The standards of writing change. What was once correct in business messages now comes across as old-fashioned–or does it? Take this true-false test to check your knowledge of basic formatting standards for business letters and emails.
Note: The questions and answers apply to business writing in Canada and the United States. Standards may be different in other countries.
1. In business letters, paragraphs should be indented. True or false?
2. In business emails, paragraphs should be indented. True or false?
3. In a business letter "Dear" is the standard way to greet the reader. True or false?
4. Business letters should be single-spaced. True or false?
5. Business emails should be single-spaced. True or false?
6. In business emails, dates should be expressed like this: 5/12/18. True or false?
7. In emails and letters, normally one space–not two–should be inserted between sentences. True or false?
8. Emails require a subject line. True or false?
9. Business letters require a subject line. True or false?
10. It is standard in emails to include the writer's name at the end of the message. True or false?
11. If a business letter does not fit on one page, it is acceptable to have only the closing content (complimentary closing, signature block, etc.) on a second page. True or false?
12. If a business letter is short, it is acceptable to widen the margins and increase the space between the date and the inside address. True or false?
Note: I used The Gregg Reference Manual, 11th Edition (2011), to verify the answers.
1. False. Although it is acceptable to indent paragraphs in the modified-block style of business letters, it is no longer the predominant style. Paragraphs are commonly not indented in business letters.
2. False. Paragraphs are not indented in email.
3. True. "Dear" is the standard salutation in a business letter. In the simplified letter style, no salutation is included.
4. True. Business letters are single-spaced, with a blank line between paragraphs.
5. True. Emails are single-spaced, with a blank line between paragraphs.
6. False. Although formatting the date that way (5/12/18) is acceptable, it is not the standard because it can be interpreted two ways: as May 12, 2018, and December 5, 2018. When readers may misinterpret the date, spell it out.
7. True. One space between sentences has become the standard. I know of no current U.S. or Canadian style guide that recommends two spaces.
8. True. Every email should have a subject typed on the subject line.
9. False. Although a subject line is a good way of indicating what a letter is about, it is not required. Note: In the simplified letter style, a subject line replaces the greeting.
10. True. It is standard in emails to include a first (given) name or a full name, depending on the degree of formality. Some authors type their first name above a signature block that includes their full name. Even in back-and-forth threads between people, closing with one's name helps to identify who's writing (or wrote) each message.
11. False. It is standard to include at least two lines of the body of the letter on the second page.
12. True. To make a short letter appear more attractive on the page, margins may be widened and space may be added after the date.
If you don't agree with particular answers, please let me know which reference books support your preferred formatting. I would be happy to change the answers based on new style guides.