Planning a Business Letter

A business letter is not a place for chit-chat. Unlike business conversations where a certain amount of small talk is used to break the ice, a business letter should be clear and concise. By taking time to plan your letter, you will save time in the writing and proofreading stages. During the planning stage, ask yourself a few simple questions. Jot down your answers to create an outline before you start writing.

Who am I writing this letter to?

Identifying your audience always comes first. Are you writing to more than one person, to someone you don't know, or to someone you have known for a long time? This will help you determine how formal the letter needs to be. You may need to introduce yourself briefly in the letter if the recipient does not know you. You may also need to find out the updated address and title of the recipient. This is a good time to confirm the correct spelling of first and last names.

Why am I writing this letter?

The main reason for the letter should be understood from the subject line and first few sentences. You may cover more than one thing in one business letter, but there will almost always be a general reason for the letter. Identify your main goal and what you hope to accomplish. Review some example reasons why people write business letters on the introductory page of this lesson.

Are there specific details I need to include?

Gather any dates, addresses, names, prices, times or other information that you may need to include before you write your letter. Double check details rather than relying on your memory.

Do I require a response?

Many types of business letter require a response. Others are written in response to a letter that has been received. Before you start writing, determine whether or not you require an action or response from the recipient. Your request or requirement should be very clear. In some cases you may even need to provide a deadline for a response. If you do require a response, how should the recipient contact you? Indicate this information clearly as well. You may want to provide more than one option, such as an email address and a phone number.

How can I organize my points logically?

Think about how you would organize your thoughts if you were speaking rather than writing to the recipient. First you would introduce yourself. Second you would state your concern or reason for writing. After the main content of your letter you would include information on how you can be contacted. The end of the letter is also a place to express gratitude, wish good-luck, or offer sympathy. Here is an example outline:

  • Karen Jacobson
  • Acquaintance (met twice before, briefly)
  • Title: President, The Flying Club
  • Address: 44 Windermere Drive, Waterloo, Ontario L1B 2C5
  • To invite a board member to remain on the board for a second term.
  • Other members suggested that she has enjoyed this position and has been thinking about staying on.
  • No other volunteers have come forward to take over at the end of September.
  • If she decides to stay on she will need to be available for the national meeting on 5 November.
  • Board members who stay for two terms are sometimes asked to take on extra duties, such as taking minutes or hosting social events.
  • She will need to respond by 1 September.
  • She can contact me by email or phone.
  • Return address of our institution
  • Karen Jacobson's title and address
  • Salutation: Dear Ms. Jacobson
  • First paragraph: Introduce myself briefly--remind Karen where we met before. Provide my reason for writing: "I have heard from a number of board members that you may be interested in staying on for a second term. We would be very pleased to have you stay on for another year."
  • Second paragraph: Explain what type of commitment this position will involve this year (once a month meetings, national meeting, plus possible extra duties)
  • Third Paragraph: Provide deadline for response and how to contact me.
  • Closing: Express thanks to Karen for volunteering her time this year