Business letter format

How to write a business letter

Business letter: the beginning

A. Your company name followed by all contact details (including address, telephone, fax, company url and email).



B. Recipient’s address (including their name and title if you know it).

C. Date on the right- or left-hand side of the page.

D. If required, add the file references, both yours and the recipient’s (use ‘Ref’as an abbreviation for ‘reference’).

Business letter : the content

E. The greeting.

Casual: Dear [first name and surname] Formal: Dear Mr [surname], for a man, or Dear Ms [surname] for a woman. If you don’t know the name of the recipient, use Dear Sir or Madam or Dear Sir/Madam.

F. Stating the subject of the letter using Re (used as an abbreviation for regarding).

G. Here are some options for starting your letter:

I would like to enquire about (or whether) …
I am writing regarding …
I am writing in response to …
I am writing to inform you that/of …
I am writing to complain about …
Further to my letter of 15th May…

H. The details of the letter are to be added at this point.

Business letter: the end

I. Here are expressions you can use to end a business letter.

Please let me know if …
I look forward to receiving your reply.
Thank you in advance for your help.
I would be most grateful if you could inform me …

J. For a casual ending, use Regards or Best wishes. A formal ending (if you know the recipient), use Sincerely or Yours sincerely. A formal ending (if you don’t know the recipient): Yours truly or Yours faithfully.

K.
pp: indicates the letter was signed on behalf of someone else
cc: these people have received a copy of the letter
enc: documents are enclosed with this letter

27 Comments

  • I always understood that Re was a latin word meaning “about” and not an abbreviation of regarding. Have I been wrong all these years?

  • We need a Latin scholar to resolve this, but OED says the origin of re (as a preposition) is from classical Latin, re being the ablative case of res (meaning thing or affair). The OED article goes on to say: “The form re. probably results from reanalysis as showing an abbreviation for regarding, prep.”

  • Dear Macmillan team,
    I have been teaching English for the last 8 years, and I was always sure that the post code in an address should be below the town and not behind it. Has anything changed?
    I have found plenty of sites with different views on this subject and I would feel a lot better if I knew what to teach my students over here in Germany.
    Thank you very much in advance
    Kind regards
    Stefanie Cole

  • Thanks for your comment Stephanie. The UK Post Office recommends that on envelopes the postcode should have a line of its own: http://www.postoffice.co.uk/letters-parcels/mailing-guide/clear-addressing.
    This is presumably because most post is read automatically and it’s easier to identify a postcode on its own than on a line with other information. In letters, I think it comes down to a matter of personal preference: some people write the postcode on the same line as the city, some on the line after. So I think you can tell your students that either is OK, but that when addressing the envelope they should start the postcode on a new line (I confess that I didn’t know this until I checked the website and have always alternated randomly between the two).

  • Hi, if the sender’s address is along the bottom of a pre-printed letterhead page, rather than at the top, does the address need to be added again at the top right of the letter?

  • what if I write the letter on behalf of my boss but he signs it, do I still include my name and title with p.p. in front of it?

  • Dear Kitty,
    You only use pp if you sign the letter on behalf of someone else. If the letter has your boss’s name in print at the bottom and is signed by him or her, you don’t need to use pp.

  • Hi Vasagiri

    Levels of formality do change all the time, especially with the use of email and so on, but I would say ‘thanking you’ is a bit too informal for a business letter. Expressions such as “Thank you” or “Thank you in advance (for your help)” are more appropriate. ‘Yours faithfully’ is used when you don’t know the name of the person you are writing to (and so have started the letter Dear Sir/Madam); if you do know their name then ‘Yours sincerely’ or ‘Sincerely’ is appropriate.

  • Is this correct

    On behalf of Mr. Lolly and me, we would like to thank you for

    or

    On behalf of Mr. Lolly, please accept our thanks for

  • I think the 2nd is better than the first, because it’s clearer, but how about:

    Mr Lolly and I would like to thank you for…

  • I’m formatting a letter for my supervisor “DE”; she is writing the letter on behalf of her supervisor “DC”… should the letter close as this:

    Sincerely,

    DE SIGNATURE

    pp: DC

    cc: DE

    ? Also, when DE or myself writes a letter we always cc: DC should we still in this case?

  • Hi Kirsty. If the letter is being written by DE on behalf of DC I don’t see any need to cc either of them. You usually cc people who wouldn’t otherwise see the letter (or email). But it has to be said I’m not an expert: perhaps others will have different views.

  • How would we indicate that the cc recipient is not going to receive the attachments of the letter. Would the following be correct to indicate:

    cc: John Doe (w/o attachments)

    or

    cc. John Doe (memo & position log only)

  • Hi Janel. My preference would be for the first as it seems completely clear and sufficient. But as I said above I’m not an expert, so others may think differently.

  • What if I write an email on behalf of my boss and send it to her clients, do I need to write ‘On behalf of (my boss’s name, title) at the bottom of the email or just simply write ‘pp’ ?

    I get confused since the phrase ‘On behalf of XX’ is commonly used at the start of the letter/email to represent someone else.

  • Hi Miss Ho.
    While ‘pp’ was used in traditional business letters, email etiquette is generally more fluid and informal. Also ‘on behalf of’ has the benefit of being clear to everyone, while some people may not be clear what ‘pp’ means (it is actually short for a Latin phrase, per procurationem). So I’d say that ‘on behalf of’ works well, either at the beginning or end of an email, but pp is equally acceptable if you prefer to use that.

  • I am interested in knowing how to properly sign off, in a business letter.
    Is it:
    Douglas Benoit, CEO
    Woodwindology

    or:
    Douglas Benoit
    CEO, Woodwindology

    or something else?

  • Hi Douglas, I think the second one is better. It says who you are, and then what your position is.

  • Hi !

    Is it okay for a business letter to be signed as the business entity name ?

    Eg.:
    Yours faithfully,

    ScrupulousLawyers (signed)

    Scrupulous Lawyers Ltd

  • The first is actually the correct format IF the company’s name is also included in the signature block. As follows:

    Douglas Benoit, CEO
    Woodwindology

    If the letter is being typed on company letterhead showing the company’s name (Woodwindology) or the company’s name is otherwise given in the heading of the letter, the company’s name does not have to be repeated in signature block, in which case, it would be:

    Douglas Benoit
    CEO

  • Thanks for your input kris w. As I’ve mentioned before I’m not an expert in this field so it’s good to have informed opinions on these matters.

  • If im writting a letter from the director of the company Can I use both “I” and “we” / “us”/ “our”?

    Eg. I would like to appologise for the delayed reply. Unfortunately, we had to wait for contractors to reply, and some were slow getting back to us.
    ….
    If you decide to use our services.

    Thanks in advance for your help.

  • Fiona: I think it’s fine to mix I and we in this way; you are writing (‘I’) on behalf of the collective thing (‘we’) which is the firm. You could also use ‘I’ in both places and that would emphasise the fact that you are taking personal responsibility for the delay (even though it’s not your fault).

  • What’s the formal heading to give as response to this prior heading:
    ” Re: Application for promotion”
    Can one use;
    ” Re: Re: Application for promotion”
    When you want to tell the reciever the time is convenient

  • Hi Ruth and thanks for your query.
    Business language, like other forms of language, has become less formal in the internet age. I usually see Re: Re: on emails that have been sent back and forth. It strikes me as unnecessary and when I can be bothered I change it, either getting rid of one Re: or by changing the title (so you could change it to Application for promotion: time). But I often just leave it. I don’t really think it matters either way.

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