Types of Business Letter

Professional correspondence should have a clean, polished look, which is where proper business letter format comes in. The overall style of the correspondence depends on the relationship between you and the letter’s recipient, and it can contain almost anything. Read on to learn more about the two main types of business letter as well as four indentation types that are used less frequently.

Full Block Style

The full block style business letter layout is more popular than other business letter templates, and given the option, it is the one most people prefer to use. When you use this business letter format, all the information is typed flush left and margins are set at 1 to 1 ¼ inches all the way around. This happens to be the default setting in most word processing programs including Microsoft Word.
The left justified type is easy to read, looks crisp on the page, and leaves little room for error. If you are new to writing business letters and your company doesn’t have a policy in place concerning business letter format, you may find this is a good place to start.
Follow the salutation or greeting with a comma or colon. In the United States, colons are sometimes preferred; in the United Kingdom, greetings are usually followed by commas. If you aren’t sure which your company prefers, use a comma for all greetings other than the generic “To Whom It May Concern,” which is always followed by a colon.
Full block style business letters have a formal look, however they can be used in any business situation. If you are looking for a single format that will work well in every situation, this is a good one to use.

Modified Block Style

The modified block style business letter is the second-most popular layout. It has a clean, traditional look, with your company’s return address, the date, the closing, and the signature line being started at the center point of the page.
All other elements including inside address, greeting, body, and enclosures notation are left justified, and paragraphs are followed by either double or triple spacing.
Like the margins on a full block style business letter, the margins of the modified block style business letter layout are set to 1 to 1 ¼ inches.
Follow the salutation or greeting with a comma or colon. In the United States, colons are sometimes preferred; in the United Kingdom, greetings are usually followed by commas. If you aren’t sure which your company prefers, use a comma for all greetings other than the generic “To Whom It May Concern,” which is always followed by a colon.
Modified block style business letters are less formal than full block style letters. If you are corresponding with someone you already have a good working relationship with, the modified block style letter is a good one to use.

Standard Format

The standard business letter has the same look as the block style business letter, meaning that all lines are flush with the left margin. All margins should be set at 1 ½ inches.
The greeting or salutation in a standard format business letter is always followed by a colon.
An optional subject line follows the salutation or greeting. This is written in all caps, and should read “SUBJECT” or “RE:” (an abbreviation for ‘reference’). This should be followed by a brief description of the letter’s subject, an account number, or other applicable information. The subject line is often underlined.
The letter’s closing is followed by a comma.
A standard format business letter has some additional, optional elements added to the closing and signature area.
If a third person, such as an assistant or secretary, typed the letter, a blank line should follow the sender’s information located below the signature. The typist’s initials should follow the sender’s initials on a line located just below the blank line, with the sender’s initials in uppercase and the typists in lowercase. For example: “KS:pj” or “MJ:ak”
On the next line, you should indicate whether a copy of the letter is being sent to anyone else with the notation “cc:” in lowercase letters. For example: “cc: John King”
On the line below that, you should indicate the presence of enclosures, if appropriate. Note that the abbreviation “Encl:” beginning with a capital ‘E’ is used with standard business letter format. For example: “Encl: copy of invoice”
Standard format business letters are quite formal. Because they include an optional subject line, they are ideal for situations in which you need to create a formal response or communicate about an account number or case number.

Open Business Letter

The open format business letter looks almost exactly like the block format business letter. There are two basic differences between the two layouts:

  • There is no punctuation after the greeting or salutation
  • There is no punctuation after the closing

The open format business letter has a clean, formal look just as the block format letter does. It is suitable for all business communications.

Semi-Block Business Letter

In the semi-block format business letter, all text is aligned to the left margin. As in other business letter templates, each paragraph is separated by double or triple spacing. The main difference between this type of correspondence and others is that the first line of each paragraph is indented.
The semi-block format business letter is a little less formal than the block format letter and slightly more formal than the modified block format letter. It works well in almost all situations and is a good choice if you find yourself on the fence about which format to use.

Modified Semi-Block Business Letter

The modified semi-block format business letter looks almost identical to the modified block letter, with just one difference: The first line of each paragraph is indented.
The modified semi-block business letter is the least formal-looking of all business letters and is best for using when you know the recipient very well.

Business Letter Writing Tips

Regardless of which business letter format you prefer, use the following basic tips to ensure that your correspondence has a clean, professional look.

  • Save the fancy fonts for personal correspondence. Business letter format rules dictate that plain fonts like Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman be used. Your company may have a preferred font; if so, use that one.
  • 12-point font is the standard for all business letter formats
  • Follow the salutation or greeting with a comma or colon. In the United States, colons are sometimes preferred; in the United Kingdom, greetings are usually followed by commas. If you aren’t sure which your company prefers, use a comma for all greetings other than the generic “To Whom It May Concern,” which is always followed by a colon.
  • The closing, which is also known as a valediction, is always followed by a comma.
  • You can use any business letter formats with company letterhead, just skip the return address that is usually located at the top of the page.
  • Print your business letters on standard 8- ½” x 11” paper. Use good quality white paper or choose a paper in a muted color like cream or gray. It is a good idea to use a matching envelope.
  • Format business letter envelopes carefully. If you are new to the process of printing envelopes, practice using a plain sheet of paper to ensure that everything is in the right place.