So, what is a business letter? I think we all know what a letter is. Right? It’s a note you write on a piece of paper and send to someone. But what distinguishes a business letter from your everyday, run of the mill, letter.
It has to do with the purpose of the letter.
Let’s face it. You need to write a business letter for a reason. There are four general reasons one might need to write a business letter.
- Persuasion: You’re trying to convince someone to take the action you want.
- Documentation: You are documenting events to create a written record.
- Transmittal: You are describing the contents of a package.
- Assignment: Some stupid teacher assigned you the task of writing a business letter.
Let’s look closer at each of these reasons and how you might apply the business letter to your needs.
It has been said that all communication is persuasion. From the standpoint of persuasion, the business letter can serve many functions. It could be:
- A sales letter
- An introduction letter
- A proposal letter
- A cover letter or executive summary to a proposal
In each of these cases, the business letter is not about you. It is about the reader. A persuasive letter needs to focus on why the reader should continue reading your letter, how they might benefit from what you propose, and the consequences if they fail to take the action you are advising them to take.
This type of letter creates a written record of an event. Examples include:
- Meeting minutes
- Formal written warning
This type of business letter may indicate new regulations in the workplace, describe a situation that occurred, or serve as a notice regarding certain facts. It is important that these letters be completely devoid of emotion or any description of your personal feelings. Business letters meant to document need to contain “just the facts.”
Transmittal letters are a formality. They describe what is contained in a package.
This is by far the worst reason to write a business letter. If you fall in this category, that really sucks. But don’t worry, we’ll get through this together.
When a teacher assigns you the task of writing a business letter, they are concerned first and foremost with the formatting of your letter. They want to make sure you have all the elements in all the right places.
They care far less about whether the business letter actually achieves its purpose. In this situation, you need to create a business letter fit for the academic world. Grammar, punctuation, and usage will be scrutinized.
In contrast, if I’m sitting in my office and receive your business letter I won’t scrutinize the punctuation or usage. In fact, you’ll be lucky if I get past the first couple sentences before I throw it in the trash (where most business letters end up).