There are two basic categories of business letters: business to business, and business to customer.
Business to Business Letters
Most business to business letters is written to confirm things that have already been discussed among officials in meetings, on the telephone, or via e-mail.
Can you imagine the letters that would have to go back and forth to cover all of the questions and possibilities that can be covered in a one-hour meeting, a half-hour phone call, or a few quick e-mails?
The main purpose of a typical business letter is to formalize the details that were arrived at in those discussions and to provide any additional information that was agreed upon.
Over the years, certain general standards have evolved in the business world that the vast majority of businesses use in drafting their business to business correspondence.
Business to Consumer Letters
There are many different types of business to customer letters. They include sales and marketing letters, information letters, order acknowledgment letters, order status letters, collection letters, among others.
As with business to business letters, over the years certain general standards have evolved in the business world that the vast majority of businesses use in drafting letters to existing and potential customers.
Of course, going in the other direction is the customer to business letters. These include order letters, order status inquiry letters, complaint letters, and others.
Since these are customer-generated letters, there is no particular expectation that they follow any particular letter-writing standard. Typically, they are handled just like any other piece of personal correspondence.
Business Letter Writing Tips
Here are a few tips I have picked up while writing literally hundreds of business letters over the past 20+ years. This is a slightly modified version of the tips included in my eBook, “Instant Home Writing Kit”.
Limit Them To One Page.
By definition, business letters should be short and to the point, preferably one page in length. Studies have found that busy business people do not like to read beyond the first page, and will actually delay reading longer letters.
Relegate Technical Details to Attachments.
Often, it is necessary to include detailed technical information as part of a business letter package. In such cases, use the main letter as a cover letter that lists and briefly explains the attached (or enclosed) documents.
Keep Them Formal and Factual.
Generally speaking, the tone and content of business letters should be formal and factual. Feelings and emotions do not have a place in business letters.
Carefully Plan Your Letter.
Before writing the letter, take a few minutes to list all of the specific points you need to cover. Sometimes it may even mean a call to the recipient or his/her company to confirm a specific point. Remember, the purpose of the letter is to tie up all of the details on the subject at hand, so that more letters won’t have to be written back and forth.
Be Customer Friendly.
When writing directly to customers, always focus on their needs and their perspective. Put yourself in their position and imagine what it would be like receiving your letter. Everyone can do this since we are all customers of some other business in some part of our lives.
Use Non-Discriminatory Language.
Make sure that you avoid language that is specific to gender, race, or religion in all business letters, either to other businesses or to customers. For example, use “workforce” instead of “manpower”, or “chairperson” rather than “chairman”. Most style guides contain detailed lists of the offensive terms and some suggested substitutes.
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