The Proper Business Letter Format

1950s BUSINESSMAN SIGNING...
••• H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock / Getty Images

Using the proper business letter format in your business communications conveys a sense of professionalism and can make the right first impression with a new business contact. With word processing software, it's pretty easy to create a letter with the correct format.

Four Formats

Business letters in the U.S. can actually follow one of four common letter formats. All four formats are acceptable, but block is the most common.

Block Letter Format: The common block letter format has all of the text flush with the left margin. Paragraphs are doubled spaced, and all lines of text are single spaced. The margins are a standard word processor setting of one inch.

Alternative Block Letter Format: The alternative block letter format moves the return address, date, closing, signature, name, and title to the right side of the page.

Semi-block Letter Format: The only difference between semi-block and block is the first line of each paragraph is indented in semi-block.

Simplified Letter Format: This format takes the same properties of the block letter with one exception: the greeting or salutation is eliminated. It is a helpful format when you don’t know whether the recipient’s gender is male or female.

Sections of a Business Letter

  • Return Address: If you have company letterhead, you can skip this section. Include your full business address and correct legal business name. You may also include your email address or phone number.
  • Date: Follow the month-day-year format (as opposed to the day-month-year format that prevails in Europe). Make your date current to the actual mailing date of the letter.
  • Recipient’s Name and Address: Include the full name and address of the person you are sending the letter to. The recipient’s title can be added as well.
  • Greeting: For the greeting, use "Dear" followed by 1) the person’s full name or 2) Mr. or Ms. and their last name. End the greeting with a colon.
  • Subject: Clearly stating the subject of the letter helps your recipient quickly determine the context of the letter.
  • Body: Your letter body should start with a general introduction of who you are and the letter's purpose. Further paragraphs will provide details related to the letter's purpose. Close the body with a call to action: a sentence encouraging the recipient to do what you want them to do. Every business letter should be concise, taking into account your reader’s limited time.
  • Closing: Here you can choose any formal options such as “Best Regards,” or “Sincerely,”.
  • Signature: Sign your name with the same name you're using in the letter.
  • Name and Title: Include your full name and job title.
  • Enclosures and cc: If you are sending additional documents, write "Enclosures:" followed by descriptions of those documents. If at least one other person is also receiving a copy of the letter, include cc: (for carbon copy, a reference to an old method of making copies of letters using carbon paper) and provide the name(s) of the other recipient(s).

You can somewhat simplify the process of creating a business letter by using your word processing program. In Microsoft Word, click on File and select New from Template ..., scroll down, and double click on Business Letter. You will have to manually add some of the elements above if you choose to use them.