Do You Really Understand What Business Letters Are?

My two “writing assistants” Each year, well over two million visitors visit websites in search of information and templates to assist them with their writing. With that many visitors, I am able to get a fairly accurate sense of what people are looking for in terms of letter writing assistance. Indeed, a sizable number of visitors to my site arrive via the search phrase “business letter.”

At first glance, the term “business letter” appears to be reasonable. However, pause for a moment here! What do they mean when they say “business letter”? As it turns out, they are unsure. What it boils down to is that the person conducting the search is engaged in some sort of “business” (as an owner or employee) and is required to write some sort of “letter” pertaining to their endeavor. As a result, their search term is “business letter.”

I frequently receive e-mails from individuals requesting business letter templates or requesting that I write them a business letter. Invariably, I am asked “what type of business letter are you writing, and what is the specific purpose”? The fact is that “business letter” is a very broad term that can refer to a variety of distinct letter types.

As such, the remainder of this article will define business letters in detail.

Despite the widespread use of e-mail in commerce today, the majority of businesses continue to communicate with their customers and other businesses via traditional business letters.

This is particularly true when businesses wish to formally document an agreement or understanding. While emails are excellent for all preparatory work, a formal business letter is frequently required to “seal the deal.”

Business letters are classified into two broad categories: business-to-business and business-to-customer.

LETTERS FROM BUSINESS TO BUSINESS

The majority of business-to-business letters are written to confirm details discussed between officials during meetings, on the phone, or via e-mail.

Can you imagine the number of letters that would have to be exchanged to cover all of the issues and possibilities that can be addressed in a one-hour meeting, a half-hour phone call, or a few quick e-mails?

A typical business letter’s primary purpose is to formalize the details agreed upon during those discussions and to provide any additional information agreed upon.

Over the years, certain general business standards have developed that the vast majority of businesses adhere to when writing business to business correspondence. The top ten business-to-business letters that visitors to my writing help seek out The following websites are listed in order of popularity:

1. letter of appreciation

2. introduction letter

3. cover letter

4. financial letter

5. marketing letter

6. sales letter

7. project letter

8. invitation letter

9. employee letter

10. congratulations letter

Even though the terms above are much more specific than the generic term “business letter,” each of the above letters has a variety of variations depending on the letter’s purpose. A business-to-business “financial letter” might include the following: a collection letter, a credit approval letter, a credit refusal letter, an invoice, or a price quotation.

LETTERS FROM BUSINESS TO CUSTOMERS

There are numerous formats for business-to-customer letters. They include, but are not limited to, sales and marketing correspondence, information correspondence, order acknowledgement correspondence, order status correspondence, and collection correspondence.

As with business-to-business correspondence, certain industry standards have evolved over time that the vast majority of businesses adhere to when writing letters to existing and prospective customers.

Of course, customer-to-business letters travel in the opposite direction. These include, but are not limited to, order letters, order status inquiry letters, and complaint letters.

Due to the fact that these are customer-generated letters, there is no expectation that they adhere to any specific letter-writing standard. Generally, they are treated the same as any other form of personal correspondence.

The top ten business-to-customer letters that people search for on my writing assistance Web sites are as follows, in order of popularity:

1. a cover letter; 2. a letter to the customer; and 3. a financial letter.
4. letter of credit 5. letter of introduction
6. a letter informing you of the status of an order; 7. a letter informing you of a sale
8. letter of marketing 9. letter of announcement
10. letter of apology

Similarly to the previous section’s discussion of business-to-business letters, while the above business-to-customer letter types are much more specific than the generic term “business letter,” each of the above letter types has multiple variations depending on the letter’s purpose. For instance, a business-to-customer “customer relations letter” could be a response to a complaint, a follow-up with a new customer, an interruption of service notice, an acknowledgement letter, a special invitation, or a welcome to new customers, among others.

BOTTOM-LINE

As demonstrated above, specifying that you are looking for a “business letter” is not particularly illuminating. You must be precise and define the letter’s purpose; that is, what is the letter intended to communicate?

It is critical to distinguish between non-business and business letters. For instance, job application letters, curriculum vitae and resume cover letters, letters of recommendation for employment and college, character references, and resignation letters are NOT considered business letters.

You may be surprised to learn that more than 75% of all visitors to my primary writing assistance Web site are looking for information on how to write the Top 20 letters listed above. Indeed, it turns out that nearly 90% of the over 1 million people who visit that site each year in search of letter writing assistance are looking for assistance with one of a list of 25 letters.

That is why each of my letter writing toolkits focuses on multiple variations of approximately 40 distinct letter types that account for more than 95% of ALL letters ever written.

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