A letter should always be so typed or written as to have the appearance of "fitting" the paper. It should never be squeezed up at the top, or begun low down on the sheet with the end crowded in at the bottom.

If a printed heading is used, the date will be placed on a line provided for it immediately below on the right-hand side. Nearly level with it on the left-hand side should be placed your reference number, and below this the name and address of your correspondent. Thus:

Ref. XL/48 April 18th, 20 _ _

Messrs. White & Co., Ltd.,

18 Cheapside. E.C.2.

Dear Sirs,

Then will follow the body of the letter. This should be so spaced as to leave the same amount of space at the bottom of the formal conclusion and signature as appears at the top between the printed heading and the body of the letter. This of course can be made to vary according to the length of the letter.

The formal conclusion and signature are always placed towards the right-hand side. Thus:

Yours faithfully, B. S. Man ton.

The width of the margins at each side is a matter of taste, but they should be uniform, and fairly wide margins give a much better appearance then narrow ones. Indeed lately a fashion has come in of very wide margins, sometimes as much as one-third of the width of the paper being left blank on each side. This entails a rather extravagant, use of paper, but it certainly has the advantage of making a letter very easy to read. The eye is easily tired by too long a line. But a margin of an inch or an inch and a half on each side is usually considered sufficient.

A letter should never be typed or written so as to present a solid block of matter which your correspondent feels disinclined to tackle. A long letter should always be broken up into a number of paragraphs. It is not wise always to follow the rule that a paragraph should be given to each subject. Different aspects of the same subject may be given separate paragraphs, and anyway a paragraph should be rarely exceed six or eight lines. It is also a good plan to tabulate your letter whenever possible.

A word as to the signature. This should always be written, not typed; it should be legible, and always the same don't vary it by signing one letter John Smith and the next J.T.Smith. Fanciful and highly ornate signatures should be avoided. They are seldom legible, look pretentious, and do not create a good impression in business.

When signing on behalf of a firm or a third party, the name of the firm can be typed or put in with a rubber stamp, if the name of the writer is written. Thus:

Yours faithfully

For J. White & Co., Ltd.,

H.E. Alien. Manager.


It is a mistake to think that a business letter must be written in a jargon that would not be used for any other purpose. Most of the stereotyped phrases which constitute the stock-in-trade of some business correspondents can be wisely dispensed with Plain, simple, everyday English is much better.

There are two points which are all-important lucidity and conciseness. Be sure that you say what you mean to say beyond all possibility of mistake, and say it in as few words as possible. Do not add a lot of unnecessary information or explanations. Use short, direct sentences, with plenty of full points.

On the other hand, do not be abrupt, and care must always be taken to avoid giving your correspondent the impression that you haven't got the time or do not think him of sufficient importance to take trouble with your letter to him. For the same reason the excessive use of contractions should be avoided. It has the appearance of saving yourself trouble at your correspondent's expense. Always sit down to write a letter with the intention in your mind of pleasing the recipient of it.

For instance, a would-be smart correspondent might think the following letter a good specimen:


Yr favor of the 11th to hand, and same has our best attentn. We beg to state however that price quoted was rock-bottom, and no disct. from this can be given. Our invoices for this class of goods are rendered strictly nett -- please note for future guidance.

Assuring you that your favours shall always have our best attentn.,

We beg to remain, Yrs. faithfully,

It contains nearly every possible mistake. The contractions scattered about it save very little time, and their use is a form of discourtesy to the recipient. The point of the letter that discount cannot be allowed is stated with a brusqueness which might easily give offence. Yet the writer adds at great length a wholly unnecessary complimentary sentence, which, after the curtness of the preceding note, is bound to appear insincere. Worst of all, its language cannot be called English at all. "Favour", "to hand", "same", "we beg to state", "rock-bottom" all hackneyed phrases which are merely disfigurements.

Compare it with a similar letter written in simple English:


We have received your letter of the 11th inst. and will give it our best attention. We regret however that we are not able to allow discount from the price quoted, and our invoices for this class of goods are rendered strictly nett. 'We shall be obliged if you will make a note of this for your guidance in future transactions.

YDurs faithfully,

It contains 64 words as against 66 words in the first example. It is clear, concise, adequate, and gives the impression of courtesy and consideration, instead of hurry and abruptness.


The forms of address used in business letters are:

Dear Sir, Dear Madam, Dear Sirs, Sir, Madam, Sirs, Gentelmen. The word dear has obviously no meaning in this connection, but it is still used by most people in preference to the more abrupt Sir or Madam. Sirs or Gentelmen is used in addressing a firm, or a body like a Board or Committee.

The forms Dear Mr.Jones, Dear Mrs.White, Dear Miss Black, Dear Colonel Brown, Dear Doctor Green, &c., are used when the writer is on familiar terms with his correspondent.

The form Dear Miss is never used. It must be either Dear Madam, or Dear Miss Black.

The forms Dear Jones, Dear Colonel, Dear Doctor are more intimate still, and are only used by friends who are in the habit of addressing each other by their surnames when they meet.

It is important to use the correct forms, as andue familiarity or unexpected stiffness will often give offence.

The conclusion now in almost universal use for business letters is Yours faithfully. Yours truly is equally applicable. (See Introduction).

The form We beg to remain, Yours faithfully is still sometimes used, but We beg to remain is obviously superfluous and meaningless.

In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred nothing more is required than Yours faithfully.

The proper forms to use when writing to persons of title and official positions are given at the end of this book.


There are one or two points to be observed in addressing the envelope. The accepted form in addressing a firm is:

Messrs. E. Talbot and Co., Ltd.,

128 Whitefriars Street,

Fleet Street, E.C.4.

If it is desired that the letter should go to a particular member of the staff, his name can be added in the bottom left-hand corner Mr. Robinson.

The word Messrs, is not used when addressing a company which does not contain the names of the partners in its title, thus The Thames Ironworks Co., Ltd.

A business letter to an individual can either be addressed: Mr. J.Robinson or John Robinson Esq. if it is sent to his firm, but if to his home, although a business letter, Esq. should be used.

Married Women usually take their husbands' initials.

Note: Cheques should not be made payable to women in their husbands' initials, as trouble in endorsing often arises. Cheques should be made payable to Mrs. Alice Brown not Mrs. T.H.Brown, as the letter form involves the long endorsement Alice Brown, wife of T.H.Brown.


These letters should be studied in conjunction with Business Correspondence, particularly those sections on Lay-out, Forms of Address and Conclusion, and The Business Envelope.


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