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How to write and set out a business letter


When you write a business letter you create a lasting image of yourself or your business


Specific job application letter content  links


Business letters index

Reading principles

Guide to English comprehension and grammar

Business letter format and layout

Sample business letter format

Example of a letterhead

Additional tips on how to set out a business letter

Guide to the  use of capital letters

Guide to business letter format and presentation

Letter writing- style and tone

Sending documents through the post

Tips for the presentation of job search letters

This section is generic to all business letters including job application letters and goes a lot further than information on letter format and layout, letter structure and an example on how to set out a business letter. For instance, a guide to the use of capital letters is provided, which is a major problem some people have when writing letters, and "reading principles", which is important to everyone, particularly for people to whom English is a second language. 

The way you communicate on paper will alert your reader to your level of education, your personality and your level of professionalism. Your letter will most probably be a sales letter or it will contain a message you want to get across clearly. The basic principles for all types of business letters will be the same.

Writing business letters is an integral part of your job search strategy. You will write letters with different content in the course of your job search journey, such as:-

  • An Application letter or cover letter directly to the employer for an advertised job.

  • To third parties regarding an advertised job.

  • Enquiry letters to recruitment agencies.

  • Prospecting or cold calling / cold canvassing letters.

  • Networking letters. 

  • For any other employment situation that requires written communication:

All letters will be set out in the same way using traditional business letter format.


Specific job application letter links - go to:-

www.proactivehrm.com/JobSearch/Job_Applications.html (8 different applications)

www.proactivehrm.com/JobSearch/Letter_content.html (important)

www.proactivehrm.com/JobSearch/Sample_Job_Applications.html (samples)

www.proactivehrm.com/JobSearch/Marketing_Techniques.html (important)

A good business letter is not just about the content of the letter. The  format of the letter is very important. Reading Principles are extremely important factors to consider in the way you set out a business letter and I urge you to adopt these.

Reading Principles

Reading principles is a sales strategy that identifies how the reader scans a page. It is crucial to understand how to set out a letter using specific margin settings and where to place the most important content on the page for maximum visual impact. This format applies to any business letter.

Reading principles are very important part of the letter layout or any document where you want to ensure the main points of the message will be read. Note:-

  • English readers start reading in the top left hand corner and end in the bottom right in the shape of a fan panel. The exception is speed readers, who read down the middle. So keep these principles in mind at all times.

  • Where you begin the letter content is important.  If you have to start writing your letter too far down the page you lose the advantage of using reading principles. This is why it is advisable to make up a letterhead (see later) for all your correspondence.The main content you want to be seen should be in the middle of the page, say 6 lines where the eye will naturally take it in.

  • Justifying the letter is not recommended. Justifying a line means that the lines end neatly with the margin flushed against the right column  Many people find it very difficult to skim a justified letter.

  • Do not  start sentences right over to the right of the page and leave gaping white spaces on the left. This is against reading principles

  • When writers talk about leaving lots of white space they are talking about margin size and leaving 2 spaces between paragraphs.

  • Margins should be no more than 3 - 3.5cm left and right. You can use 3cm if you have a lot of information. Also it just doesn't make sense to provide a lot of white space on the left.

Guide to English comprehension and grammar


Common Errors in English

This is an excellent free resource and easy to use.


Punctuation is very important and the use of texting has created a generation who do not know how to use commas, colons, inverted commas, periods (full stops) and hyphens, for example. Some people say it is not important, but most employers will disagree, especial older employers.


For this information you will have to look at some other business letter writing resources.


Letter templates

Use a template for your letterhead. Create it yourself and just save it as a template or a document you can easily copy and paste. You don't need to use a letter template as all letters will be different. If you have Word for Windows learn some of the great features such as styles, quick parts for repeating signature, closing statement etc.



Business letter format and layout


Letters should be planned and contain a beginning, middle and an end.


 You need to be clear on:-

  • Who you are targeting.

  • The purpose of the letter.

  • What you want the reader to do.

(See letter-marketing techniques)


Business letter format and layout  (A sample business letter is provided further down).

  1. Letterhead or set out with name, address and contact details.

  2. Date

  3. inside address

  4. Attention line - who the letter is addressed to

  5. Salutation  (Greeting)

  6. Subject heading

  7. Body of letter - max 5 paragraphs - Approx 25 words each sentence

  8. Complimentary close

  9. Signature

  10. Reference

  11. Abbreviation "enc"

  12. Abbreviation  "c" or "cc"

Business Letter Format : Further explanation on how to set out a letter


1. Create your own business letterhead  as it will give you more room for the content.  If not, use the format in the example letter. However it may interfere with reading principles as stated above if you name and address and contact numbers take up too much room.


2. Date:  Use English dates at all times spelling out the month. XX Day XX month XX year.


3. Inside address: Full company address.


4. Attention Line - Who it is going to person or department.


5. Salutation is the greeting. Ensure you address your letter to the appropriate person. You cannot write a good letter if you don't know anything about the company or more specifically the person you are writing to. What is there title and job within the organisation, for example. Is he/she the decision maker?


Address the letter to a person by name not title. If the name of the recipient of the letter is not known, you must ring the company and find out who to address the letter to and ensure you have the correct spelling of the name. Under no circumstances use Dear Sir/Madam. Jimmy Sweeney, from Amazing cover letter software, provides advice on how to get around this when you cannot get a name. --> See More


6. What is the letter about: Quote any invoice or other reference number of state the subject of the letter. Be brief - few words. Should be centered and bolded. Use of reference - "Re" i.e.  "Re: Incorrect payment invoice 12345" is not necessary. Personal preference.


7. Body of the letter.


8. Complimentary close. Yours sincerely or Yours faithfully? Upper   

    or lower case?

Most people will use yours sincerely or your faithfully, however it is becoming more popular to use a less formal close such as Regards or Kind regards.


Golden Rule is:-


Yours faithfully is used when the person’s name is not known


Yours sincerely is used when the person’s name is known -

always. Both faithfully and sincerely in lower case



9. Your signature. If you want to be known as Mrs or Miss don't put Mrs James, for example. Put  in brackets at the end of the name i.e.  Adriana James (Mrs). This can be useful if your name can be both male and female and also if you are a female, it clarifies to the reader how to address you when they answer your letter. Non native English speakers often call themselves by their title, Mr Jones, for example. It is too formal and un-Australian or un-American. Brits can do this occasionally but please don't.


10. A reference: A company might want to put a reference number or show that the letter was signed by another person for the manager for example. Rarely used these days. Businesses usually put reference numbers in the letterhead area.


11. Abbreviation - Enclosing documents with a letter. If you enclose any documents you must refer to them at the end of the letter. For example, enc. resume, brochure, application form.


12. Abbreviation - If you are sending a duplicate letter to anther person as well as the recipient you must advise both parties. For example,  c.c. Mr Alec Shields, Supervisor of Finance Division (or just the name) at the bottom of the letter. (You see this in all email programmes).


Sample business letter format


There is no need to put full stops in the address in this format which was developed for word processing when PC's  first came out. An exception is when a full stop can separate words that usually have a full stop, like your postal box. Put full stops in the rest of the text. This example letter relates to a job, but it will be the same for any type of business letter. Note: It is best to use a letterhead.


Example of a Letterhead


James Bond


27 The Rise, Thornleigh Heights, W.A. 6111. Ph: (08) 9423 1796 

Email: jamesbond@inet.com


If you don't use a letterhead set out as below. Not recommended as stated in reading principles. (above)



The Beginning


James Bond 

27 The Rise

Thornleigh Heights WA 6111

Ph:  (08) 9423 1796 

(email address only if you are sure you want a response to be received by email)


2 line spacing


27 October 2012 

2 line spacing



Mr  A Whittaker    

Whittaker and Sands Pty Ltd                                

87 Mosman Road

Perth WA 6000


2 line spacing


Dear Mr Whittaker   (salutation)


2 line spacing before the subject /Job title. Centre the text. Use upper and lower case and bolded.


Re: account 123456  (attention or subject)


The middle


(Add body of the letter - what is the letter about)




The end 


Leave about 2 lines after the sign off above the line below.



Yours sincerely



4-5 line spacing  This can be 4 lines if running out of space





John Smith  (Signature)  

Type your name and underline.  Not you full name and use the name you are known by in brackets  i.e. Margaret (Maggie) Fergusson


Note: If the letter is unbalanced , adjust it on the page -  top and bottom margins should be equal.


See business letter format 1

See business letter format 2


Additional tips on how to set out a business letter.


Your signature - How do you sign your letter

Sign your name with a BLUE pen - never use your signature created by the computer.


Signature and the colour of the ink you should use.  In his "Instant Cover letters" software, Jimmy Sweeny states that the colour of the ink you choose to write your signature is important.

"It has been shown, believe it or not, that the color of your pen can improve the response to your Cover Letter. If possible, you should always sign your letter by hand using a blue or green felt-tip pen. We don't recommend using a black pen."  See how this software will assist you to write highly effective job application letters.

Using PS. at the end of your letter is a powerful sales strategy

Many marketers, including Jimmy Sweeny say the PS (Post Script/scriptum) at the end of a letter is very powerful attention grabbing statement when used in a sales letter. It is an after thought, after writing the letter. Meaning "by the way...." For example, you may say.  PS. "I omitted to tell you that I am starting  5 week evening course in writing business letters at Pro-Active Human Resource Management next week which will provide me with the skills to write more effective business letters that may be useful to the position".

So PS it is something you wanted to say that is not in the main letter content. But in this case it is done on purpose. In a personal letter you may say. PS. I forgot to tell you that Sam passed his exams. In fact with word processes it is no longer necessary to use PS. It was ok while writing long hand or even manual typing.

Guide to the use of capital letters 

·        The first word of a sentence

·        All proper names of people 

·        Names of governments and government departments 

·        Official titles 

·        Titles of Statutes   i.e. laws, bills, acts of Parliament and         “The” before these titles 

·        Races and cultures 

·        Languages 

·        Geographical places 

·        Names of holidays and other public events 

·        Trading names  

·        Main words of the title of: -

      Courses                     Films

      Books                          Plays

      Reports                       Poems

      Chapters                     Works of art

Guide to business letter format and presentation

  • Make up a plain letter head.

  • Document should be typed and printed out on a quality printer.

  • Use only white paper and black ink.

  • Lots of white space - margins 3cm or 3.5 either side.

  • Single line spacing in sentences.

  • Leave two lines between paragraphs. However, this can take up a lot of room. A solution is to manually adjust the line spacing by placing the cursor between the line and put in size such as size 8 - two spaces. If using Word use the styles and paragraph settings 1.5. Be consistent.

  • Font and font size - Use the same font as resume which should be Times New Roman or Arial, size 11 or maybe 10 if you have a lot of content. (Today we are more used to size 10 font - once considered too small).

  • Do not justify the margins (see reading principles).

  • Max 5 short paragraphs

  • Approx 25 words in each sentence.

  • Use simple words

  • Use point form where appropriate

  • Use punctuation to assist in understanding the content.


Business letter writing style and tone


The tone needs to be professional but not too formal, It should be genuine, positive and enthusiastic. 

  • Use your own language style (within application and these guidelines).

  • Strike a balance between your own verbal communication style and a professional approach.

  • Avoid using jargon, smart comments and clichιs.

  • Eliminate negative words.

  • Use bullet points in the middle of the letter if appropriate for clarity.

  • Be concise and take out all fillers.

  • Make follow up action clear (for all letters not just job search).

  • Alert the reader to attachments. i.e. "enclosed, resume and references". Put this in after your signature.

  • Check thoroughly for grammatical mistakes and typing errors. Have it  proofread by another person - even two people.

  • Leave for one day if possible before you send  so that you can look at it again with a fresh eye to proof read.

If writing a sales letter or self marketing letter such as an employment letter, use good marketing techniques and do not boast or come on too strong, arrogant or smart.

 Didn't find what you wanted? Search Google for business letter writing and examples of business letters with keyword phrases 


business letters  OR  business letter writing 

Custom Search


Sending accompanying documents through the post

You should be aware that documents can go astray and may never reach the recipient. (the person it was addressed to). They also get chewed up by machinery in the postal exchange (In Perth).  Yes, truly, this is first hand knowledge.

     It is wise to follow these rules if sending accompanying documents.

·         Your name and page number must appear on all documents, preferably in a footer, if using word.

·        Ensure you have the name of the person it is going to on the letter.  i.e.  Attention Julia Jones.

·         Do not put your documentation in a folder.

·         Do not use staples – use modern silver clips, not the old paper clips. They are expensive but worth it. If it is a resume the employer will want to scan it or make additional copies. They will not be happy if they have to un-staple it.  On the other hand, they do not want to lose it.

·         Another reason for not using staples, as mentioned, is that as your may get eaten by postal sorting machines. Silver clips are not as bulky but you have to take a chance.

·         Don't fold your documents.

·         Put “do not bend” on the envelope.

·         You must use the envelope that has the postcode on the right bottom corner. (Australia)  If it doesn't it could be held up for days because it will have to be manually sorted. Pay extra for these envelopes.

·         Ensure your envelope is directed to the appropriate person or shows a reference number if requested.

·        Make sure you have your return address on the envelope.


Tips for the presentation of job search letters


·         If making a quality contact through networking, you may use parchment paper and/or a folder if you insist.

·         A folder, and an additional master copy, may be appropriate for executive jobs where the company is the main contact point, and if applying for jobs where there is less competition. Also a folder is appropriate if the jobseeker as been headhunted. But also enclose an unbound copy.

·         If cold calling, do not assume the address is the same as in the phone book. A) The company may have a private box and letters can get lost. B) Sometimes the company has moved premises, although they use the same phone number.  This happens quite a lot.  (See information on spam re cold calling).

·         In job search make sure the job title is on the envelope.  Re: Accounts payable position - number 12345.





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Best application cover letters

Specific job application cover letters with powerful opening statements to use in your targeted job application - you can still  address the employers needs. Includes templates.


See examples of our employment letters. They all use correct business letter format

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Job Search Book For Older Workers

If you are an older worker and have just been retrenched you are probably new to current methods of job search and job application writing. Let face it, older workers need additional help and this book provides you with some excellent strategies.


Comprehensive business writing toolkit that combines "how-to" tips, tricks, advice, and information with over 125 real-life templates for writing any type of business letter








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