Formal and Informal Letters

By Alice Feathers, M.A. TESOL, Professional Editor and Writer

Good letter writing is a lost art in our society today. With the onslaught of electronic mail, voice mail, and faxes, good letter writing has gone the way of the dinosaurs. And yet, a well-written, personalized business letter can do wonders for your business relationships.

Business correspondence does not have to be dry and tedious. In fact, the most effective business letters often touch on very personal matters, not just on money or the bottom line. In this day of information overload it is still important to be short and to the point in most of your correspondence. However, this does not preclude the fact that a personal reference and warm tone can open doors that otherwise would have remained closed.

Along these same lines, it is important to note that a well-prepared letter can exert tremendous influence over its reader. Good writers are like good speakers. They are able to build strong relationships using words. Therefore, it is in your best interest to spend time developing your business writing skills.

There are basically two types of business letters: formal business letters and informal business letters. Often times, there is a fine line between the two.

Formal business letters

Formal business letters do not have to be all business. They may include one or two personal sentences or touch on a personal subject. However, they would still fall under the umbrella of the formal business letter. According to Letitia Baldridge's New Complete Guide to Executive Manners, there are several rules of etiquette that you should follow whenever you write a formal business letter.

Informal business letters

Informal letters are exchanged by business executives on a regular basis these days. They are most commonly used to please the recipient in some manner. Examples of informal letters include congratulatory letters, complimentary letters, requests for favors, thank you letters, and letters of encouragement.

Letitia Baldridge outlines the basic characteristics of an effective informal business letter in her book the Letitia Baldrige's New Complete Guide to Executive Manners. According to Baldridge, a good informal business letter:

Overall, both formal and informal letters are professional letters of the heart meant to build bridges and grow relationships. By practicing your letter writing skills, you will find what is most effective for you. In the meantime, consider taking classes in business writing to improve your ability to communicate effectively with others. By doing so, you will not only enhance your business relationships, but you will also improve your bottom line.

(Online Women's Business Center, Dallas, TX)

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