Whether you’re writing a letter to the editor of your local paper or requesting restitution from a company in a complaint, you want to be taken seriously. Following the proper format will help.
Put your name, address, city, state and zip code on three lines, all left-justified (each line starts on the far left of the page). It is also a good idea to put your phone number on a separate line, and, to make the letter more eye-appealing, put a space between your address and phone number, or better, place the phone number (and your e-mail address if you have one) in a right-justified position.
Next, skip two spaces, and put the date on a separate line.
Now skip two more spaces and format the addressee’s information as follows, left-justified:
Name, followed by title if known
City, State, Zip code
Then, skip one line before placing your salutation.
Already, you may be saying, ‘wait, that’s not how I was taught…’ and you’re probably right. There are several acceptable ways to format the address of a business letter, but few variations among those. Here is another:
City, State, Zip code
Attention: (name of person to whom you’re writing)
It is important to note that both of these formats are equally acceptable, both in terms of postal delivery and business etiquette.
In most cases, addressing the envelop to the correct person is enough to guarantee the letter will get opened. But not always. If you’re concerned that your letter may be ignored or put on the “later” pile by a gatekeeper, consider flagging the envelop with a subject line. For example:
RE: our conversation about taxes 3-28-05
RE: your request for extended deadline
Or, if you’re sending a work proposal or samples, it’s a good idea to jog the recipient’s memory with a line on the envelop that says, “Requested samples enclosed” or, “Quote for deck job as requested.”
Finally, since you’re making an effort to ensure that your letter will be read and considered seriously, do what your English teacher suggested, and proofread it well. Better yet, read it out loud. When you hear what you’ve written, you’ll find many ways to improve the letter. Also, have someone else proofread it whenever possible. There’s a great value in having a fresh pair of eyes look over what you’ve written—ask that person to read it as if they were learning about the problem/topic for the first time.
1. Get a name. “Dear Sir,” “Dear Madam,” and “To whom it may concern” are ‘last resort’ salutations. They are also annoying to the reader. Call the business/organization you’re writing, and get a name. It’s easy, and it’s important. Just call and ask–most receptionists will know or will be willing to transfer you to someone who does. Using the correct spelling of the person’s name also goes a long way toward getting your point across.
2. Don’t use neon green paper, or any color other than white (although a light cream is marginal), don’t use colored ink or fancy fonts. Business letters come in black ink on white paper. Even an overuse of bold or italicized type will make your message more suspect.
3. Keep a copy of the business letters you’ve sent. In some cases, they may serve as a paper trail, showing that you’ve tried to work things out with the company/other entity. Which leads to a final point…
4. Don’t say anything in writing that you wouldn’t be willing to see used as evidence in a trial. Just in case.