How to Format a US Business Letter

Contributed content / By Ava Williams / 9 July 2020

If you’ve ever struggled to write a business letter to a colleague in the U.S., we’ve got you covered. In this guide, you’ll learn how to format, address, and craft the perfect U.S. business letter and dramatically increase your chances of a response.

Chances are, you have to write a business letter and you’re a little concerned that you’re not going to format it correctly. If so, you’ve come to the right place.

How to Format a US Business Letter

In this short guide, we’ll go over 8 simple steps to write an effective U.S. business letter.

How to Write a US Business Letter

  1. Pick a block format
  2. Add your address
  3. Remember to include the date
  4. Consider a reference line
  5. Perfect your greeting
  6. The bulk of your letter
  7. Decide on an appropriate sign-off 
  8. Don’t forget to proofread

1.  Pick A Block Format

Block formatting refers to the side of the page your letter will be justified toward. There are two main types: full block and modified block. Let’s go over them both.

Full block formatting means that the elements of the letter are justified to the left-hand margin. Most types of letters are written with a justification to the left. 

Modified block format means that most things are justified to the left, but some things are also justified to the right. A common example is writing your address on the left, and the recipient’s address on the right. 

Block formatting allows you to place the most crucial information more compactly. It’s much easier to attract the attention of HR specialists to what you’re trying to convey. Aside from its strategic benefits, block formatting is also the standard layout of U.S.-business letters.

2. Add Your Address

Even if you have a personal relationship with the business contact you’re writing to, it’s always important to add your address. It might seem unnecessary, but it’s actually common practice. 

Have you ever used a cover letter or resume writing service? Take note of how they always include your address on whatever you order from them, be it a resume, cover letter or business letter. 

Not only is this pragmatic, it’s also very courteous. Not adding your address forces your recipient to go looking for it, which is considered quite rude in the business world. 

3. Remember to Include the Date

Just like your address, adding a date to your letter is an easily over-looked, but important step. It will help both you and your recipient in the long run.
 
Your letter is just one of likely hundreds of letters your recipient receives on a regular basis. Without a date, it’s easy to forget when your letter was sent and how quickly it should be responded to. 

With a date, though, your recipient will know when to take action on your letter, and you’ll get your response as promptly as possible.

4.  Adding the Reference Line

The reference line can be an extraordinarily helpful addition to your letter, depending on the context. Starting with “re:”, the reference line helps sum up what your letter is about. 

They’re typically used by companies responding to customers. For instance, if you reached out to a company regarding an online that never showed up to your doorstep, you might receive a response with a reference line that says, “Re: Missing Online Order.” 

If you’re responding to a business letter, or even if your recipient is expecting your letter, it’s best to add a reference line.

5. Perfect Your Greeting

So now that you have all of the logistics of your letter finished, it’s time to craft the appropriate greeting. It’s always best to use the name of the person being addressed, if possible — just make sure you get the name right. 

You might also like to skip the first name entirely and address your recipient by their title and surname, such as “Dr. Smith,” or “Ms. Maxwell.” 

Why is the right greeting so important? Imagine you’re bidding for a contract, and your letter begins “FAO Whomever it Concerns” or “Dear Business Owner.” With a generic greeting, you’re implying you haven’t invested very much in what you’re about to say. 

By using a specific, correct greeting, you signal to your recipient that you’ve taken the time to learn about the other party. This will make your chances of a response much more likely.

6. The Bulk of Your Letter

Though there is no defined standard formatting for the bulk of your letter, common sense suggests staying consistent. For example, whichever font you start with is the font you should use throughout the bulk of your letter. 

As for the actual content of your letter, what you write will of course be unique to you and the purpose of your letter. While you don’t need to follow a strict 3-lines-per-paragraph rule, you definitely should keep your letter as concise as possible. 

Why People Read Business Letters

People read business letters to quickly and efficiently absorb information. They don’t want to be skimming through any form of extra content. It’s courteous to keep your letter as to the point as possible.

For the same reason, you should also avoid adding a postscript, or “P.S.”, at the end of your letter. Instead, try to give your reader a quick and easy call-to-action

For instance, if you want a specific reply, end with a question. Or, if you just want to chat after your recipient reads your letter, ask that they contact you after reading, and add if you prefer a phone call, email, or other form of communication. 

7.  Decide on an Appropriate Sign-Off

With the body of your letter complete, it’s time to decide how you want to sign off. We suggest ending your letter with a polite phrase like “Kindest Regards,” followed by your full name. Other common phrases like “Sincerely,” are okay, but can be a little outdated. 

You might also like to add your company name underneath your full name. Depending on the impact you’d like to make, it might make sense to add your company title too. If you’re writing the letter on behalf of your team, don’t be afraid to mention your team or department as well.

Whichever sign-off you choose to write is up to you. Just make sure it’s appropriate with the body of your letter, and that it helps your recipient understand who is writing them.

8. Don’t Forget to Proofread

Proofreading is one of the most important steps in the letter-writing process. Sending a business letter riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes is unprofessional, and probably won’t get you the response you’re looking for. 

However, not only should you proofread your work, but you should also read it aloud. It might seem silly, but sometimes our tone doesn’t come off how we expect over text. To avoid any misunderstandings, make sure to quickly read the body of your letter out loud before sending it. 

Follow These Steps to Craft the Perfect US Business Letter

Until now, the conventions for writing a U.S. business letter may have been confusing or hard to find. By following these 8 simple steps, you can now feel confident that your letter is respectful, appropriate, and bound to receive a response.

Make sure to reference this guide often when writing your next business letter to ensure effective correspondence between you and your recipient.
 

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