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business English: correspondence

Shahid Ullah from Bangladesh writes:

I am working as a senior officer in a garments factory which is 100% exports oriented.

So that the business runs smoothly, can you please help and advise me how to write official letters easily?


Roger Woodham replies:

There a number of fairly standard conventions when framing a business letter that it is important to observe.

Your business address

Your business address will normally be printed on your official stationery at the top of the page, perhaps with a logo. If not, insert it at the top, centrally or to the right: name of business, then street number and street, then town and district. There is no need to use commas after each of these categories and do not put your own name with the address.

Where should I put telephone and fax numbers and my email address?

There are two possibilities: either beneath your business address after a space or below at the bottom of the page.


Where should I put the date?

There are three possibilities: directly under your business address, telephone and fax numbers and email address after a space OR above the name and address of the person you are writing to OR beneath the name and address of the person you are writing to.

In English there are various ways of writing the date. The preferred mode in business correspondence is 30 November 2001.

The addressee details

Next come the addressee details. Put the name, designation and address of the person you are writing to on the left-hand side of the page.


Beginning and ending the letter

We can now begin the letter but leave as much space as possible so that the body of the letter sits tidily in the middle part of the page.

If you know the person you are writing to very well or are on friendly terms, begin simply with the first name, Dear Mary or Dear Henry.

If you don't know the person you are writing to so well, but know of him as a named individual, start with title and surname: Dear Mr Potter or Dear Dr Baker or Dear Miss Taylor or Dear Mrs Cook or Dear Ms Barber. If you are not sure which of the last three titles is appropriate in any particular case, it is probably best to stick to Ms.

Finish this type of letter with Yours sincerely. It is not necessary to insert a comma after beginnings or endings. If you know the person you are writing to well, it may be appropriate to insert a closing formula, such as With very best wishes, before the ending itself.

Sign the letter with your first name, if you are on first-name terms, or with your full name, if it needs to be a little more formal, but without any title. Your full typewritten name and designation (on separate lines) should appear beneath your handwritten signature.

If you do not know the name of the person you are writing to, begin with Dear Sir or Dear Sir or Madam or Dear Madam and end your letter with Yours faithfully, followed by your full name and designation.


Five tips for writing good business letters

  • Think carefully about exactly what you need to say before you write.
  • Give your letter a heading so that the person you are writing to can see at a glance what it is about.
  • Use short sentences and short words that everyone can understand.
  • Decide on order of importance and put each idea into a separate paragraph. Make sure it is concise: delete anything that is irrelevant or can be omitted.
  • Check your letter after you have written it. Will your reader understand exactly what you mean and will it create the right impression? Get the person in your organisation with the best English to read it through for any spelling or grammar or layout errors.

Here is a sample letter that someone working in sales promotion might need to write. The organisation is fictitious but the message is real. In the body of the letter, useful phrases appear in bold typeface:

Supersoft Hygiene Ltd
The Technology Park
All Products Road
Boxham Surrey
BH11 4TY

Telephone: 0178 55 66 777 Fax: 0178 55 22 333
Direct Dial: 0178 55 98 678 Email:

Ms Felicity White
Promotions Manager
Softskins The Chemist
The High Street
Bexford Kent
BX44 0JB

30 September 2001

Dear Ms White

Catalogue and Price List

As requested, please find enclosed our catalogue and price list for your attention.

All of our promotions which are new this year are highlighted NEW in the top left hand corner for each item. They can all be viewed in greater detail on our website on the new promotions webpage. As an introductory offer, they are all available to you until the end of this calendar year at an additional discount of 5% from list price.

Should you require further information, please do not hesitate to contact me. Should I be unavailable, my personal assistant, Ms Violet Rose, will be very pleased to help you.

We look forward to receiving your order in the near future.

Yours sincerely

(space for signature)

James Smellsnice
Sales Manager.

Enclosures: 2002 Catalogue, Price List & Order Forms.

    Note that formats for both personal and business letters are fairly standard, but what about the personal and business emails that you send? There is almost certainly much wider variety here.

Write to our Message Board in the You, Me and Us part of our website and tell us how you begin and end your emails.

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