Writing letters at work


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This was prepared to teach students how to get round to preparing and writing query or response letters for a variety of situations at the work place.

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Writing letters at work

  2. 2. Introduction  Letter writing is essential to many business tasks: you may be required to sell a product by mail, answer queries from potential customers, or simply make or accept and offer in clear and binding terms.  A well constructed letter can help you win new business and to improve and develop your relationship with clients.  A skilfully written letter can smooth troubled waters and heal wounded feelings.  It is important to learn how to deal with most kinds of business correspondence – from letters answering
  3. 3.  The language of business is the same as that of       everyday English. Many people seem to think that a special vocabulary is necessary in business, that readers expect it, or are impressed by it. None of this is true. Remember that all good writing follows the same basic principles. Certainly a business letters is different from a letter you write to a friend, or a thank-you note you send to your hostess after a weekend party. The difference, however, is not in how you write, but in what you write about. In business correspondence, as in all good writing,
  4. 4. Think before you write  Before you begin a letter, you must know what you      want to achieve. Reread any previous correspondence between you and the person you are writing to. Make sure you have in front of you all items of information – facts, figures, and so on – that you may have to pass on in the letter. Consider the main purpose of your letter. Is it intended to pacify an angry customer, to quote a price, or to say No to a request? Whatever the reason, have it firmly in your mind before you start to write.
  5. 5.  Is there a secondary purpose to your letter? If you     quote a price, should you also make a bid for an order? If you turn down a request, should you suggest and alternative course of action? An angry customer has to be won back as well as pacified. Decide how you are going to handle such matters before you write the first word. Set aside a specific time for dealing with letters – a time when you will not be interrupted. Good planning requires concentration. Some people set aside the first hour in the morning, when the telephone rings less frequently and visitors are few. Your thoughts are also sharper then; they
  6. 6.  Make notes as you plan.  This will help you to think more clearly, and will also help to avoid unnatural words and phrases when you come to write the letter.
  7. 7. Plan your letter  The main text of most business letters has three parts, and the order of these parts is fixed. 1. Your reason for writing. If there is more than one, be explicit. 2. The facts that you are presenting. Make a list and put the facts in a logical order. 3. What you want the person receiving the letter to do for you. Again make a list, and put the most important item first.  In some letters, when you are chasing a debt for example, there may be an extra part. What you intend to do if you do not get satisfaction from your
  8. 8.  Suppose for example, you are responsible for the computer system of a big firm of chartered accountants.  You are having problems, and have just heard of a company that specialises in your kind of system.  You think they may be able to help you, and are writing to enquire. Your plan might look like this: Why writing: New system recently installed – UNIX operating system. Problems. Facts: Business software doesn’t meet out requirements. Also problems with communications software. What you want them to do: Inspect system and see
  9. 9. Making the first draft  Having made a plan, you are ready to make your      first draft. Get straight to the point of your letter. Say what you have to say – and no more. Remember, the best letters give the most important information in the shortest time and most accessible form. Opening the letter. Identify the subject matter in the first paragraph. It is often a good idea to include a heading so that the person receiving the letter knows at a glance what it refers to.
  10. 10.  The body of the letter. The basic rule is to follow      the three parts of business letters – your reason for writing, that facts you are presenting, what you want the person to do for you. Very often, you will have a number of facts to present in each section. Find a logical order for presenting these facts – you may, for instance, order them by importance, or chronologically. Keep your paragraphs short. Aim to describe or explain of idea only in each – single- sentence paragraphs are fine. Most longer paragraphs can simply be split at some relevant place. Keep your sentences short too. If a sentence starts going over three lines, its is probably too long and
  11. 11.  Watch your language. Aim for maximum clarity of style in your letter. Check for ambiguity.  If you write something like The meeting will be held at a time to be determined later in the year, stop and think. If this is what you mean, rewrite it as The meeting will be held later in the year but we have not yet decided on the date.  Favour verbs over nouns, especially when the nouns are abstract or piled into long phrases. In the absence of precise instructions regarding the return of goods could become Since you have not told us exactly how we should return the goods...  Avoid clichés and jargon – sentences like this: We need to achieve conceptual communication criteria with a view to brining about a dynamic parameters
  12. 12.  It is hard to see what exactly the writer does mean, but presumably it is something like this: We need to stay in touch so that we can work out what limits we’re going to work within.  Don’t use abbreviations such as ibid. (ibidem), inst.,(institute) and ult (ultimate). Spell things out instead. On the other hand, it is usually permissible nowadays to use contractions such as don’t, she’ll, there’s and isn’t – though you should still avoid these in the most formal letters.  Avoid long-winded turns of phrase. Write Please let me know... – not I would appreciate your informing me.  Say We have decided to put off the decision until
  13. 13.  Closing the letter. End the letter on a firm and -  - positive note. Avoid vague closing like: Thanking you in anticipation. Hoping to hear from you. Assuring you of our best attention at all times. Let your close say what you mean: Please phone me to discuss terms and arrange a date. Whatever the answer, I would be grateful for a prompt reply. Please contact me if I can give you any further help.
  14. 14. Editing the draft  Now check your draft. It may go through several stages before it is ready for typing.  In particular, look for places where you could simplify or shorten the letter, and for places where you could improve the style – be it the wording, sentence structure, or paragraphing.  Always aim to ‘edit down’ rather than to ‘edit up’, though of course you may find that your first draft lacks something important and needs adding to.  At every stage, ask yourself, ‘Does that say exactly what I want it to say? In the best possible way? In the fewest and clearest words? Make sure to check for mistakes of grammar, spelling and punctuation.
  15. 15.  When you have got the letter just right, it is ready to be typed.  Then, before you sign the typed version, check the letter carefully once more for typing and errors and the like.  Always keep copies of business letters. How else can you prove that you really did reply to that urgent request for information, or that you offered to do the deal for Kshs.700,000 and not Kshs.1M?
  16. 16. Careful presentation  Careful drafting must be matched by careful presentation. A business letter must be neatly and attractively presented; it should, of course, be typed – though, if you wish, you can add a handwritten postscript to someone you know well.  Stationery. One key to effective presentation is attractive stationery. If your company does not have good office stationery, make sure it gets some – soon.  You cannot go wrong with A4-sized headed letter paper, plus matching unheaded sheets for letter that go over one page, and matching envelopes.  It is also useful to have A5 (half the size of A4)
  17. 17.  A good printer will help you design your stationery,  - - - or there may be a designer on your staff. By law your company letterhead must give, as well as your address, the following information: The company’s trading name – stating also if it is a limited company. The company’s registration number, and place of registration. The address of the company’s registered office – if this is different from the address of your particular office. The names of the directors (plus sometimes their nationality) – unless the company was formed before 23 November, 1916.
  18. 18.  If your company has a logo – a picture or symbol      used as its emblem – you will probably want to include that in your letterhead as well. You should also include, of course, your telephone number, and any fax numbers and the like. You can be flexible about presenting this information. You can put the important elements – the company name, address, and telephone number – in the top right-hand corner in the traditional way. Or spread them in one or two long lines across the width of the top of the page. Or arrange them in a column in the centre at the top. Get your designer or printer to show you a number of specimens in different typefaces, and experiment until you find a striking but appropriate format.
  19. 19.  Layout. By convention, there are two styles for    - laying out business letters – blocked and semi blocked. The basic difference between the two is that in blocked letters, every line of text begins flush with the left-hand margin, and paragraphs are indicated only by a blank line between them. In semi blocked letters, the first line of each paragraph is indented. Neither style is ‘better’ than the other – but having chosen one, stick to it. The constituent parts of a letter are: Your address, plus information listed above that your are legally obliged to give. If you have office stationery all this will be provided
  20. 20. - The date. This is especially important in business - - letters – as proof that you did indeed write on a particular date, and so that people replying can indicate which of your various letters they are answering. Remember to give the year as well as the day and month. Various forms are possible: 5th June, 1990; 5th June 1990; 5 June 1990; June 5th, 1990. Avoid the form 5/6/90, which would mean June 5 in Britain, but May 6 in North America. Reference numbers. These make filing easier and allow letters to be traced later. Generally, references consist of two sets of initials with a final number.
  21. 21. - For example – Ref: MH/jp/22. The initials in capitals - - - are those of the writer of the letter – Maria Hartnell. The ones in lower case are those of the typist – Jane Potter. The number indicates where the letter is filed – so 22 directs the searcher to shelf, box, or drawer 22. If you are replying to a letter with a reference, give that as well – label the other person’s reference number Your ref: and yours Our ref...The name, title, and address of the person you are writing to. This means that anyone finding a copy of your letter in the files at a later date knows whom you were writing to and where. A salutation. If possible, always address your letter
  22. 22. - Use the form Dear Sir (or Sirs) or Dear Madam only - - if you really cannot find out a recipient’s name. If you know the person reasonably well, and are on first-name terms, use his or her first name (Dear John) – but still type out the name and title formally above the salutations. The text A conclusion. In general, if you address the person by name, you conclude the Yours Sincerely. Using the form Dear Sir or Dear Madam, you conclude Yours Faithfully. If you have addressed the person by his or her first name a number of forms are common – Kind regards, Regards, Best Regards, Best Wishes, for
  23. 23. - Your signature, name, and title. Below your signature type your name – signatures are generally pretty illegible, and this helps the person receiving the letter to address you correctly when replying. - The typed name is not preceded by Mr, Mrs or any other title. - However, a woman may put a title in brackets after her name – (Mrs), (Ms), (Miss). - Beneath your name you can specify your position, such as Managing Director, Personnel Manager, or Assistant Editor.