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Business English: Business Letters
Howard Middle


Communicating with people in a business context often requires a more formal style than when writing to friends and family.

Business letters typically avoid spoken language, and include the use of full forms instead of contractions (e.g. I am writing not I’m writing) and a number of set phrases.

Below you can find an example letter and notes explaining its features. These notes also include some useful set phrases used in business letters.


An example letter

(1) P. COOK & CO. LTD.
123 King’s Crescent, Brighton, BR3 6JF
Tel: 0222 123 456, Fax: 0222 123 555

(2) Brown & Brown (Luxury Foods) Ltd
100 South Road
London SE1 3PL

(3) 17th August 2002

(4) Your ref: FT/fr
Our ref: CC/mt/08/02


(5) Dear Sir/Madam

(6) Re: Franchise agreement

(7) I am writing to enquire about the franchise
opportunities you are offering, as detailed in yesterday’s
Financial Mail.

(8) P.Cook is a medium-size company with 10 years’ experience in the catering business. We believe we have much to offer your organization because of our specialized services and established clientele, and wish to explore a mutually beneficial franchise arrangement. I enclose a
prospectus for your information.

(9) I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

(10) Yours faithfully

(11) pp Christina Cook
Managing Director
cc P. Cook, T. A. Cook

(13) Enc



1 The name of the company and its address, phone, and fax details generally appear at the top of the page, together with any Internet and email details

2 Put the address of the recipient on the left-hand side. If you know the name of the person and his/her title, add these above the address too

3 The date can appear on the left-or right-hand side of the letter, though the most usual style is to have everything aligned to the left

4 Add the recipient’s and your own file references if needed. Ref is short for ‘reference’

5 You can start your letter in one of the following ways:

  • If you don’t know the name of the person you are writing to, put:
    Dear Sir/Madam, or Dear Sir or Madam
  • If you know the name of the person, put:
    Dear Mr [surname] (for a man)
    Dear Ms [surname] (for a woman). 
    Avoid using Mrs or Miss unless the person you are writing to has already used the title themselves in a previous letter.
    Dear [first name and surname] is less formal but is becoming more common, for example Dear Jennifer Marsh
6 Write the subject of your letter here. Re comes from Latin, and means ‘with reference to’

7 You can also start your letter in a number of other ways:

  • Thank you for your letter of…,
  • I am writing in response to… 
                           to inform you that/of… 
                           to complain about…
  • Further to my letter of 16th July…
  • I would like to enquire about/whether...
8 Give further details about the purpose of your letter here.

9 You can also close your letter in the following ways:

  • Thank you in advance for your help.
  • I would be most grateful if you could inform me…
  • Please let me know if … 
  • Please phone to confirm the details.
  • I look forward to hearing from you/receiving your reply.
10 You can write the following expressions before your name:
  • If you don’t know the person you are writing to:
    • Yours faithfully,
    • Yours truly,
  • If you know the person you are writing to:
    • Yours sincerely,
    • Sincerely,
  • Other, less formal, ways of ending your letter:
    • With best wishes
    • Best wishes
    • Regards
11 pp in the example letter means that the letter was signed by Mandy Taylor on behalf of Christina Cook.

12 cc means that a copy of the letter is being sent to the people mentioned.

13 Enc means that documents are being enclosed with the letter.


Next in the series

In the next issue of the magazine we will focus on how a CV is put together.