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Many people don't write personal letters anymore. They e-mail. They text. They blog. In the business world, however, many people still rely on letters for formal communication. Perhaps it is because letters possess a certain degree of permanence and formality, which e-mail just doesn't have. It is important to know how to communicate through both informal and formal channels. Writing a business letter isn't necessarily difficult but it is not as easy as writing an e-mail to a friend. You need to understand a few basic guidelines in order to be an effective communicator in the business world. Elements of a Business Letter State the date. Start your letter off by noting the month, day, and year that you wrote the letter. If it takes you more than one day to complete the letter, cite the date that it was completed. If you are writing to a person or company in the United States, use the American date format - month, day, year. The date should be inserted two inches from the top of the page. In the UK, the date should be written on the right side after the recipient's address. The UK date format is day, month, year. Next, you can write out your address. Note that this is an optional step in the USA. If you do choose to include your address, put it one line below the date or underneath your signature at the end of the letter. It is not necessary to include your name since it's your address that we're concerned about at this point. In the UK the address is almost always included in a business letter. It is usually written at the top right hand side of a letter. One line underneath your address, insert the recipient's address. You will identify the recipient here. Try to be as personal as possible, taking the time to look up a specific person and addressing them with an appropriate title. Now, we're ready to begin the actual letter! In the salutation, you will directly address the person. If you personally know them, it may be acceptable to use their first name. However, in all other instances, use their personal title and full name, followed by a colon in the USA and with a comma (or sometimes even nothing) in the UK. In the USA the salutation should be placed one line below the address. In the UK the salutation is place on the left hand side one line below the date that is on the right hand side. The body of a business letter should be clear and concise. Get to the point quickly, preferably in the first paragraph. Try to limit the letter to a few short paragraphs, eliminating unnecessary and irrelevant information. In the last paragraph, you should tie back to your original point and request action, if necessary. Most people use phrases like "thank you," "yours sincerely," or "respectfully" to conclude their letters. Use whatever is appropriate in your situation. Also, leave four blank lines after your closer for your signature. Formatting a Business Letter Now that you understand the basic elements of a business letter, it is time to learn how to format it. Start off by choosing an easy-to-read font like Times New Roman or Arial, size 12. Next, choose a format style. There are three different ways to format your business letter - block format, modified block format, and semi-block format. Block format is the easiest and most common layout style. Simply left-justify the entire letter and use double spaces between paragraphs. Stick with block format when you are writing your first few business letters. Modified block format is exactly like block formatting with one exception. Instead of left-justifying the date and the closure, you will use the tab to center the text. This layout style is also quite popular. On the other hand, semi-block formatting is not very common. It is much like modified block formatting except that each paragraph is indented. Use the tab (versus the space bar) to make indentations. Whichever format style you choose, be consistent! Avoid using a combination of layouts. Remember also that modified block format and semi-block format are not commonly used in the UK (if at all). Final Notes Keep in mind that you are writing to an actual person - not a computer or a robot. Write a letter that you'd like to receive. If you have to make a complaint, try to balance the criticism with a compliment. Try to state the facts in a positive light and to put good news before bad news. Writing an effective business letter is more than understanding the mechanics. Once you understand these basic guidelines, you can begin communicating professionally and effectively in the business world.