3 Steps to Succeed at Business Letter Writing
Better business letter writing skills are necessary for the 21st century. They’re the go-to form of communication when communicating externally—to clients, partners, or customers. This means that a business letter is one of the most powerful ways to make an impression on people outside of our organizations: to help them understand changes, to announce new information or offerings, or to deliver news (whether it’s good or bad). Business letter writing, then, is a crucially important skill for your employees to develop and use.
When you have better business letter writing skills, you can apply those skills to lots of other genres, like memos and emails, too. (Memos are used internally to communicate team updates and business processes. Email, of course, is used universally—both internally and externally, as needed, to share important information.)
To improve your business writing skills, think about the letter you need to write before you start doing any actual writing. Add the prompts below to your business letter writing process, and you’re sure to see an immediate improvement in the organization and the tone of your business letters.
Here are three steps to improve your business letter writing skills.
Step 1: Think about your reader.
Take a moment or two to get inside your reader’s mind. You know the old adage: to understand someone best, walk a mile in their shoes. This exercise works a bit like that. Taking time to think about your reader and focus on their needs will help you write a more direct, focused letter—one that clearly states your purposes for writing in the context of their needs.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Who is my reader? What is their job title or role?
- How familiar am I with them? Do we have any prior connections or interactions that I need to consider?
- Will the contents of this letter be exciting, upsetting, or mostly neutral to my reader? How or why?
- Am I anxious about anything I have to communicate to this person or group, specifically? Why?
By honing in on your reader, their needs, and their expectations, you can begin to reshape the message of your letter to not only convey your needs but to meet their needs as well. And when you meet your reader’s needs you’re much more likely to invite the response you need. This will improve your business letter writing skills and help you get the outcome you want.
You also know what tone to use from this analysis. For example, if you're writing an old friend, it'd be appropriate to write in a warm, friendly tone and add a personal touch to your content. For a formal business letter, such as if you're writing to the CEO of a company, you would use a purely professional tone.
Handling a tough or emotional situation at work? Get some how-to advice for writing tactful and sincere apologies or tips for sending your condolences.
Write a business letter and receive personal instructor feedback in our most popular online course.
Download the Course Outline
Step 2: Outline the essential thesis of your letter.
Now that you understand who you’re writing to and have considered their mindset and needs, you can more pointedly consider your message. Writing by hand can be really helpful here, but you can also type up your thoughts or record a voice memo to help gather your ideas.
Just like the best essays you wrote in college, the best business letter has a thesis statement: one core point that comes into focus clearly and guides the rest of the content.
To identify this core point, ask yourself questions like these:
- What is the one main thing I’m hoping to convey in this letter? What, exactly, do I want my reader to know or do?
- What’s the one thing I want my reader to remember?
- Am I including any complex information or attachments that I need to contextualize?
- What is the best tone I can use to share this information?
By identifying the purpose of the content you’re sharing, and not just the content itself, you add what’s called a rhetorical dimension to your writing. This means you consider the impact and delivery of a message, in addition to the bare facts. Such considerations go a long way to making your business letters more readable and actionable.
Our final point is about exactly that: writing an actionable letter that garners the response you need.
Step 3: Consider the response you’re hoping for — and make it clear to yourself, too.
Now that you know both the audience you’re writing for and the main message you’re going to get across, you can focus finally on the response you’re seeking to receive.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Am I asking my reader for a response? What kind? On what timeline?
- Am I sharing an update with them that might upset or contradict previous information?
- Am I writing to help my reader make a decision?
Be as clear as you can be about the response you need in your letter. Your reader needs to know if you’re expecting to receive a letter back, a phone call, or a package of information and details. Never ask your reader to read your mind! Instead, clearly articulate for your reader what you’re expecting by way of a response.
You’re ready to write a better business letter!
After completing this exercise, you will have a clear sense of your reader, your goals, and the response you’re hoping for. All three of those things lead to a more focused business letter—and a satisfying, clear reading experience for the recipient.
Here are a few additional tips:
- Use these strong openings and salutations in letters and emails.
- Remember the acronym B.L.O.T. - bottom line on top. The beginning statement should almost always be the purpose statement you identified.
- Don't fritter away your closing sentence. The concluding information should elicit the business response you seek.
- Include a closing salutation such as "Best regards."
- Avoid punctuation mistakes and spelling mistakes using a spell check and grammar tool like Grammarly.
Hint: A business letter typically follows the block format. The letter is left-justified with a one-inch margin. Use single space for paragraphs and double space between paragraphs. Also, use a basic font such as Times New Roman to clearly communicate your message.
Need more help with formatting? Check out these helpful tips for a solid business letter format.
Or, read our full Guide to Business Writing.
Improve your business letter writing skills today.
No matter what type of letter you're writing, a polished business letter can lead to deeper business relationships, more successful touchpoints across the sales and project cycle, and to an awesome amount of confidence in your employees. You can enjoy outcomes like these when you take our business writing skills courses. Business letters are a common and necessary genre for every employee to know.
Our courses build on the recommendations offered here to help you create a reliable, iterative process for writing letters that will help you meet your goals.
Enroll in our Effective Business Writing Techniques Course to have an instructor review your actual business letter writing.