What a lot we lost when we stopped writing letters. You can’t reread a phone call. (Liz Carpenter: writer, feminist, reporter, media advisor, speechwriter, political humorist, and public relations expert)
If you are not in business, occasionally you need to write a more formal letter, which acts as a record of your effort to correspond with a company or someone in business. If you are in business, the need for formal letters is a frequent occurrence. If you are familiar with the format of a business letter, work to make the content concise yet still informative, and learn the optional additions to such correspondence, then your letter will do its job and, hopefully, bring positive results.
In Part One we looked at the basic format of a letter, but there are several other points to be made for the format. A formal letter should always be typewritten, but since most people are familiar with using computers, that is almost a moot point. Side margins should be one inch, which is often the default setting on a computer. There are occasions where two-inch margins are used if the letter is unusually short. Also, most information sources suggest using Times New Roman (size 12) or Arial as the preferred fonts. You should not use cute or cursive fonts; they are more difficult to read. Single space each of the paragraphs with a blank space between paragraphs. Finally, print off a copy of your finished letter for your records.
I consider it a good rule for letter-writing to leave unmentioned what the recipient already knows, and instead tell him something new. (Sigmund Freud: neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis)
The content of your letter requires special care. First, writing a letter is made easier if you have an outline prepared. Then think carefully about your purpose and what is necessary to explain that purpose. Consider your audience; tailor your letter specifically to the person(s) that may be reading your correspondence. Next, keep your writing concise, but that doesn’t mean being overly and undiplomatically blunt. Stay professional; always remain polite and avoid veiled threats or slander. The personal pronouns “I” or “you” are acceptable. Use “I” for personal opinions but be careful of using “we” because it commits you and your company to your statements in the letter. Finally, use passive verbs sparingly; it is better to ascribe an action to a particular person or group.
Other additions to a formal letter give the reader important information.
- Reference line – the next line after the date, written “Re: (account number, earlier correspondence, etc.)”
- Subject line – one extra space after salutation, a brief statement about the nature of the letter content, written “Subject: Insurance ”
- Email address and phone – immediately follows typed sender’s name and title.
- Initials – one extra space after email and phone; writer’s initials in capital letters and typists’ initials in lower case (e.g., DPR/drr); not used if the writer and typist are the same person.
- Enclosure – two lines after sender’s typed name (and email/phone) or initials (sometimes abbreviated to Enc.); written as one of the following:
- Enclosures: 3
- Enclosures (3)
- 2 Enclosures
- CC or cc (formerly known as “carbon copy,” but now known more as “courtesy copy”) – placed two lines after sender’s typed name or enclosure notice; lists who else will be receiving this letter; may list several people.
- S. (postscript) – not used much anymore because the letter can so easily be edited to include the information in the body of the letter.
1530 West Lake Road
Saginaw, Michigan 48601
July 20, 2018
Re: Account Number 3609241
Dr. Emmett Stork
Saginaw Medical Clinic
300 Saginaw Road
Saginaw, Michigan 48601
Dear Dr. Stork:
Subject: Insurance inquiry
(Introduction and purpose of the letter)
(Specific information explaining the purpose)
(Restatement of purpose)
Ms. Kimberly Jones, Manager
Jones Services, Inc.
CC: Abraham Moore
Diane Repass is a retired tenured assistant professor
from The University of Dubuque and now a beloved
writer for Plaid Swan Inc. She received her M.A. from
The University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Plaid Swan is a women-owned marketing communications firm operating out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The firm represents clients across the United States in public relations, media planning, social and digital media, graphic design and strategic planning. Visit us online at PlaidSwan.com or on our social media channels as @PlaidSwan. Lines are meant to be crossed.