Regardless of the purpose, letters should have a certain structure in order to be properly perceived by the recipient. On the one hand there are standards within the business world that should be observed, specifically this is DIN 5008, according to which business correspondence has to be based, as well as DIN 676, which standardizes the content of the address field, on the other hand there are formulations on which as the author of a letter you should pay attention to the structure. In order to do justice to the matter, this manual largely dispenses with distance information that is accurate to the millimeter. If you want, you can get this information directly from DIN 5008 and DIN 676. Both DIN standards are only guidelines and are not compulsory when structuring a letter.
Structure according to DIN 5008
- You can keep the margins specified by your word processor for the structure of a letter, they are already designed in accordance with DIN.
- There is space for the sender in the top four lines of your letter – you can enter your sender details and a logo here.
- The address field begins at 40 millimeters, above this the sender should appear again in a line in the structure of the letter so that it can still be seen in the window of the envelope, and the creation date of the letter should be aligned on the right-hand side.
- The address field includes nine lines for the structure of the letter, the first three are reserved for additions, such as express mail or registered mail. The recipient starts from the fourth line, with no more blank lines between the street and the place.
- After four more blank lines, the subject line of the letter can be inserted. Important here: Do not write the word “Betreff:” or the abbreviation “Btr.:” in front of the line. Don’t try to force yourself to come up with a subject line, it’s just optional.
- In the structure of the letter, the salutation follows two additional blank lines and ends with a comma.
- After the salutation, there is another blank line and then the actual text.
- The salutation follows, separated by another blank line, which by the way does not always have to be “Best regards”, “Best regards” is just as legitimate.
- Leave a few lines for your signature – three to five lines, you know how much space your signature takes up.
- Although it is not a regulation according to DIN, it makes sense to list your first and last name in plain text after these lines.
- If you enclose attachments with the letter, you should make this clear after another blank line with the comment “Annex” or “Annexes”.
Content and wording in the letter
- One of the most common mistakes in the structure of a letter can be seen in the first sentence: an introduction with “herewith”. This wording is totally outdated and should not be used, because the recipient is holding your letter in their hands – if not with the letter, how else do you tell them your concern?
- You can use any format for dates when structuring a letter, but the full month works best (eg November 17, 2010). Do not forget the year, so that three years later it is clear which one you meant.
- Don’t use abbreviations.
- Avoid double formulations such as “…the costs incurred will be borne by us…”, instead write: “…I will bear the costs…”
- When structuring a letter, use active instead of passive. Incorrect: “The products that are still missing will be sent to you as soon as possible.” Correct: “You will receive the products that are still missing shortly.”
- Use the “you style”. Instead of: “We will send you…”, rather: “You will receive…”
- Avoid nested sentences in the letter, as they appear superimposed (these were used by civil servants in the 1960s and many still think today that heavily nested sentences mean that they have a particularly good knowledge of writing letters).
- Avoid personal allusions, even if you know the person you are talking to well, they may be on vacation or the correspondence needs to be made accessible to colleagues.
- Always remain polite but factual in the letter and do not beat around the bush. A letter should be informative.
- Do not use final formulations such as: “…and I remain…” or “…I look forward to your reply and greetings…”.
- When structuring a letter, don’t ask politely, because the request itself is polite enough.
If you follow all of these tips, you should be a long way from writing the perfect business letter.
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