Business Letter Contents
Business letters are formal paper communications between, to or from businesses and usually sent through the Post Office or sometimes by courier. Business letters are sometimes called "snail-mail" (in contrast to email which is faster). This lesson concentrates on business letters but also looks at other business correspondence. It includes:
Most people who have an occupation have to write business letters. Some write many letters each day and others only write a few letters over the course of a career. Business people also read letters on a daily basis. Letters are written from a person/group, known as the sender to a person/group, known in business as the recipient. Here are some examples of senders and recipients:
· business ↔business
· business ↔ consumer
· job applicant ↔ company
· citizen ↔ government official
· employer ↔ employee
· staff member ↔ staff member
There are many reasons why you may need to write business letters or other correspondence:
· to persuade
· to inform
· to request
· to express thanks
· to remind
· to recommend
· to apologize
· to congratulate
· to reject a proposal or offer
· to introduce a person or policy
· to invite or welcome
· to follow up
· to formalize decisions
Before writing (as opposed to speaking), you should usually have time:
· to plan what you want to say,
· to organise the information in a logical manner,
· to decide how you are going to express yourself.
After writing, you should build in time to edit your texts (e.g. make improvements and corrections). You should check your text for of the following:
· register and style,
The level of formalitydepends on:
· the type, e.g. a letter may be more formal than an email,
· the recipient, e.g. a long-standing customer or someone you do not know,
· the message, e.g. a letter of complaint will be different from a sales letter.
Written texts are divided into paragraphs in order to make them easier to read. Breaks between paragraphs give the reader time to stop and think for a moment. By beginning a new paragraph, the writer may be indicating that a new or contrasting idea is being introduced.
A topic sentence is the sentence in a paragraph containing the main idea, from which the rest of the paragraph develops. The other sentences in the paragraph add details, explanation and build up the argument.
Cohesion can be thought of as all the grammatical and lexical links that link one part of a text to another. This includes use of synonyms, lexical sets, pronouns, verb tenses, time references, grammatical reference, etc. For example, ‘it’, ‘neither’ and ‘this’ all refer to an idea previously mentioned. ‘First of all’, ‘then’ and ‘after that’ help to sequence a text. ‘However’, ‘in addition’ and ‘for instance’ link ideas and arguments in a text.
Coherencecan be thought of as how meanings and sequences of ideas relate to each other. Typical examples would be: general → particular; statement → example; problem → solution; question → answer; claim → counter-claim.
Punctuation serves a similar purpose in written texts as features of pronunciation (e.g. intonation, stress) serve in spoken discourse. It helps the reader make sense of a text. A text with no punctuation, or incorrect punctuation, can cause confusion or incomprehension for the reader. Correct punctuation saves the reader time and avoids misunderstandings.
Spelling is an important feature of writing. Most importantly, misspelt words can lead to confusion or even stop the reader from understanding the writer’s message. The impact of misspelt words varies enormously depending on the purpose and register of a document. For instance, misspelt words in a formal letter will probably create a more negative impression on the reader than those in an email.
Check each piece of business correspondence twice!
1st Check: Look at the text as a whole
· Does it look like a piece of business correspondence?
· Is the style and register consistent and appropriate?
· Does it look legible and well-organised?
· Does it read well?
Read your writing to yourself. Ask yourself:
· Is it easy to read?
· Is the information in a logical order?
· Have you included all the necessary information?
· Have you included any unnecessary information?
· Is there an introduction and a conclusion?
· Have you included a variety of sentences (short, long)?
· Have you divided your writing into clear paragraphs?
2nd Check: Check your text for detail
Check your grammar
· Are the tenses consistently used?
· Are all the sentences complete?
· Do the verbs and their subjects agree?
· Do sentences and clauses link together?
Check your vocabulary
· Make sure you haven’t used a mixture of formal and informal words.
· Have you used business vocabulary?
· Make sure you are not using the same words or phrases again and again.
Check your spelling
· Check for words you usually misspell.
Check your punctuation
· Do all sentences and proper nouns start with a capital letter?
· Does each sentence end with the correct punctuation?
· Are there too many commas?
a) Business Letter Structure
The format of the letter should follow certain order and style.
Letterhead is the name and address of a person or an organization printed at the top of personal or office stationery. There is no one accepted way of displaying letterheads; whatever style you chose, your letterheads should be very distinctive. They should give your correspondents all the information they might need if they want to contact you: your company name and address, telephone and fax numbers, email address.
Your reference. A reference is not essential, but it can help you retrieve a letter from your filing system. If you do have one, it will usually be the initials of the person who dictated the letter and those of the person who typed it, as in KMG/BZG. It can also include a file or account number, for example KMG/BZG/78/5.
The inside address. Make sure you get the name and job title of your correspondent right. If you are replying to a letter, address the person in the form in which he or she has signed. So if someone has signed his letter Hywell Walters, you should address him as Hywell Walters, not H. Walters.
Men can be addressed as Mr William Sykes or William Sykes, women can be addressed as Miss/Mrs/Ms Hilary Briggs or Hilary Briggs.
It is still considered polite to use some form of title (Mr, Mrs, Miss, Rev., Dr), although it is becoming more and more the norm to address people simply as Hilary Briggs, William Sykes, etc. If you have never previously met a person, you should use the title which is more formal. If you have met them, you should be able to judge for yourself whether they will be offended if you leave the title out, or whether they are likely to regard you as a bit too formal if you use it.
Addressing a woman can sometimes be tricky. It used to be common for women to indicate their marital status with their signature, as in Yours sincerely, Philippa Cooper (Mrs). But many businesswomen nowadays simply sign their names, without indicating their marital status. In that case, you should address them as Ms (Ms Philippa Cooper). However, if your correspondent signs herself Mrs or Miss, then use the same form of address in your reply.
If you are writing to a company or organization, wherever possible, address it to a specific person in the company, by job title if you do not know his or her name. So, for instance, if you had export query, you would address your letter to the Export Manager. If it were a complaint about an unpaid invoice, you would write to the Accountant. If you do not know who in the organization might deal with your letter, address your letter to the Manager or the Managing Director.
After the name of the company the number of the house and the name of the street are given, then the name of the town and of the county or state, as in:
The date is now almost always shown as 24 October 1999 without the ‘th’ after the day, and without a comma after the month. In American letters the date is written in the following way: October 24, 1999 (October twenty fourth, nineteen ninety-nine). If the date is written in figures, it will look as follows: month/date/year, e.g. 05/04/1999, which reads as follows: the fourth of May, nineteen ninety-nine.
The salutation is a part with which a letter starts: the part which begins ‘Dear...’. If you know your correspondent, it will be
simple deciding on the best salutation. If you know him or her well, you could begin ‘Dear John’ or ‘Dear Mary’. If you do not want to be quite so informal, you should use their title: ‘Dear Mr Smith’ or ‘Dear Miss Green’. One thing you should not do is address someone whose name you know as ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Madam’. This is so formal and unfriendly as to be impolite. If you do not know your correspondent’s name, the correct salutation is ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ (or Dear Sir/Madam). So in all cases where you are addressing someone by their job title only, you should use this form of salutation. The American way of writing a salutation is ‘Gentlemen:’.
Subject heading.Some firms open their letters with a subject heading (beneath the salutation). This provides a further reference, saves introducing the subject in the first paragraph, immediately draws attention to the topic of the letter and allows the writer to refer to it throughout the letter. It is often introduced by Re: and underlined, e.g. Re: Application for the post of typist.
The beginning of the letteris important. Set the tone for the rest of the letter early, and think what it is going to be about. You can use a heading if you think it will help to make the subject clear immediately. In order to get a positive reaction from your readers, you need to make them want to read your letters. It is important to get their attention and interest early in the letter, and this is why your opening should be eye-catching, e.g.:
· We have received your letter of...
· We thank you for your letter of...
· Your letter enclosing / stating that / asking us to / requesting us to...
· In reply / response to your letter of...
· In confirmation of our telephone conversation we wish to inform you that...
· With reference to our letter of ___ we wish to inform you that...
There are of course many ways of opening your letters – almost as many as there are subjects to write about. But make sure you make the start of your letter relevant to your subject and interesting.
The body of the letter should follow logically on from your opening, and there should be logical flow through the letter to the end. Apart from flowing logically, it should follow the three rules of business communication and be brief, clear and direct.
The ending of the letter. Your closing paragraph is as important as your opening. This is the last thing your correspondent will read, and the last impression he or she will have of you. You should use it for two purposes: 1) to summarise your position, 2) to indicate any action that needs to be taken, and by whom.
1) Summarising your position does not mean you should give a summary of everything you have said – that would be boring. You should simply summarise your views, or how you want your reader to feel. The exact wording you use will obviously depend on the type of letter, but there are a few examples of different summary endings:
· I hope this has helped you to understand our position.
· These are the problems I would like to review when we meet.
· I think you will agree that this is a very special offer.
· I am sure you will appreciate our concern over this matter.
2) There are five different kinds of action ending, depending on the kind of response you expect.
a) Positive reader response means that you expect the reader to take some action: I would be grateful if you could let me know as soon as possible what action you intend to take. / I look forward to hearing from you.
b) Positive writer response means that you will be taking some action: I will thoroughly investigate the problem and contact you as soon as I have an answer. / I will consider your proposals carefully, and let you have my response within the next few days. / I am waiting to hear from my accountant, and will be in touch as soon as I do.
c) Passive reader response means that the reader has the option of taking some action if he or she wants to, but that you do not expect it: If you need any further information, do let me know. / If I can be of any further assistance, please get in touch. / If I do not hear from you within the next two weeks, I will assume that you are happy with the new arrangements.
d) Passive writer response means that you might take some action: I will contact you if the situation changes. / If I receive any further information, I will let you know.
e) No response. If you do not want to continue the correspondence under any circumstances, then you should make this clear – not in so many words, as that would be impolite, but by your closing line: Thank you for writing. / I am grateful for your views. / I found your suggestions interesting, and will bear them in mind for the future. All of these indicate quite clearly that your reader should not expect to hear from you again, and that you do not expect to hear any more from them. But they all do so in a courteous and friendly way.
A courtesy line.Finally, you can add a courtesy line if you wish or if it is appropriate. It is not always necessary, but you might feel that it suits your goal and your subject to include one:
· Thank you for your co-operation.
· I apologise for the inconvenience you have been caused.
· I look forward to a long and profitable business relationship.
The complimentary close. If your salutation is ‘Dear Sir or Madam’, then your complimentary close should be ‘Yours faithfully’. If your salutation is ‘Dear Mr White’ or ‘Dear Mrs Green’, then your complimentary close should be ‘Yours sincerely’. Help: Sir or Sincerely, one or the other, never both! If you are being very informal, and writing to someone you know well, you can use ‘With kind regards’, ‘With best wishes’ or some such informal wording.
There should be a space for a signature, and then the name of the signatory. If you are writing to someone you know well, who already knows your position in the company, then it is not necessary to put your job title. But if you are writing to someone with whom you have not had dealings before, you should put your position under your name: