Business Letter Formats

Writing a business letter can be tough work. I know because I used to have the hardest time trying to come up with the words and the proper layout of a business letter.

I’d used to sit there and stare at the computer screen wondering what the business letter writing mystery was about.

I’ll tell you right now that it’s no mystery. As long as you know the proper business letter formats, you should have no problem putting together a professional sounding business letter. A lot of the problem that people have with writing a business letter is that they don’t know where things should go or what business letter format to use.

I know, I used to have that problem and I’m sure that if you’re reading this page that you have the same problem. Well, I’m going to do my best to help clear some of that confusion and lay down the proper business letter formats.

Writing a business letter is so much harder than it has to be. I think this has to do with the way in which we were taught about how to write a business letter. Business letters used to be written (and still do) in what might be called rigid language.

A formal, stiff language that uses “the aforementioned” and “due to the fact that” phrases. Combine the formal language with business letter formats and you get a lot of confusion.

Alright, the first thing you need to remember for effective business letter formats is the different parts of the business letter.

There are many parts to the business letter, some required, some optional. The parts of the business letter are as follows:

  1. Heading or letter head
  2. Date
  3. File number (optional)
  4. Confidential (optional)
  5. Address
  6. Attention line (optional)
  7. Salutation (optional)
  8. Subject line (optional)
  9. Body of the letter
  10. Complimentary close (optional)
  11. Signature
  12. Added information (optional)
  13. Postscripts (optional)
  14. Mailing instructions (optional)


The heading is usually written at the very top of the letter. However, if you business or organization uses letter head with contact information, than you don’t need to type in the address in the heading.


This should be the date the letter is written. If you write the letter today, it should have today’s date on it. Be sure to write out the month and to include both the date and year for adequate reference.

File number

This is an optional choice. Sometime you may want to state the file number or project number that you are writing about. This helps to communicate what it is you actually writing about. This is quite useful sometimes because there are some managers who simply have too much going on and don’t want to be bothered having to remember what the project number is.


If you want only one pair of eyes to see this letter, use this word by physically separating the word from the rest of the letter by two lines. To assure confidentiality, including the word “confidential” on the envelope.


This should include the name of the person you are writing, the person’s title if available, the name of the firm and the firm’s address.

Attention line

If you know exactly who this letter is going to, you may want to use the exact name. For example: Attention: Wanda Smith. However if you don’t know the name of the person, you may use a title. For example: Attention: Head of Account Receivable.


The salutation is used in all business letter formats to address the proper recipient. However, you must be careful to determine the most appropriate choice, given your reader and the situation. If you are uncertain about your reader’s gender, avoid assuming gender in the salutation. Possible salutations include:

– Dear Madam:
– Dear Sir:
– Dear Mr. Jones:
– Dear Mrs. Barnes:
– Dear Ms. Barnes:
– Gentlemen:
– Ladies:
– To whom it may concern:

Whenever possible, try and use the correct name because people are more receptive to reading the letter when they see their name on it.

Subject line

The subject line is most commonly used in a simplified letter but can be appropriate in almost any situation. I almost always attach a subject line because it helps to clarify my point. This way the reader knows immediately what the letter is about.


This the core of your business letter. This is where you make requests, provide information or reasons or reply to someone.

Complimentary close

It’s only polite to include a professional close such as:

– Very truly yours,
– Respectfully,
– Sincerely yours,
– Sincerely,

This varies in formality and is found in all business letters. Always include a complimentary close, no matter what the situation is.


Make sure you have enough room to sign your business letter between the complimentary close and your title. There should be about four to five lines of space between the close and your typed name and title. Don’t try and squeeze your signature in because it looks unprofessional.

Additional information

If needed, this consists of the sender’s initials in capital letters followed by a colon, followed by the typists initials in small letters. You may also include abbreviations such as “Enc.” which means enclosed, and other abbreviations such as “cc.” or “xc.” which means copies have been sent to the following names.

Mailing instructions

Use these to give the reader deadlines or pertinent information on mailing a reply.

Remember to use the proper business letter formats and you shouldn’t have any problems writing up a professional letter. When deciding on what type of letter to use, remember to use a format for the business occasion.

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