What is the Business Letter Format?
The format of business letters has slowly changed over time with the culture of business getting less and less formal.
Here are the components of a traditional full block business letters – shown in picture form and with explanations.
The format shown here is just a guide – variations and customizations are common – and not all elements are needed in every type of letter such as job application cover letters or thank-you letters.
Block 1 - Return Address
If your stationery includes a letterhead, skip this block. Type your name and address along with other relevant contact information such as e-mail or fax number.
Block 2 - Date
If your stationery includes a letterhead, type the date from 2 to 6 lines under the letterhead. Otherwise type it under the return address.
Block 3 - Reference
Use this block to identify what the letter is in regards to. Examples are: “Re: Invoice 12345” or “Re: Your letter dated January 15, 2006.“.
Block 4 - Delivery Notations
Always in caps. Examples include SPECIAL DELIVERY, CERTIFIED MAIL, AIRMAIL, VIA FACSIMILE.
Block 5 - Recipient Notations
Notation on private correspondence if needed such as PERSONAL or CONFIDENTIAL. This goes just above the recipient.
Block 6 - Recipient
Type the name and address of the person and / or company. If you are using an attention line (block 7) then skip the person’s name. Address the envelope similarly.
Block 7 - Attention
Type the name of the person
Block 8 - Salutation
Type the recipient’s name. Use Mr. or Ms. [Last Name] to show respect, but don’t try to guess spelling or gender if you are not sure. Some common salutations are: “Dear [Full Name]:“, “To Whom it May Concern:“.
Block 9 - Subject
Type a short description on what the letter is about. If you used a reference line, then you likely do not need a subject line.
Block 10 - Letter
Type two spaces between sentences.
Continuing on to a Second Page
If the letter exceeds one page, repeat the recipient’s name, the date, the reference or subject line and show the current page number.
Block 16 - Page Number
Type the page number.
Block 17 - Continuing Letter Text
Continue your letter three lines below the heading. If you have less than three lines on the second page, consider rewriting your letter or adjusting margins to fit on a single page.
Completing the Letter
Block 11 - Complimentary Close
It depends on the tone and degree of formality as to what you write here. Can vary from the very formal “Respectfully yours” to the typical “Sincerely” to the friendly “Cordially yours”.
Block 12 - Signature
Leave four blank lines after the Complimentary Close (block 11) to sign your name. Type your name and (optional) title under that signature.
Block 13 - Identification
If someone else has typed the letter for you, it is common for them to indicate so with initials. Typically it is your initials in upper case followed by the other initials in lower case. For example “BCT/gt”. If you typed your own letter, skip this block.
Block 14 - Enclosures
If you are including other things with the letter such as brochures, this line tells the reader how many to expect. Common styles include “Enclosures: 3”.
Block 15 - Copies
If you are distributing copies of the letter to others, indicate so using a copies block. the code “cc:” used to indicate carbon copies but now is commonly called courtesy copies.
Continuing on to a Second Page
Notes and Tips
Don’t type the brackets. The brackets [ ] in the examples are for narrative purposes only.
Try to keep your letters to one page.
Use letterhead only for the first page. Just use a blank sheet of paper for continuation pages.
You have some freedom in how many blank lines to use between blocks and in the margin sizes in order to fit a letter onto a single page.
Not all letters need every block identified in this article. If you leave one out, do not leave blank lines where the blocks would have been.