Most business letters must include a return address (letterhead or your name and address), date, an inside address (receiver's name and address), a salutation, body paragraphs, and a closing. However, there are several ways to format this information. For example, return addresses can be centered or begin at the left margin or begin at the horizontal center of the page.
There are four basic business letter formats.
FeaturesSample LetterFull BlockAll letter parts begin at the left margin.Full BlockModified BlockIndented ParagraphsDate, signature, and closing begin at the horizontal center of the page. All body paragraphs are indented.Indented ParagraphsBlocked ParagraphsDate, signature, and closing begin at the horizontal center of the page. All body paragraphs begin at the left margin.Blocked ParagraphsSimplifiedAll letter parts begin at the left margin. This format includes a subject line but omits the salutation and signature.Simplified
Format for Writing Professional Letters
There are several formats for writing professional letters. There are two basic styles of letters: block form and indented form. The samples below will help you determine which style you prefer.
Check Writing Letters for more details on block, indented and simplified letters.
Full Block Form
Name of Receiver
When writing a letter using block form, no lines are indented. Include your name, address, and phone number where you can be contacted, as well as the date. You then include the name and address of the person you are sending the letter to.
With new paragraphs, just skip a line instead of indenting.
Add your phone number where you can be contacted in the last paragraph. If the receiver needs to use a relay service to call you, briefly explain that you are deaf/ hard-of-hearing and that s/he can call you through relay. Give the receiver his/her state relay number and explain that s/he will need to give the operator your number. Then give him/her your number.
Indented Paragraphs Form
Name of Receiver
AddressDear __________: When writing a letter using indented form, indent each paragraph. First include your name, address, phone number, and the date. This information should be located at the top of the page, either in the center, or indented on the right side of the paper. You then include the name and address of the person to whom you are sending the letter.
At the end of the letter, place your signature on the right side of the page. Don't forget to provide any relay information if necessary. Sincerely,Your SignatureYour Name
Your Title Blocked Paragraphs Form
Name of Receiver
When writing a letter using blocked form, indent each paragraph. First include your name, address, phone number, and the date. This information should be located at the top of the page, either in the center, or indented on the right side of the paper. You then include the name and address of the person to whom you are sending the letter.
At the end of the letter, place your signature on the right side of the page. Don't forget to provide any relay information if necessary.
Simplified Style Form
Name of Receiver
SUBJECT LINE (use capital letters)
When writing a letter using simplified style form, put the date on the left. Then, put the receiver's name, and his/her title, company name, and address.
Write a subject line instead of a salutation. The subject line must be in all capital letters.
At the end of the letter, put your name and title, all in capital letters.
If you are using block format, you can place your address anywhere on the letter. You can place it at the top of the page (top center or top right side), or you can put your address at the end of the letter after your signature and name, regardless of which format you use.
If you are using block form, you can place the date on the left, in the center, or on the right. However, if you are using the indented form, it is usually better to place the date on the right or on the left. Do not put it in the center.
With the indented form, you can put your signature on the right or left side of the page.
- If you want to make your letter stand out, boldly type your name in a larger font at the top of the letter and type your address just below it in a smaller font. Example:
1345 Main Street
Anytown, VA 22879
The word processing program in your computer might have some standard letter templates that can help you. These programs generally have many different style and format options. Check your template feature or the help desk on your word processing program to see your options. Some key words you can try are:
create a letter
write a letter
Sourced by Janel Muyesseroglu
Gallaudet Interpreting Services (June 1999). GIS Web. [Online]. Available: http://www.gallaudet.edu/~gisweb/ [June 23, 1999].
Maggio, R. (1990). How to say it. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Webster's New World Office Professional's Handbook. (5th ed.). (1996). New York: Macmillan.
Yate, M. (1997). Cover letters that knock'em dead. Holbrook, Massachusetts: Adams Media Corporation
Developed by Patrick Peters
and Koon Wei Ho
A good covering letter introduces you to the employer and explains why you are one of the best candidates applying for the jobs advertised. By avoiding the following no-nos, you can create a covering letter that stands out from the crowd.
Forgetting to proofread your letter for errors and tone before you send it.
Make sure your letter has no spelling, typing, or grammatical errors. Job applicants are frequently deselected because of such mistakes.
Addressing the letter to the wrong person.
Call the company and find out the name and title of the person to whom you should address your letter. It shows initiative and resourcefulness, and will impress your reader that you figured out a way to address them personally. Use their name and title and don't try to guess their gender.
Using someone else's words.
Make sure that your letter sounds like you, not like something out of a book. Covering letters, as well as CVs, should be accurate reflections of your personality. Employers are looking for knowledge, enthusiasm, and focus.
Betraying your ignorance about the company and the industry.
This is where your research comes in. Don't go overboard - just make it clear that you didn't pick this company out of the phone book. You know who they are, what they do, and you have chosen them.
Being too informal.
Promote yourself as a professional. Your letter should be as close to a business proposal as you can get - not a plea for an interview. What do you offer that is of value? What objectives can you help them achieve?
Talking too much about yourself.
Downplay 'I' and emphasise 'you'. Try to convert 'I haves' into 'you wants' for the employer. What can you do for the organisation that will create interest and arouse a desire for an interview with you?
Being too cocky.
If you meet all the stated requirements for the job, spell this out in your letter - but don't lay it on too thick. Accentuate the good match between your skills and their needs.
Structure your letter so that each part achieves a particular goal. State the purpose of your letter in your opening paragraph. Keep the letter organised. Decide on the focus of your letter and ensure that all points reinforce the topic.
Draw attention to your skills and attributes by underlining them, bolding them, or indenting them in lists with bullets. You have to be careful with underlining because the line is often printed too close to the word, and reduces its readability. Use these kinds of emphasis sparingly just to make the highlights stand out when the reader gives your letter a quick skim.
Droning on too long.
Keep it simple and clean - not cluttered. Use no more than seven lines, and preferably five or fewer, per paragraph. Vary the sentence length. None of the sentences should be very long, but you don't want a staccato stream of very short sentences. One page is the maximum for letters.
Send original letters. Don't send copies that look mass-produced. Don't use typewriters or dot matrix printers and never hand-write your letter.
Forgetting to include a copy of your CV.
Remember that the one purpose for a covering letter is to get your CV into the hands of the employer and to obtain an interview.
Enclosing a photo.
Unless you are seeking employment in modelling, acting, or other performance industries, it is not appropriate to send a photograph with your covering letter. An employer will see what you look like, should you reach the interview stage. Until then, a photo won't help you get a foot in the door.
Forgetting to ask.
If you don't ask... The primary goal of your covering letter is to get an interview. Be sure to ask for one at the end of your covering letter. Be prepared to initiate the follow-up communication yourself and let your prospective employer know you will be doing this. This may be just enough to get them to hold onto your letter and give it a more thorough reading.