Writing a business letter

You may need to write formal letters (or formal emails) for many different reasons. Think about the types of formal letters you need to write. Your list may include application letters, complaint letters, letters to ask for information, and letters to place or follow up an order or booking. You may also need to write letters to apologise, to ask for permission or to give advice or instructions. Are there any other kinds of formal letters you may have to write?

Task – writing a letter of complaint

Scenario: Your bank has charged you for withdrawing money from your current account. You can’t understand this as you were not overdrawn on your account at the time. Use the writing frame below to help you plan your letter. You’ll need to make up some more details before using the writing frame and drafting the letter. You might find it helpful to work with a friend or colleague.

Step 1 : Planning your letter

Where do I start?

  1. Make a list of all the points you need to include in your letter. Always give precise details, such as exact names, addresses and dates (for example, the date you bought something, or when and where you saw an advertisement). If you’ve already been in touch with the individual or organisation, give the dates of any previous letters, phone calls or emails. If you have a reference or account number, always include it in your letter.
  2. Put your points in order. Decide on the opening sentence: this should state clearly why you are writing. You should also plan how your letter will end. Do you want to emphasise what you want to happen as a result of your letter?
  3. Make a draft of your letter. Decide on the paragraphs you want to use. The first paragraph should probably include your reason for writing. The second or other paragraphs may include a summary of details, or an explanation of your situation. The last paragraph is often used to state what you want or what you would like to happen next.
  4. Read through the draft and edit your writing. Do you want to change the order of your points? Is anything missing?

Use the frame below to plan the points you would like to make in your letter, if you prefer, write by hand on your own sticky notes. Put one idea on each note.

Sticky Notes to plan a Letter

Step 2 : Write a letter of complaint

Now that you have created a list of the points that you want to make in your letter your next task is to organise these points into sensible groupings.  Consider the following questions you need to ask yourself:

  • Who am I writing to?
  • Why am I writing?
  • What do I need to tell them?
  • What do I want them to do?

Next use the frame below to organise your letter of complaint before you begin writing your finished letter.

Writing a letter of complaint

Other points to consider?

When writing formal letters, we need to make sure our writing is relevant. Formal letters are generally precise and to-the-point, without any unnecessary detail. When writing a formal letter, such as the letter of complaint you have been asked to write, it can sometimes be difficult to adopt the right tone. The tone of a letter means how it sounds. It’s important to be objective and to sound business-like, rather than let our feelings get in the way. A good way to check the tone of a letter is to ask a friend to read it for you and say how they would feel if they received it.

In order to have a formal style, you need to think about the layout of your letter and the language you use. It is very helpful to look at the layout of different kinds of formal letters. You can also build your vocabulary by using a dictionary or thesaurus to make a list of useful words, phrases and sentences you can use in formal letters.