Writing business letters and e-mails (offline)

In this course you will learn how to write business letters and e-mails and how to evaluate your business letters and e-mails.

Writing a business letter

How to write a business letter

Here is an example of how to write a  business letter.Look at the example above as you read the following information about the sections you should have in your business letter.

  • Your address, followed by the date should be at the top right of the page 
  • There should then be an empty line. Note that everything else you are going to include in your letter should start on the left side of the page
  • The position of the person you are writing to, the company name and company address (including their post code) should then be on the left hand side of the page
  • There should then be an empty line
  • Your greeting should be on the next line (if you know the person's name, this should be "Dear Mrs Jones". If you do not know the person's name, you should use "Dear Dir  / Madam")
  • There should then be an empty line
  • ​There should now be a heading starting on the left of the page, that summarises the contents of the letter - this is so that the person should know immediately what the letter is about
  • There should then be an empty line
  • ​Next is the main content of your letter. Remember to include any relevant dates, exact descriptions and reference numbers. If you have more than 1 main point to make, remember to use a new paragraph for each point, with an empty line between each paragraph. Your last paragraph should make it clear what you are expecting to be done and how soon. But remember it is always better to be polite and reasonable - you are much more likely to achieve what you want.
  • There should then be an empty line
  • You should use "Yours sincerely" if you know the person's name, or "Yours faithfully" if you do not know the person's name.
  • Your signature should be on the next line (or leave a space, if you are writing this letter on a computer and are going to print it before signing with a pen)
  • Your full name and title (eg. "Mr" "Ms.") should be on the next line
  • Your contact details should be on the last line of your letter (telephone numbers and e-mail address) in case the person you are writing to needs to contact you urgently 

Structure of a business letter

Drag the correct text blocks to where they should appear on your business letter
  • Your address and postcode
  • Date
  • Company name & address
  • Dear Mr Smith (or Sir / Madam)
  • Heading that explains what the letter is about
  • Main content of your letter
  • Yours sincerely / Yours faithfully
  • Position of the person you are writing to
  • Your phone number & e-mail address
  • Your signature, name and title

Salutations for business letters

The salutation in a business letter should always be formal.

  • If you know a person's name, you should use their title and surname (eg Dear Mrs Jones)
  • If you don't know their name, you should use Dear Sir / Madam

The closing sign-off you should use also depends on whether you know the person's name

  • If you know a person's name, you should use Yours sincerely
  • If you don't know a person's name you should use Yours faithfully

Match the correct salutation and closing sign-off

  • Dear Sir / Madam
    Yours faithfully
  • Dear Mr Smith
    Yours sincerely

The content of a business letter

The heading

Every formal letter should have a brief heading that explains what the letter is about and draws the reader's attention to your content. This does not need to be a complete sentence. For example:

Complaint about poor quality service

If you are using a computer, then the best way to make this obvious is to use bold text. If this is a handwritten letter, then you should underline the heading. For example:

Complaint about cold food

Main content

You should use formal language and well structured paragraphs, with a new paragraph for each point you are making. Remember to use any relevant dates or reference numbers (for example, if you are complaining about a product that is faulty, then include a product number and serial number, and where you bought the product). Other reference numbers you may need to include in your letter are:

  • Account names and numbers
  • Order numbers
  • Invoice numbers
  • Policy numbers
  • Reference numbers from previous correspondence 

You should make it clear if you are requesting action and when you expect this to be done.

A concluding paragraph may help ensure that you receive a response to your letter. For example:

I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.

Which is the best heading for a letter asking for permission to be absent from school because you need to travel to your parent's house to collect money to pay your exam registration fees.

  • I will be travelling to see my parents
  • Exam registration fees
  • Request for permission to be absent from school
  • Give me permission
  • I need to collect fees

Pick the correct answer from the dropdown menu to fill in the blanks and complete the content of this letter

 writing to complain about the poor service in  restaurant when I had lunch there on 5th September, 2015.

Which of the following sentences would be appropriate at the end of a letter complaining about the poor quality of service? Select the sentence(s) that explain(s) clearly what you want to happen. Note there may be more than one correct answer

  • I look forward to hearing your response to this complaint as soon as possible
  • Please reply immediately
  • Please send me compensation as soon as possible
  • I look forward to hearing the outcome of your investigation into this complaint and actions as a result of this.
  • I am anxiously waiting for your response.

Writing a business e-mail

E-mail basics

If you are connected to the internet, please click here to read the E-mail 101 module by GCF Learn Free.org about the basics of e-mail communication. If you do not have access to the internet, then please continue with the all the following sections which are based on the E-mail 101 module.

Introduction to e-mail

You may know that email (electronic mail) is a way to send and receive messages across the Internet, but do you know how individual emails are sent, or what they cost, or how email compares to traditional "snail" mail? To get a better idea of what email is all about, review the infographic below and consider how you might benefit from its use.

E-mail addresses

To receive emails, you will need an email account and an email address. Also, if you want to send emails to other people, you will need to obtain their email addresses. It's important to learn how to write email addresses correctly, because if you do not enter them exactly right your emails will not be delivered or might be delivered to the wrong person. 

Email addresses are always written in a standard format that includes a username, the @ (at) symbol, and the email provider's domain. The username is the name you choose to identify yourself, and the email provider is the website that hosts your email account.

Review the graphic for examples of how email addresses are written. 

Addressing an e-mail

Click where you would type the e-mail addresses of the people to whom you are sending and copying this e-mail 

E-mail providers

About email providers

In the past, people usually received an email account from the same companies that provided their Internet access. For example, if AOL provided your Internet connection, you'd have an AOL email address. While this is still true for some people, today it's increasingly common to use a free web-based email service, also known as webmail. Anyone can use these services, no matter who provides their Internet access.

Webmail providers

Today, the top three webmail providers are Yahoo!, Microsoft's Outlook.com (previously Hotmail), and Google's Gmail. These providers are popular because they allow you to access your email account from anywhere with an Internet connection. You can also access webmail on your mobile device.

Other email providers

Many people also have an email address hosted by their company, school, or organization. These email addresses are usually for professional purposes. For example, the people who work for this website have email addresses that end with @gcflearnfree.org. If you are part of an organization that hosts your email, they'll show you how to access it.

Many hosted web domains end with a suffix other than .com. Depending on the organization, your provider's domain might end with a suffix like .gov (for government websites), .edu (for schools), .mil (for military branches), or .org (for nonprofit organizations).

Information management software

Many companies and organizations use an information management application, like Microsoft Outlook, for communicating and managing their email. This software can be used with any email provider, but is most commonly used by organizations that host their own email.

Addressing an e-mail

  • True
  • False

True or false?

You should always include your full postal address in an e-mail

Writing an e-mail - click on the hotspots to see information about each field in this blank e-mail

Drag the text to the correct place in this e-mail

Drag the text to the correct place in this e-mail
  • [email protected]
  • Sentence describing what the e-mail is about
  • Main content of e-mail
  • Your signature (with further contact details if required)
  • Attaching a file to your e-mail

E-mail etiquette

As with any form of online communication, it's important to practice good etiquette and safety when using email. Etiquette is a set of rules and guidelines that people use to communicate more effectively.

Tips for e-mail success

  • Just like a written letter, it is nice to add a greeting such as “Dear Jane” and a closing line such as “Kind regards”, then your name.
  • People are more likely to read an e-mail if they know what it’s about, so be sure to include a relevant subject line.  long or rambling messages, but provide enough detail to make the e-mail clear.
  • It is always best to phrase things in the clearest way possible.
  • Double check the Cc and Bcc fields when replying to a message. It is easy to include recipients by accident.
  • Be sure to check that your message is free from spelling and grammatical errors and that you have correctly entered your recipient’s e-mail address. Remember e-mails can’t be unsent.
  • Your e-mail service may have various text formatting options, but be aware that formatting can make your e-mails difficult to read. Excessive formatting can also look unprofessional.
  • Many people create elaborate signatures with lots of contact information. However, this can make it hard to know how you would like to be contacted. Include only your preferred contact information.
  • Writing in capitals is equivalent to shouting online. Your recipient may mistakenly think that you are angry or upset. Also, e-mails written in all capital letters are much more difficult to read.

Which of the following is NOT appropriate in a business e-mail

  • Dear Sir / Madam
  • Hi there
  • Love from
  • Yours sincerely
  • Cheers
Please click all the answers which should NOT be used when writing a business e-mail

Evaluating your business letter or e-mail

How to evaluate your business letter or e-mail

The diagram below shows the steps you should follow when writing your business letter or e-mail.

If you are evaluating your own or a partner's letter or e-mail, think about how you would react to their letter or e-mail. Have they used the correct structure? Is the subject heading clear? Do you understand the points they have made? Is it clear what they want to happen as a result of their letter? Are there any obvious mistakes in the grammar or spelling? If you were receiving this letter or e-mail, how would it make you feel? Is there anything you would want the writer to change that would make it more likely you would want to act their request?

Writing good business e-mails

Match the correct pieces to make sentences that give good advice on writing business e-mails.
  • MAKE SURE
    You have checked that are sending your e-mail to the correct e-mail address(es)
  • NEVER
    Write only in capital letters
  • CHECK
    You have attached any files you wanted to
  • DON'T
    Send an e-mail before checking you haven't made any mistakes
  • E-MAILS
    Should not be too short as this can make them look rude
  • ALWAYS
    Make sure you have used formal language and been polite

Summary

Summary

The main points we have covered in this course are:

  • Both business letters and e-mails have the same basic format
  • You should use formal language in both business letters and e-mails and always be polite
  • The content of business letters and e-mails is the same. In both you should state the problem or issue that you are dealing with and also state what you need from the other person
  • Both business letters and e-mails are signed by you and include your contact details in case the person receiving the letter needs to contact you

Choose the correct answer from the dropdown menu to fill in the blanks to complete the paragraph about business letters and e-mails:

Business letters and e-mails have format. Both should include a clear  so that the recipient can see easily what the letter or e-mail is about. The content is . The content should always include  you are dealing with and suggest to this problem. You should always include so that the person can get back to you quickly if they need to.

Which of these statements about writing business letters and e-mails are true or false?

  • You can only send an e-mail to 1 recipient at a time
  • You should always use formal language when writing business letters and e-mails
  • You do not need to include a postal address in a business e-mail
  • Writing your e-mail in capital letters makes the recipient think the e-mail is very important
  • You should never check an e-mail before sending it
  • You should ask yourself how the e-mail you have written would make you feel if you received it
Choose whether each statement is true or false.

Well done - you have finished this course.

You have now completed this course on writing business letters and e-mails. It is now time to put what you have learnt into practice. Write a business letter or e-mail to your teacher about this course. You might want to include comments about what you thought was good and what you thought was not so good. Remember to include a suggestion about how this course could be improved. Then send this letter or e-mail to your teacher and ask for feedback.