simply address the letter as “To Whom It May Concern.”
Step #5: Write the body
You are ready to craft the body of the letter. Begin writing two spaces below the salutation (left-justified).
VERY FORMAL OR PROFESSIONAL AUDIENCE
If your target falls in the grouping of "Very Formal" or "Professional," you should immediately begin with the Bottom Line on Top (BLOT). Be straightforward and concise on the reason for the letter. If your audience is a friend, you should include an extra sentence to establish a rapport. For all groups, this first part should serve as an introduction.
If needed, your first sentence should orient the reader as to how you came to know their name. For example, “John Simmons was kind enough to provide me with your contact information.” Or, “You were identified as a person who is interested in xx.”
If your audience is in the category of “Informal,” you have a connection. In this case, you should begin with a reference to your relationship. For example, “I really enjoyed connecting with you at the conference last month. I hope your family is having a good summer.” Or, “It’s been a long time since we have collaborated on a project. I am looking forward to working with you again.”
In business writing, 99% of the time, being concise and direct is the best strategy. Summarize key points, adhere to proper grammar, and be forthcoming. Your motto should be “specific yet tight content.”
Finally, think about your closing paragraph. If you're asking the reader to perform a specific action (e.g., call you to set up a meeting), make it very specific about what you want your reader to do.
"Please contact me at XXX-XXX-XXXX by February 5 to set up a meeting to discuss implementing the new product."
Notice how this closing gives the reader the action, contact info, and a specific deadline. Guide your reader to the appropriate future action. Ensure they don't have to guess what you want them to do.
If it's a purely informational letter that doesn't require a response, you can include a more generic closing. For example, "Call me with any questions at XXX-XXX-XXXX."
Step #7: Add the closing salutation
In closing salutations or your sign-off, the first letter of the first word should be a capital letter. For subsequent words, the first letter(s) should be lowercase. Each should end with a comma.
Some types of letter examples per target audience:
Very Formal Letters
Cordially, Sincerely yours,
Kind regards, Warm regards,
Best, See you soon,
Step #8: Insert your signature
Four lines below the closing salutation, you should include your signature (handwritten), e.g., Evelyn Wright.
Here's an example of a completed English business letter:
March 22, 2023
Mr. George Vogel Director of Operations New York Transit Authority New York, NY 10010
Dear Mr. Vogel:
Enclosed is our final report evaluating the safety measures for the New York City Transit System.
The report addresses all issues you raised in our last meeting. I believe you will be happy with the resolution of the issues. However, if you have any further questions, I would be happy to meet with you again.
Thank you for your willingness to share data fully, and for your insights as we compiled this report. Your experience was invaluable.
Marilyn Jones, Ph. D. Director of Research firstname.lastname@example.org
Place the return address outside of the letter on the envelope, along with the recipient's address.
Use block formatting. Every item is left aligned, with no indented paragraphs. There is one line of space between each item/paragraph. You can see block formatting here.
What is the correct tone in English?
Formality is a tricky thing in English since it isn’t built into the grammar like in Spanish, French, or Japanese. Instead, it is built into our tone of voice (when speaking) and in the vocabulary we use. You can see some good examples of different levels of formality here. (The first example demonstrates the proper level of formality for a business letter.)
Here is a quick tip. In general, a good rule to remember is that formal writing is a bit longer. For example:
FORMAL: I appreciate …
*Remember! This is a general rule. It is not always true.
What to avoid in a formal English business letter
Here are some things you should avoid in a formal letter:
Emojis – as much as I love these because they “humanize” writing, they don’t belong in anything formal.
Exclamation points – These make you sound like a teenage cheerleader.
Acronyms like LOL or ICYMI – These are often inappropriate (in the case of LOL) or better spelled out (in the case of ICYMI). They are also easily misunderstood (I knew someone who thought LOL meant “lots of love” instead of “laughing out loud.” It seems like a small mistake, but it resulted in some hurt feelings when she sent LOL to someone who had just lost their grandfather.
Anything that sounds too friendly or intimate. Example: Nice chatting with you yesterday! Instead, write, “It was good to talk with you yesterday.”
Sentence fragments – Example: Looking forward to your reply. (More info here.) These are used often in speech and are usually ok in informal writing, but they don’t work in formal writing because the subject of the sentence is missing. ("I am looking forward to your reply.")
Instead, keep your focus on:
Meeting your audience’s needs and expectations. Remember, the receiver of your letter might not be your only audience. Other people, particularly those above your intended receiver, may also see your letter.
Direct, simple language.
Strong, appropriate grammar. Know your grammar weaknesses and proofread carefully. If you have trouble with this, useGrammarly.
Key takeaways on how to write a business letter in English
Note that the guidelines for writing a business letter in English fall into four key areas: content, cultural insights, formatting, and grammar. When all of these are in sync, you will deliver an output that is deemed respectable and easy to follow by your audience.
The best way to become a good communicator in English business writing is to practice. It doesn’t take an enormous amount of time and effort, but with some real-life exercises, insight from experts, and immediate feedback, you can take your English business letter writing to the next level.
Get instructor feedback on your actual English business letter writing in our online self-paced course.
Katie is an experienced Business Writing and English as a Second Language instructor, business writing coach, and teacher trainer. She taught Business and Academic Writing at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She holds a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Rhode Island and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Massachusetts Boston.