One task that many small business people find onerous is writing business letters. Fortunately, your small business software can help. Microsoft Word includes some handy tools to get the job done. Whether it's a one-off business letter, one you send out frequently or a letter you're sending to hundreds if not thousands of people, these five tips will help you write letters more efficiently and effectively in Microsoft Word.
If you get stuck for the right words when writing a letter, use a Microsoft Word templates to get started.
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1. Use a Microsoft Word Template
If you’re unsure exactly how to write a particular type of business letter, find a template to use. In Microsoft Word, choose File > New and then in the Office.com templates list, select Letters. You’ll be taken to the Office.com website where you will find hundreds of business letters grouped into categories that you can download.
Use the template as a guide -- it will help you make sure you include all the details you need to include in your letter -- but remember a document created from a template is just like any other Word document; you can (and should) edit the letter to make it your own.
2. Create Custom Templates
If there’s a type of letter that you find yourself typing repeatedly, such as a collection letter or a request for information, you can save yourself repetitive work by creating the letter as a template. Open a copy of the letter to reuse and remove recipient-specific information from it. If you have paragraphs that you sometimes include and sometimes do not, add all of them to the template, as it’s easier to remove them as needed than to type them in future.
Use Microsoft Word’s mail-merge tool to combine data from your contacts or accounting software with a letter for bulk mailing.
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When you have created your basic letter, choose File > Save As and from the Save as Type dropdown list, select Document template (*.dot). Give the template a filename descriptive of its contents and click Save. Close the file.
When the time comes to create a new document based on this template, choose File > New. From the Templates area of the task pane choose On My Computer, select the template you just created and click OK. This will create a new document based on the template, which you can now complete, edit and send.
3. Make the Most of Mail Merge
The Microsoft Word Mail Merge feature is the simplest way to send a business letter to a lot of people. If you have the name and address details in a CRM program or your accounting software, for example, it’s best to use that data, as it will save you having to enter it manually.
Word can access data exported in a number of common formats including Excel .xls files, .csv files and Microsoft Access .mdb files. It can also get its data from your Outlook Contacts list. If you don’t have the data in a digital format you can type it directly into Word.
Choose Tools > Letters and Mailings > Mail Merge, select the Letters option and click Starting Document. You can use the Current Document or use a Template as the basis of your letter. Next, you’ll select the source for your name and address data from an existing list, your Outlook Contacts or you can choose to type a new list to use.
Now complete the letter and add an address block along with a greeting line using the links in the mail-merge task pane. When that's done, preview your letters to make sure that everything is correct. Finally, complete the merge by either printing the letters or saving them to a file that you can print later on.
The Letter Wizard in Word 2003 gets you started creating letters by completing boxes in the dialog.
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4. Format a Letter with the Letter Wizard
If you need a quick and neatly formatted letter, the Word 2003 Letter Wizard will step you through the process (unfortunately the Wizard isn’t included in Word 2007 or Word 2010). Choose Tools > Letters and Mailings > Letter Wizard and progress through each of the four tabs. Select the data to add to the letter and complete the boxes as required. You can select a page design and a style, and if you have preprinted letterhead you can configure this using the dialog options.
In the Recipient info tab you can obtain the recipient’s name and address data from your Outlook Contacts or you can type it yourself. The other tabs help you configure the subject line, mailing instructions and the sender information. When you are done, click OK and Word will automatically create the letter design for you. All you need to do is to type the contents.
5. Quick and Easy Addresses
If you store business name and address data in your Outlook Contacts list, you can make this information easily accessible inside Word using the address book.
Although the address book icon is not on a toolbar, you can add it by right-clicking any toolbar and choosing Customize. Select the Commands tab, select Categories and then All Commands. Scroll down the Commands list to find the InsertAddress command, and drag-and-drop it onto a toolbar. Close the dialog.
In the future, whenever you need an address from your Outlook Contact list, you can click the Insert Address button to open the address book, select the address to use and click OK.
Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at her Web site, HelenBradley.com
You'll find lots more software tips and tutorials from Helen Bradley in our Small Business In-Depth series, How-To With Helen Bradley.
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