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Section 2.5

Letters

Use letters to communicate outside your organization. Whereas the memorandum is the primary vehicle for communication within anorganization, letters are often used to communicate to individuals outside it, especially in formal andsemiformal contexts.

Letters are an essential part of all business and technical communication because they are moreformal and reliable than electronic mail and more precise andpermanent than telephone or face-to-face conversations.

Types of Letters

Like memoranda, letters perform many functions in scientific and technical communication. Thefollowing are some of the most common types of letters written by people in technical fields.

Job application letters

Acceptance letters

Transmittal letters

Inquiry letters

Technical-information letters

Letters of recommendation

Format of a Letter

If your organization has a specific style for business letters, follow that format. Otherwise, followthe guidelines provided here.

Business letters are commonly either full-block formatted, with every line starting at the left marginand usually a business letterhead at the top of the page, or modified-block formatted, with theheading and the closing aligned at the center of the page.

Elements of a Letter

Business letters have the following elements:

Heading

Date

Recipient's address

Salutation

Body

Closing

End notations

Heading

If you are using letterhead stationery, include only the date two lines below the bottom of theletterhead. Spell out the name of month.

If you are not using letterhead stationery, begin with your full address (city, street, and zip code) 1to 1½ inches from the top of the page. Spell out address designations, such asStreet, Avenue, and West. The state name may beabbreviated using the two-letter, all-capitals U.S. Postal Service designations. Include the datealigned at left with the address, spelling out the name of the month.

Recipient's Address

Two to four lines below the date, place the following items:

The recipient's address is always aligned on the left margin.

Salutation

Place the salutation two lines below the recipient's address. The salutation begins with the wordDear, continues with the recipient's title and last name, and ends with a colon. If you are unsure of the recipient's gender and the recipient doesnot have a professional title, omit the title and, instead, use both the first and the last names in thesalutation (Dear Leslie Perelman:). If you do not know the name of the recipient ofthe letter, refer to the department you are writing to (Dear Technical Support:). Avoidsalutations such as Dear Sir or Madam:.

Body

Start the letter two lines after the salutation. Body paragraphs should be single spacedwith a double space between paragraphs. (Indenting the first line of each paragraph is acceptablebut is more informal than the unindented style.)

Be concise, direct, and considerate. State the letter's purpose in theopening paragraph. Include supporting information in a middle paragraph or two, and conclude yourletter with a brief paragraph that both establishes goodwill and expresses what needs to be donenext.

If a letter requires more than one page, make sure there are at least two lines of body text on thefinal page. Never use an entire page for just the closing. The second page and all subsequent pagesmust include a heading with the recipient's name, the date, and the page number.

Closing Phrase

Write a complimentary closing phrase two lines below the final body paragraph. Yourstruly, Sincerely, or Sincerely yours are common endings forprofessional letters. Capitalize the first letter of the first word ofyour complimentary closing, and end the complimentary closing with a comma.

Four lines below the closing phrase, write your full name. If you are writing in an official capacitythat is not included in the stationery's letterhead, write your title on the next line. Your signaturegoes above your typed name.

End Notations

At the bottom of the last page of a business letter, end notations may show who typed the letter,whether any materials are enclosed with the letter, and who is receiving a copy of the letter.

The typist's initials, in lowercase letters, follow the initials of the author, in capital letters, and acolon or a front-slash (LCP:ecb or LCP/ecb).

An enclosure notation--Enclosure:, Encl., or Enc.--alertsthe recipient that additional material (such as a résuméor a technical article) is included with the letter. You can either identify the enclosure or indicatehow many pieces there are.


Enclosure: Article by I. W. Waitz

Encl. (2)

Enc. (2)


In addition to the enclosure notation, always refer to your enclosures explicitly within the text of theletter.

A copy notation (cc:) lets the recipient of the letter know who else is receiving a copy. Put each recipient of a copy on a separate line.


cc: Dr. Maria Lopez
Mr. William Astley

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