December 2008
Writing eTips UpWrite Press
Document Styles

Formats for Business Letters

When you send a business letter from the workplace, you are representing your company, so it’s wise to choose a format that will make the best impression. There are three basic letter formats to choose from, each conveying its own feeling about the writer and his or her business.

The full-block format is the easiest to set up, with all elements flush left and paragraphs separated by a space but not indented. In the signature block, the writer’s title is set on a separate line beneath his or her name.

While this format is easy to use, the content of the letter may appear unbalanced, depending on how the ragged right margin falls. (As a general rule, do not justify both the left and right margins of your letters, as this can distort the spacing and look awkward.) Full-block style is appropriate for ongoing, everyday business matters.

Similar to the full-block format, the simplified format is also set flush left. However, the salutation is replaced with a subject line in all capital letters, and the writer’s title appears on the same line with his or her name, separated by a dash, in the signature block. The complimentary closing is omitted. This all-business format suits mass mailings especially well.

Finally, the semiblock format, while more complicated to set up, offers a balanced, more traditional approach. In this format, the inside address (if used), date, closing, and signature block each begin at the horizontal center of the page, while all other elements are flush left. Paragraphs may begin either flush left or indented and are separated by a space. This format gives correspondence a comfortable though formal look that is always appropriate.

However you choose to format your letters, remember to proofread them carefully for typographical problems or other errors that could cast doubt on your professionalism. Although the appearance of your correspondence matters, the content is still most important.

You can learn more about formatting business letters on pages 28–33 of Business and Sales Correspondence, part of the EZ Series of business writing materials from UpWrite Press.


Our Staff Writers’ Blog

Get the latest insights into writing from our staff writers. In November, Tim Kemper wrote about "Bullish Business Writing Techniques," Lester Smith covered "Text Messaging as a Business Tool," Dave Kemper offered cures for "The Ailment: Writer's Block," and Joyce Lee discussed "Using Email Efffectively." Visit our blog for these and other great articles!

That Little Extra:

An organized work space is an efficient work space, but a clean, clutter-free area doesn’t have to be sterile. Personalizing your space makes it a more pleasant place to spend those eight or ten hours, so go ahead and display one or two of your kids’ latest art projects, as long as they don’t take up too much space. Be creative, using functional but attractive containers to sort those paper clips, pens, and other little desk items. (Fast-food cups work, but they’re SO déclassé!) Just for the fun of it, try basing your organizational methods on your business. For example, we know of a plumber whose office manager keeps items like pencils and paper clips in various short lengths of four-inch PVC pipe with attached bottoms. Finally, a small live plant can keep you in touch with nature (and help purify the air you breathe), but a droopy, dying one can only be depressing. Water it once in a while, and you’ll both feel better. Whatever your style, the goal is a pleasant but organized space. Make it work for you, so that you can work more efficiently.

Join Our Writers’ Forum

We invite you to be part of our monthly eTips. Each month we pose a question or problem regarding the use of writing in business. Send us your reply along with your name, your company’s name, and a brief description of what you do. We will print the best responses, and you will get your name out to our more than 6,000 subscribers! (We reserve the right to edit your remarks for fit and suitability.)


December Writers’ Forum Topic

How does your company handle holiday greetings? Do you send cards to clients? Does your holiday correspondence include or purposely exclude advertising? How do you word your greetings to avoid offending diverse populations?

Email your response to Write “December Writers’ Forum” in the subject line, and you could see your reply in the eTips Mid-Month Mini.

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