Note the layout in the example. Currently there are several ways of setting out a business letter in Britain, and policy in this respect differs from company to company. The form in which a business letter appears has not been standardised in the United Kingdom to the extent it has in the U.S.A. and most European countries, and many British firms still indent the first line of each paragraph, and use more punctuation in the inside name and address and in the date than is the case in our example. Nevertheless there is a growing tendency in Britain, due largely to foreign influences and the widespread use of the electric typewriter, to use block paragraphing—in other words, to begin every line at the left-hand margin—and to dispense with unnecessary punctuation in the date and the name and address of the person or organisation written to. It is still considered necessary to put a full stop after abbreviations, as we have done in the case of Co. (Company), Ltd. (Limited) and St. (Street) in our example. However, it is becoming more and more common to type Mr and Mrs—i.e. without a stop—and this practice may well be extended to other abbreviations in the near future.
The parts of the letter
(a) The heading. This has already been mentioned. Note that this example, like the one on page 3, contains all the information mentioned in the first paragraph of this chapter.
(b) The reference. This is typed on the same line as the date, but on the left, and consists of the initials of the person who signs the letter (in this case JAS) and those of the typist (DS). Sometimes other initials or figures are added, according to whatever may suit the filing system of the firm in question. It is usual to quote the reference initials of the addressee company in a reply.
(c) The date. The form in which the date is written in this letter—13 July 1978—is probably the simplest and clearest of all the current forms used in the English-speaking world, but there are alternative ways of writing the date, for example:
July 13 1978 (Americans put the name of the month first), 13th July 1978, and July 13th 1978.
Some firms still insist on a comma before the year, but others consider this unnecessary. It is important to note that the name of the town or city where the letter originates is not repeated before the date, although this is normally done on the Continent. Another practice widely used in Europe is to write the date in a highly abbreviated form—12.7.78, for example—but this should not be done in letters written in English, since in Britain 12.7.78 means 12 July 1978, whereas in the U.S.A. it means December 7 1978. It is obvious that the use of such forms could result in confusion.
(d) The inside address. A few points concerning the name and address of the firm written to need to be made. Firstly, they are typed on the left, normally against the margin. The diagonal grading of the name and address is rare nowadays, and the style shown in the example is neater, as well as being quicker for the typist.
Secondly, the use of Messrs, (an abbreviated form of Messieurs, the French word for Gentlemen) should not be used in front of the name of a limited company, nor should it appear with the names of firms which indicate their line of business and do not consist of family names. It follows, therefore, that Messrs, will be used mostly when a partnership is being addressed, as in this example:
Messrs. Hamilton and Jacobs 265 High Holborn London WC1 7GS
Note also that the number of the street in the address always precedes the name of the street, and that in the case of large towns and cities in the United Kingdom the name of the county is not required. It is not necessary, for example, to add 'Lancashire' to the address in the example on page 4. However, when the firm addressed is situated in a smaller town, the county name is necessary, and it should be remembered that in Britain there are two Richmonds, one in Surrey and another in Yorkshire, and several Newports, for example.
(e) The salutation. Below the address a double space at least is left, and the words 'Dear Sirs' are typed. This is the usual salutation in British business letters addressed to a company rather than to an individual within the company. Very often a comma is typed after the salutation, but an increasing number of firms are eliminating this, considering the spacing to fulfil the function of traditional punctuation. Once again, there are no hard-and-fast 'rules', but every firm will have its own policy. In the U.S.A. the most common salutation is 'Gentlemen:'. Note that the salutation is typed against the left-hand margin.
When writing to an individual within the firm addressed, the salutation is 'Dear Sir' ('Dear Madam' if the recipient is known to be a woman), or 'Dear Mr ', 'Dear Mrs ', 'Dear Miss ..or 'Dear Ms ' if the addressee is addressed by name rather than by position.
In recent years the use of the form Ms has become quite common. It originated in the U.S.A. and, like its 'male' equivalent Mr, it does not indicate whether the person addressed is married or unmarried.
(f) The complimentary close. This is typed above the name of the firm sending the letter, then a space is left for the signature. If the salutation is 'Dear Sirs' or 'Dear Sir', the complimentary close will read 'Yours faithfully' or, less commonly, 'Yours truly'. If the correspondent is addressed by his or her name—'Dear Mr Brown', 'Dear Miss James', etc.—the complimentary close will take the form 'Yours sincerely'. Here are some examples:
Name and address
Southern Airways Ltd. 250 Oxford Street London W1 7TM
The Marketing Manager Software Ltd. Richmond Surrey SPY 3DF
Ms J. Faulkner British Films Ltd. 3 Wardour St. London W1 5JN
(g) The signature. It often happens that the person who has dictated a letter is unable to sign it as soon as it has been typed. Since it is often essential to send a letter as soon as possible, the typist or some other employee connected with the letter in question will sign it instead: in such cases he or she will write the word 'for' or the initials 'p.p.' immediately before the typed name of the employee responsible for the letter.
The name of the person signing the letter is typed below the space left for the signature, and is followed on the next line by his position in the company or by the name of the department he represents.
Traditionally the complimentary close and signature have been typed in the middle of the page, but it is becoming more and more common for firms to place them against the left-hand margin.
The example on page 4 does not mention an enclosure, nor does it have a subject line.
If an enclosure accompanies the letter, this fact is indicated both in the text itself and by the word Enclosure (often reduced to Enc. or End.) typed against the left-hand margin some distance below the signature. There are other ways of referring to enclosures—the use of adhesive labels, for instance, or the typing of lines in the left-hand margin beside the reference in the text to the document or documents enclosed—but typing the word Enclosure at the bottom of the letter is by far the most common.
The subject matter of a letter is often indicated in a subject line which appears below the salutation:
Your order no. 6544 of 15 March 1977
The term 'Re-' is seldom used these days to introduce the subject: like other Latin words which have been employed in British correspondence for decades, it is now considered old-fashioned and artificial. (See Chapter 1) Subject lines are not always required, and the date of a letter referred to in the first line of the answer is often sufficient to indicate what the subject is.