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How To Succeed in Mr. Pogue's Technical Writing Class
01 Business Letter Tutorial
02 Memos and E-mails
03 Proposal Tutorial
04 Job Search Tutorial
05 Company Profile Tutorial
06 Resume Tutorial
07 Follow-up Letter Tutorial
08 Markup Tutorial
09 Progress Report Tutorial
10 Master Document Tutorial
01 Business Letter Tutorial
business letter tutorial
How to Write a Business Letter
This tutorial will teach you how to write a standard business letter. You can find additional instructions and examples in your textbook under the following headings:
The Standard Format
As you begin doing more advanced technical writing you’ll find yourself using predefined templates more and more, and most word processor programs offer a wide selection of templates for business letters. We’ll discuss the use of templates extensively later in the semester, but for the purposes of this exercise you’ll prepare a business letter from a blank document.
We’re doing this for several reasons. The first and most important is clarity. You need to be familiar with all of the major elements of the business letter format, and the best way to learn them is building them yourself. Until you’ve been working with document templates for a while, it’s not always easy to separate the included elements and to understand the role each element plays.
The elements of a business letter are:
Writer’s signature block
As far as style goes, we will use the Full-Block Style shown in your textbook. For this exercise, use a 12-point, serif font (such as Times New Roman). We’ll talk more about fonts and styles later in the semester, but for this letter, simpler is better.
The Blank Page
Open your word processor (Microsoft Word) to a new document. You’ll find yourself staring at the blank page. Most business letters consist of no more than one or two pages.
The Blank Page
Begin by setting up your page. Make sure the page margins are set to 1-inch all the way around, that your paragraph format is single-spaced, and that you’re using a 12-point, serif font. Then start with your cursor at the top of the page, flush against the left margin, and fill in the business letter elements in order.
The first element, your heading indicates where the letter is coming from. In a business environment, the heading often consists of a stylized, branded letterhead, and many of the business letter templates you’ll find also offer stylish (though more generic) letterhead designs. The real purpose of the letter’s heading is just to provide context to the recipient, though, so in the absence of official letterhead a simple address works just as well.
Note that you don’t need to include your name in the address, since that appears below in the signature block. Depending on the nature of the letter, it may be appropriate to include your phone number and/or your email address in addition to (or instead of) a physical address. For the purposes of this tutorial, use your physical address and your email, as shown below.
Three-line header, including email address
That’s your header. Skip a line (press Enter twice), and move on to the address block.
Date and Inside Address
If you’re comparing this tutorial against your textbook, that last instruction (“Skip a line”) might seem insufficient. Actually, the textbook recommends starting the heading two inches below the top of the page, and then inserting three lines before the date, and then inserting two to six lines before the inside address.
The purpose of all these lines is twofold: to provide whitespace that visually separates the elements of the letter (a purpose which even a single line can accomplish); and to orient the letter on the page in a way that is visually pleasing. That second part can be tricky, and certainly isn’t as simple as saying there should always be three blank lines between the header and the date.
The real goal, at least for a single-page business letter, is to arrange it so that the body of the letter is centered on the page. Any extra space on the page can be divided among the heading, date, and inside address at the top, and the closing, signature block, and end notes at the bottom. You won’t know how much space each of those needs, though, until you finish writing the letter.
For the purposes of this assignment, simply do your best to arrange the letter visually on the page. When in doubt, use one or two blank lines between each of the elements and you’ll be fine.
As you can see below, you should include the complete date (with the month spelled out). Then add the full mailing address of your letter’s recipient.
Letter date and mailing address
The inside address is an important element of business letters because they tend to get saved, filed, and even passed on around the company, generally without any accompanying envelope. I mentioned the importance of the heading earlier to establish context for the recipient of the business letter, and the inside address serves the same purpose for anyone else who reads the letter later. Because of the nature of correspondence, the identities of the sender and recipient of a business letter can be as important as the letter’s content. For this tutorial, address it to me, like this:
Of course, you don’t always have the name of your recipient. When you’re writing a letter to a company, you should direct it to the appropriate department if possible. Otherwise, the company’s name and mailing address is sufficient.
Whenever you can direct a business letter to a specific recipient, you should do so. This applies to the inside address (as mentioned above), and is reflected in the salutation. In most cases, you should use your recipient’s title and last name, followed by a colon. Your textbook offers some detailed instructions on the appropriate use of titles (Mr., Ms., Dr., etc.). For the purposes of this class, you can address me as “Mr. Pogue.” Your salutation would look like this:
In the sample letter I’m using for illustrations, I didn’t have a named recipient so (in keeping with the directions given in your textbook), I replaced the salutation with a subject line, referring the document to the recipient’s Customer Service Department.
The body of the letter contains your message to the recipient, but before you dive into your message it’s usually a good idea to open with an introduction. Ending the body with a clear conclusion helps make your letter stronger, too.
Letter with a body
You should generally begin with a short introductory paragraph explaining why you’re writing the letter – which may include why you chose the recipient as your point of contact, your relationship with the recipient’s company, or may be as simple as, “I wanted to write and provide some feedback.”
Follow your introduction with your message. In the sample letter I’m using, I wanted to write to cancel a service appointment and terminate a service agreement. If you’re writing your Letter of Introduction, then your message includes all of the elements listed in the assignment description. Say everything you need to say, as clearly and succinctly as possible, and then move right to your conclusion.
Like the introductory paragraph, your conclusion should be brief. Business letters are generally written to busy people. If you’re asking for assistance, it’s often a good idea to close your letter with, “Thank you for your time.” You might also say something like, “Let me know if you need anything else from me.” Whenever you’re asking for a response, it can be a good idea to let the recipient know the easiest way to contact you.
Closing, Signature Block, and End Notes
In a personal letter, your closing is a last opportunity to express your sentiment toward the recipient (whether it’s “Love,” or “Yours Truly,” or “Hoping You’re Well”). In a business letter, though, the standard closing serves more to indicate visually the end of the body. Because of this, you should use a closing, always, but you shouldn’t invest a lot of time in figuring out just what to say. You’d be safe to go with, “Sincerely,” at the end of every business letter. You can certainly do that for this assignment.
After the closing, leave four blank spaces (exactly four this time, to give you room to sign), and then type your name. Your textbook also offers some instructions concerning End Notations, but few business letters require these and you certainly won’t need them for your Letter of Introduction.
The Finished Letter
When you’re done, print and sign the letter. And do remember to sign the letter! It’s an easy thing to forget, but a business letter with an empty signature block is far less effective than a signed one.
Now that you’ve filled up your letter, you can go back and insert (or remove) empty lines to adjust the way it looks on the page. My finished one looks like this:
Finished (but unsigned!) business letter
I’ll find out what yours looks like when you send it to me! Good luck.
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