Dixie invites you to look at her letter which is a typical example of a full block business letter format. This is the most popular business letter layout nowadays. It is the easiest to format as everything starts at the left margin.
Below Dixie describes in detail major elements of a business letter. Most of them are used in writing practically any business letter. You might also need additional business letter elements, so do check them out!
As you can see above, Dixie has started her letter with the return (or sender’s) address. She has done it to demonstrate to you a full block business letter without a letterhead. Such letters are usually sent by individuals; business to business letters are written on letterhead stationery as you might have guessed.
However, Dixie decided that she wanted to put on this page one sample not to confuse you, so just substitute the return address with a letterhead in your imagination, Dixie is sure you will have no problem whatsoever in doing it!
To see a sample of a business letter using letterhead visit the Indented Format page.
The return address (or the letterhead) is followed by the date. If you are using a letterhead, type the date of your letter two to six lines below it depending on the length of the letter. If you are an individual using your return address in the business letter, leave just one line between the return address and the date.
Dixie’s advice is to type the date in full: do not use figures as they can be confusing (again Europe versus the US, you have probably already noticed that Dixie is more focused on the US rules and standards though she does comment on the European ways where possible).
In the US the date starts with the month and in Europe, with the day. As Dixie has been saying, all the rules are impossible to follow, so just try to work out some rules for yourself. But whether you start with the month or not, do not abbreviate it – this rule stands.
If you know the person’s name, write it on the first line of the inside (or receiver’s) address. It can be preceded by the courtesy title (Mr., Ms., etc.). Try to put the full name, the way Dixie did: Margaret Edwards or at least M. Edwards. Dixie used the courtesy title but it is more often omitted than not lately. The receiver’s name can be followed by his/her position in the company or the name of the department. But as you can see, Dixie just wrote the name of the company which is also acceptable.
It has become common to use open punctuation, especially in a full block business letter. It means no punctuation at all at the end of the address lines. If you prefer to use punctuation, Dixie recommends following by a comma each line of the address except the last one.
Dixie chose to put the position of the person she is writing to in the attention line, which is also optional. Attention line can be skipped in a business letter, your choice.
Salutation depends on whether you know the name of the person you are writing to. If you do, you use “Dear Ms. Edwards”. Initials or first names are usually not included in salutations. On the other hand, you could write “Dear Margaret Edwards” and skip the courtesy title.
If you don’t know the name use either of the following (Dixie is positive you can figure out by yourself which and when needs to be used):
Ladies and Gentlemen
Gentlemen (US)/Dear Sirs (UK)
Dear Sir or Madam
To Whom It May Concern
Note: it is recommended to avoid "Dear Sir or Madam" lately, but Dixie is not quite sure she likes this rule.
Write the body of your letter keeping it brief and to the point. Proper letter writing is a separate topic, you can find information about it on business writing and business writing resources pages of Dixie's site, but here she mostly talks about formatting. Leave a line space between the paragraphs, it is essential for the full block business letter format.
The most common complimentary close accepted in the US and UK is
Dixie suggests you just use “sincerely” and forget about figuring out the difference between complimentary closes.
But if you insist on using some other ones, try the following depending on your situation:
Respectfully yours (very formal)
Yours faithfully (UK for business letters that begin with Dear Sir, Dear Sirs, Dear Madam, Dear Sir or Madam)
Very truly yours (polite and neutral for the US)
Cordially yours (quite informal)
Leave four blank lines after the complimentary close to sign your name. This is a rule Dixie would advise to stick to unless you have very little space, but three is a minimum. Sign your name between the complimentary close and your printed name. Dixie hopes you like her tidy signature above. Title is optional depending on relevancy and degree of formality.
According to the US rules for business letters, you are supposed to use colon (:) after salutation and comma after complimentary close; it is called mixed punctuation. In Europe commas are used in both cases. Open punctuation (i.e. no punctuation) after salutation and complimentary close is becoming common, especially in the US.
There used to be strict rules about line breaks between different parts of the letter. For instance, you were supposed to leave two breaks after salutation and two breaks between the body of the letter and the complimentary close. Now these rules are becoming less strict and as always, Dixie suggests you use your own judgement in choosing which rules to follow and to what extent.
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