How to Write Letters and Emails
Letters and emails are similar to research papers in that they introduce a main
point, have a body to support it and end with a closing statement. Also like research
papers, letters and emails should be given thought and time; they represent the author and
their writing abilities. The difference is that letters and emails need to convey the
message upfront and more concisely than a research paper. The following information
will break down the parts and characteristics of a good letter and email.
Letters have three parts; opening, body and closing.
• Opening: The opening announces the purpose immediately; the letter should
be frontloaded with the main idea.
• Body: The body explains the purpose and provides details. Each idea in the
body should be in a separate paragraph with similar ideas grouped together.
• Closing: The closing can either end with a request for action like a deadline
or schedule or with a simple courteous conclusion.
The three characteristics of a good letter are clear content, goodwill tone, and correct
• Clear Content: A clearly written letter uses short sentences and paragraphs
grouped by ideas with transitions that guide the reader through the letter. A
clear letter answers all the reader’s questions eliminating the need for further
explanation and speaks the language of the reader using familiar words and
active-voice verbs * .
• Goodwill Tone: Good letters can establish an overall tone of goodwill by
framing ideas positively so they will sound more pleasing and emphasizing
the benefits for the reader instead of stating problems and consequences.
• Correct Form: Focusing on the format of the letter conveys silent messages
of the writer’s carefulness and experience. A letter is attached as an example
of correct format. (Example from Business Communication Process &
In sentences with active-voice verbs, the subject is the doer of the action. In passive-voice sentences, the subject is
acted upon. (pg. 177)
Business Letter Formatting – Block Style
CYPRESS ASSOCIATES, INC. WEB: firstname.lastname@example.org
5090 Katella Avenue PHONE: (714) 329-4330
Anaheim, CA 92642 FAX: (714) 329-4259
2 inches from top or
May 18, 2006 1 blank line below letterhead
2 to 7 blank lines
Ms. LaTonja Williams
Health Care Specialists
2608 Fairview Road
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
1 blank line
Dear Ms. Williams:
1 blank line
At your request, this letter illustrates and explains business letter formatting in a nutshell.
The most important points to remember are these:
1. Set side margins between 1 and 1 1/2 inches; most word processing programs
automatically set margins at 1 inch.
2. Start the date 2 inches from the top edge of the paper or 1 blank line below the
letterhead, whichever position is lower.
3. Allow about 5 lines after the date-more lines for shorter letters and fewer for longer
The two most popular letter styles are block and modified block. Block style, with all
lines beginning at the left, causes the least trouble. In modified block style letters, the
date and closing lines start at the center. For both styles the complimentary close is
followed by 3 or 4 lines for the writer’s signature. Reference initials and enclosure
notations, if used, appear in the lower left corner, as shown below.
So that you can see additional styles, I’m sending our office style guide. I certainly hope
this material is helpful to you and your assistants, Ms. Williams.
1 blank line
3 blank line
1 blank line
1 blank line
The structure of an email consists of four parts; the subject line, opening, body, and
• Subject Line: The subject line needs to summarize the main idea of the
email. It does not need to be a complete sentence but it should explain the
purpose of the message and how it relates to the reader.
• Opening: The opening should reveal the main point immediately letting the
reader know exactly what the email is about upfront.
• Body: The body of the email is where the writer can go into more depth and
detail about why they are sending the message. In the body having short
paragraphs separated by white space is helpful to the reader.
• Conclusion: Finally, the email should end with a closing. There are three
ways to end in a closing; with action information, dates or deadlines, with a
summary of the message, or with a closing thought. The type of email
message will dictate which of these three to use.
It is always helpful in emails to be concise and explicit.
• Concise & Explicit: Do not burden readers with unnecessary information or
with information that is not expressed clearly, readers want to get to the point
and do not want to ask for further explanation.
Spelling and grammar are also important in emails.
• Spelling & Grammar: Even though emails seems to be more causal than
letters, correcting spelling and grammatical errors and avoiding stream-of-
consciousness writing eliminates interruptions and helps the email flow
An email is attached as an example. (Both examples from Business Communication
Process & Product)
Guffey, Mary Ellen. Business Communication Process & Product. 5th ed. Mason, OH:
Thomson Higher Education, 2006.
To: Jie Wang <email@example.com>
line summarizes From: James Perkins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
purpose Subject: Recommendations for Improving Our Customer Database
Opening states As you requested, I am submitting my recommendations for improving our customer database. The
purpose concisely database has two major problems. First, it contains many names of individuals who have not made
and highlights two
purchases in five or more years. Second, the format is not compatible with the new Access software used
by our mailing service.
The following three procedures, however, should solve both problems:
*START A NEW DATABASE. Effective immediately enter the names of all new customers in a new
database using Access software.
main points for *DETERMINE THE STATUS OF CUSTOMERS in our old database. Send out a mailing asking whether
recipients wish to continue receiving our newsletter and product announcements.
*REKEY THE NAMES OF ACTIVE CUSTOMERS. Enter the names of all responding customers in our
new database so that we have only one active database.
Closing includes These changes will enable you, as team leader, to request mailings that go only to active customers. Please
key benefit, let me know by May 20 whether you think these recommendations are workable. If so, I will investigate
deadline, and next costs.
To: Ruth DiSilvestro, Manager
courteous, upbeat From: Troy Bell, Human Resources
subject line Subject: Please Follow New Job Advertisement Procedure
Summarizes main Effective today, all advertisements for departmental job openings should be routed through the Human
idea concisely Resources Department.
A major problem resulted from the change in hiring procedures implemented last month. Each department
procedure in is placing job advertisements for new-hires individually, when all such requests should be centralized in
necessary this office. To process applications more efficiently, please follow this procedure:
1. Write an advertisement for a position in your department.
follow steps; 2. Bring the ad to Human Resources and discuss it with one of our counselors.
starts each with
3. Let Human Resources place the ad at an appropriate Internet job bank or submit it to a newspaper.
4. Pick up applicant folders from Human Resources the day following the closing date provided in the ad.
reinforcing Following these guidelines will save your work and will also enable Human Resources to help you fill your
benefits to openings more quickly. Call Ann Edmonds at Ext. 2505 if you have any questions about this procedure.