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The Format of a Basic Business Letter
Business letters are typically written in fairly rigid formats which must be followed to avoid negative evaluation of your correspondence. Some flexibility exists in layout and style, but virtually all letters require:

  1. Your name and address at the top. This is probably identical to your resume, but if you need to add a message telephone number or fax, you may do so;
  2. The date;
  3. An address block, beginning with "Mr.," "Ms.", or if the addressee's sex is unknown, "M.," and the title, followed by the organization and then the full mailing address. Try to avoid writing just to a function (e.g., "Attention: Human Resources Manager") or similar approaches;
  4. A greeting, beginning: "Dear Mr." or "Dear Ms." and the person's family name. If you do not know the person's sex perhaps only initials are known or his or her first name does not identify the sex, such as Jean or Dana address: "Dear M." and the last name. If you know the person you are writing is female and whether she is married, you can use "Miss" or "Mrs." instead of "Ms". If you cannot get a name, use: "Dear Sir or Madam," "Dear Human Resources Professional," "Dear Hiring Authority," or a similar title. Avoid "To whom it may concern"; and
  5. Ample room between the closing "Sincerely," and your printed name, for your signature.
More important items include the following:
  • You may list "End." to show you have included your resume. You may also show initials and those of the typist ("XXXaa"), but this practice is no longer required, and is usually omitted.
  • Your resume should be neatly and clearly copied on bond paper (with watermark). The color may be white, cream, or beige, but avoid extreme colors or gray (copies from gray paper appear smudged).
  • The letter should be printed on the same bond as the resume.
  • A business letter envelope of the same bond stock should be addressed with the same information as the letter's address block. The return address should be typed, but a simple stick on label may be used. If matching bond envelopes are unavailable, a plain paper envelope of the same color may be used without reducing the impression, as envelopes are normally discarded.
  • The letter should be stacked on top of the resume, not stapled to it, folded a third up from the bottom, then the top third folded down, and inserted in the envelope.
  • Use a "spell check" program and proofread. Any errors frequently disqualify candidacy immediately.
  • Use die correct name, properly spelled, and the correct title and address of recipient.
  • When responding to a blind box ad, send a similarly addressed letter ("Box Number __" and "Dear Sir or Madam") if necessary. If you can, research to obtain a clearer address, the Post Office must disclose box number holders.
  • Do not use abbreviations, acronyms, or jargon. It's always safer to use language most people understand.
  • Write your letter as if your reader knows very little about the work you do.
  • Don't identify or refer to your own personal characteristics, such as age or sex. Don't refer to age or sex based conditions, such as "slowing down."
  • Avoid outdated phrases, such as 'Tours truly," "pursuant to," "in regards to," "the undersigned," etc.
  • Center your text on the page don't jam a letter into the top portion.
  • You can select virtually any "style" block, indented, date and signature on left or right. Block is the simplest.
You need to be both complete and brief in responding. In all but extreme cases, your letter should not exceed one page.


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