Have you ever needed to write a professional letter to someone and didn’t even know where to start? There are several books on the market that one can turn to in this situation. But, what if you don’t want to or can’t buy a book just to learn how to write a letter?
Well The OWL at Purdue is a great resource to turn to, and one that I used throughout the entirety of my undergraduate career. The OWL, or Online Writing Lab, offers some of the most comprehensive resources for grammar, writing techniques as well as MLA and APA Style documentation standards. As an English Major, I turned to the OWL’s MLA guide more than I did the actual MLA Handbook.
I can’t keep all of the rules for writing in the English Language in my head, and recently I needed to know how to write a professional letter. So, I turned to the OWL at Purdue for some basic formatting, style, and necessary components that should be included when writing a professional letter. Writing the Basic Business Letter is the article I found, and it fits my needs perfectly. It even has a sample letter with spacing measurements all laid out.
Here are the basic components a Professional Letter in order of how they should appear in the letter:
- Sender’s Address
- If not included as part of the letterhead, this should appear at the top of the letter one line above the date. Do not write the sender’s name or title, and list only the street address, city, and zip code.
- Write out the month, day and year two inches from the top of the page. Depending on the format you use, either left justify the date or center it.
- Inside Address
- The inside address begins one line below the sender’s address or one inch below the date, and it should be left justified, no matter which format you are using. There are important tips to remember about how to address individuals, and especially women who may not like being called Mrs., Ms., etc. Be sure to read the full description at the OWL.
- Use the personal title and full name followed by a colon, and leave one line blank after the salutation. Be sure to use a nonsexist salutation, such as “To Whom It May Concern,” if you do not know the recipients gender. Using the full name in a salutation is also acceptable when you are unable to determine gender.
- Be concise, and be sure to reinforce your position, argument, claim, or request, in each of the body paragraphs. Choose one of the more popular formats, block or modified block, and single space and left justify each paragraph. A blank line between each paragraph takes the place of the first line indention.
- In line with the date & salutation, only the first word of the closing should be capitalized, and leave four line spaces below for a signature.
- Used when attaching documents to letters.
- Typist initials
- If someone other than you is typing the letter, the person should include his or her initials at the very bottom.
See the example letter over at the OWL, and learn more about the different formatting styles. There is a difference between Block & Modified Block formats. Depending on your audience, and purpose of the letter, choosing the right format will be critical.
Writing letters is still a necessary ability, and not being able to write a professional letter — such as a cover letter for a job application — will hurt you every time. Take a minute to read over the full description at the OWL and let us know if you have any other great letter writing resources.