If you need to write a letter for a professional setting, it is imperative you know business letter format.
Most professional documents follow standard formatting conventions. If you don’t want to risk appearing naive or lazy, in most professional settings you should stick to the standards. This doesn’t mean your business letter has to be ugly! You still have a lot of flexibility in the way you design the letterhead (at the header and footer of your document) and you have total control over typeface and margins. The business letter format example below isn’t exceptionally attractive in terms of letterhead design (here I’m just highlighting the conventions), but the formatting is the most widely recognized professional business letter format. Click on the .jpg file below for the full-size image, or use the PDF version. See below the image for a an explanation of the business letter format components.
For more business document formats, please go to my business communication page.
HEADING goes at the top, ususally with some letterhead design, including a logo and possibly a company slogan. Heading should include mailing address of company or individual writing the letter.
DATE that the letter was written typically goes above the inside address.
INSIDE ADDRESS includes the title, name, and mailing address of the person receiving the letter.
SALUTATION includes the word “Dear” (there are NO exceptions to this in a professional letter), the title of recipient, and the last name. If you don’t know the name of the person receiving the letter, use a title (“Dear Night Shift Supervisor”). If the person doesn’t have a title (like Doctor or Officer), use the full name of the person. Don’t assume gender or marital status (Mr., Ms., or Mrs.) unless you know the person. A colon (:) follows the name, not a comma.
BODY TEXT is left-aligned with no indents. Paragraphs are single-spaced, but double-spaced between paragraphs. Paragraphs should remain short (4 – 5 lines maximum for the introductory and closing paragraphs, 8 lines maximum for the rest.)
COMPLIMENTARY CLOSING is double-spaced under closing paragraph. “Sincerely” is most common, non-intrusive term. Other possibilities include “Respectfully,” “Cordially,” “Regards,” “Best,” and, possibly, “Cheers,” depending on the mood of the letter.
SIGNATURE BLOCK includes a handwritten signature (avoid stamps and computerized signatures when possible). Beneath signature, name is typed and title is given. If you are representing a company, the company’s name should be written in ALL CAPS directly underneath the complimentary closing, before the signature. Four spaces are included between the complimentary closing and the typed name.
ENCLOSURE NOTATION is included if something besides the letter is inside the envelope. List all items.
FOOTER is optional but a nice visual touch if it complements the letterhead design.