How to prepare envelopes and letters--the Block, Modified Block, and AMS letter styles
More on letters from the McNeeley School of Business, the MBA program at Texas Christian University

Writing Business Letters

On this page, you will find the format for writing

On a separate page: Job search:  the letter of application and follow-up letter

Simple Request Letters

  • The body of the very simplest request letter is usually only one or two paragraphs. This is especially true if there is some incentive for the receiving party to respond to your request in a positive way. An example of this would be a letter where you are requesting additional information that might lead to a purchase of merchandise from the company.

  • In more complex request letters where there is no incentive for the receiver of your letter to grant your request, your letter will need to include some persuasive writing.  Often the sales letter format, discussed later, is used for the most complex request letters, such as when you are asking for monetary donations.
    Request letter format

    1. Opening paragraph:  introduce yourself and make your request.  This is usually only one or two sentences.
    2. After you make your request, give any necessary details to help the receiver of your letter fully understand what you are asking for. This is often part of the opening paragraph in simple request letters. In more complex request letters--especially when you are inserting a couple persuasive sentences--this could be a paragraph by itself. If you are asking for more than three items or pieces of information consider using bullets to clarify your needs.
    3. Closing paragraph:  your "CALL FOR ACTION." Restate your request giving a date by which you need a response. Make sure you state why you need the response by this date.
  • Example of a simple request letter
  • Example of a more complex request letter

"Good News" Response to Request/Complaint Letters

  • General guidelines for answering request letters include:

    • Be prompt and courteous
    • Be sure that your responses are complete--that they include all needed information
    • If you are giving some positive and some negative responses, give the positive responses first. Try to emphasis what you can do--not what you can't do.
  • The body of the very simplest "good news" letter is often just two paragraphs. In these letters the "good news" is given in the opening. Any "call for action" and your marketing statement are put in the second paragraph. Simple details, such as when a package will be shipped, can be put either at the end of the first paragraph or the beginning of the second.

  • More complex "good news" letters would include those where conditions must be met in order for the request to be granted, or those letters where only part of the request can be granted . These letters are usually three or more paragraphs in length.

    "Good News" letter format

    1. Opening paragraph:  tell the good news. In this paragraph you may want to include a sentence showing appreciation towards the reader. In letters giving both positive and negative responses to a letter, think about giving only the positive responses in the
      opening--what you can do. Explain what you can't do at the end of the middle part of the letter.
    2. Middle:  give the details. Specific details are given in the middle paragraphs of your letter. In only the very simplest "good news" letters this information can be put at the end of the opening paragraph.
      • This part of the letter is where you give information about how the request will be granted, or give the conditions that must be met before you can grant the request.
      • If several questions have been asked, make sure you answer each question--possibly in separate paragraphs. If your responses to all questions are positive, answer them in the order asked. If you are giving some positive and some negative responses, give the positive responses first.
      • Finish this section telling the reader any requests you cannot satisfy--along with a reason why. Try to tell the reason why before you tell what you can't do.
    3. Closing paragraph:  your "CALL FOR ACTION." Restate, in general, any action needed from your reader for you to grant the request. If a time element is important, give specific dates. Because you are giving a positive response, you should try to include a marketing statement in your closing.
  • Example of the simplest "good news" letters

  • Example of a more complex "good news" letter

"Bad News" Response to Request/Complaint Letters

  • Don't deliver the bad news in the opening paragraph.

  • Always try to tell what you CAN do before you say what you CAN'T do.

  • Explain the WHY before you deliver the bad news. For many readers, once they see the NO they don't pay attention to the WHY.

  • Remember that a major goal is to maintain a positive relationship with the reader. Do whatever you can to help the reader understand and accept your message.

  • When you are through writing the letter, make sure the message that you cannot grant the request is clear.

    "Bad News" letter format  (usually three or four paragraphs)
    1. Opening paragraph:  show appreciation for the reader, but don't deliver the "bad news" here.  This is your buffer paragraph.
    2. Middle:  give the reasons why you cannot grant the request--then deliver the bad news.  This is the hard part of the letter to write. Remember that your goal is to help the reader understand and accept your decision. Try to state the refusal in a positive way. Sometimes you can soften the blow by inferring the bad news and still leave a clear understanding with the reader.
    3. Closing paragraph. If at all possible, state something you CAN do for the reader in the closing. In any case, provide the reader with a suggested action to remedy the situation. Close with a positive statement.
  • Example of a "bad news" letter

Sales Letters

  • Don't use the "hard sell" or try to bluff the reader.

  • Think about using bullets if you are giving three or more qualities or benefits of your product.

  • Keep in mind that even if this letter doesn't generate an immediate sale, you are creating goodwill that might pay off down the road.

  • As a general rule, if you are going to mention the price do so in the closing of the letter or after you have built desire for your product.

    Sales letter format  (not more than 1 page)

    1. Opening paragraph:  get the reader's attention.  If you are not able to get the reader's attention he or she will not read the rest of the letter.
    2. Middle paragraphs:  build desire for your product or service. Give believable facts about your product. Show how the product will satisfy your reader's needs. Reinforce your statements by referring to endorsements or references. Towards the end of this part of the letter you might include a sincere statement praising the reader.
    3. Closing paragraph:  CLOSE THE SALE. Make it easy for your reader to act. Motivate action by giving a benefit for replying within a definite timeline if that is appropriate.

  • Example of a sales letter