Writing great business letters in English

In a world of digital communication, we don’t write letters often. Most of our daily communication is by email or phone. Because we write fewer letters in business nowadays, we tend to only use them for more important messages, which means it’s more important than ever to be able to write an effective professional English letter. Follow our tips below to make your next business letter a great business letter.

Use the correct format and salutation

Create a good first impression with the start of the letter by making sure it is laid out correctly and uses the correct salutation. Most company paper will already have your company address in the top-right corner as part of the letterhead. If its not there already, add it and add the address of the person you are writing to below it on the left-hand side. Put the date below that on the right, then start your letter. Make sure the person’s name and title are correct e.g. Dear Ms. Jones. Use Dear Sir or Madam or To whom it may concern if you don’t know their name.

State your purpose

You should state the purpose of your letter in the first paragraph, for example: As per our phone conversation, I am writing to provide the information you requested.

Use the reason for writing to choose your tone

Business letters are usually formal in style – we use email instead of letters for informal communication. While the style of English is formal for most business letters, the tone may vary depending on the reason for writing.

Letters of request often use modal verbs to make the request more polite. For example, it would be impolite to write: I want you to come to our office on Thursday. Instead, use ‘would’ to make the request more polite: Would you be able to come to our office on Thursday?

If you are giving bad news or apologizing, you should be polite and tactful and state the reason for the problem. You can use an expression such as I regret to inform you, I’m afraid that, or unfortunately to introduce the bad news. For example: I regret to inform you that your application has been unsuccessful.

Letters of complaint need to be firm but polite. State the facts and don’t get too emotional. For example, if a late delivery had a bad effect on your project, and appropriate way to write it in a business letter would be: The delivery was five days late and that caused severe disruption to our project. An inappropriate way to write it would be: I’m really angry because your staff messed up!

planning agenda

Ending the letter

In the last paragraph, you can include some closing remarks like Please contact us if you have any further questions. If you are enclosing documents, you can add Please find enclosed or I am enclosing at the end of the letter. You should also refer to future contact at the end of the letter e.g. I look forward to seeing you next Thursday.

Closing the letter

The close or ending of your letter depends on your relationship with the reader. Use Yours faithfully when you don’t know the name of the person to whom you are writing. Use Yours sincerely for formal letters to people whose name you know. For slightly less formal letters, you can use Best regards or Kind regards. You should add your signature (sign your name by hand) after the close, and then type your name and position underneath.

Check for errors

The most important step! You should always proofread the letter carefully before you send it, by checking for errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation. As a final check, ask yourself if the letter is clear, concise, correct, courteous, convincing and complete.

Next time you are writing a business letter in English, check through these steps before you start to ensure your letter is effective and appropriate.

Aren’t you an EF English Live student yet? Try the business English course by requesting a one month for only one euro trial.

Article related: 5 ways of signing off a business email in English