The way to get the right amount of information in your letter, and to get It in the right order, is by planning your letter in advance. Ask yourself: what do you want your letter to achieve and what response do you want? Note down everything you want to include in it before you start writing; then read your notes again to see (a) that you have included all the necessary information, (b) that you haven't included any unnecessary information, and (c) that you have put the information in the right order.
Here, for example, is the plan for the letter at 2.1.3.
enclose catalogue, price-list
draw attention to watches suitable for
Arrand, and latest designs
mention guarantees and reputation
encourage further contact
The first sentence or paragraph of a letter is an important one since it sets the tone of the letter and gives your reader his first impression of you and your company. Generally speaking, in the first paragraph you will thank your correspondent for his letter (if replying to an enquiry), introduce yourself and your company if necessary, state the subject of the letter, and set out the purpose of the letter. Here are two examples:
Thank you for your enquiry dated 8 July in which you asked us about our range of cosmetics. As you have probably seen in our advertisements in fashion magazines, we appeal to a wide age-group from the teenage market through to more mature women, with our products being retailed in leading stores throughout the world.
Thank you for your letter of 19 August which I received today. We can certainly supply you with the industrial floor coverings you asked about, and enclosed you will find a catalogue illustrating our wide range of products which are used in factories and offices throughout the world.
This is the main part of your letter and will concern the points that need to be made, answers you wish to give, or questions you want to ask. As this can vary widely with the type of letter that you are writing, it will be dealt with in the relevant units. It is in the middle paragraphs of a letter that planning is most important, to make sure that your most important, to make sure that your
points are made clearly, fully and in a logical sequence.
When closing the letter, you should thank the person for writing, if your letter is a reply and if you have not done so at the beginning. Encourage further enquiries or correspondence, and mention that you look forward to hearing from your correspondent soon. You may also wish to restate, very briefly, one or two of the most important of the points you have made in the main part of your letter. Here are some examples:
Once again thank you for writing to us, and please contact us if you would like any further information. To go briefly over the points I have made - all prices are quoted c.i.f. Yokahama; delivery would be six weeks from receipt of order: and payment should be made by bank draft. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
I hope I have covered all the questions you asked, but please contact me if there are any other details you require. May I just point out that the summer season will soon be with us, so please place an order as soon as possible so that it can be met in good time for when the season starts. I hope to hear from you in the near future.
We are sure that you have made the right choice in choosing this particular line as it is proving to be a leading seller. If there is any advice or further information you want we shall be happy to supply it, and look forward to hearing from you.
Style and language
Commercial correspondence often suffers from an old-fashioned, pompous style of English which complicates the message and gives the reader the feeling that he is reading a language he does not understand. In this letter, all the writer is trying to do is explain why he delayed paying his account, but, because of the style, the letter is too long, and is difficult to write and read.
I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 15th inst. in connection with our not clearing our account which was outstanding as at the end of June.
Please accept our profuse apologies. We were unable to settle this matter due to the sudden demise of Mr Noel, our accountant, and as a result were unaware of those accounts which were to be cleared. We now, however, have managed to trace all our commitments and take pleasure in enclosing our remittance for £620 which we trust will settle our indebtedness.
We hope that this unforeseen incident did not in any way inconvenience you, nor lead you to believe that our not clearing our balance on the due date was an intention on our part to delay payment.
We remain, yours, etc....
Here is a simpler version of the letter. Mr Aldine will be satisfied with it because it tells him, in a simple and clear style, what he wants to know. First, his customer remembers his name. Second, he has apologized. Third, Mr Aldine knows his was not the only account that has not been paid, and knows why. Finally, he has his cheque.
Dear Mr Aldine,
I am replying to your letter of 15 July asking us to clear our June balance.
I apologize for not settling the account sooner, but due to the unfortunate death of Mr Noel, our accountant, we were not able to settle any of our outstanding balances.
Please find enclosed our cheque for £620, and accept our apologies for any inconvenience.
Your style should not, however, be so simple that it becomes discourteous. Here is an example of a letter that is so short and simple that it sounds rude.
Dear Mr Rohn,
I have already written to you concerning your outstanding debt of £591. This should have been cleared three months ago. You don't seem to want to co-operate in paying us, and therefore we will sue you if your debt is not cleared within the next ten days.
In this version of the same letter, notice the stylistic devices that are used to make it more polite: complex sentences, joined by conjunctions, rather than short sentences; passive rather than active; full forms rather than abbreviated forms.
Dear Mr Rohn,
I refer to the previous letter sent on 10 October in which you were asked to clear the balance of £591 which has been outstanding since July. As you have not replied to the letter you leave little choice for me but to place the matter in the hands of solicitors. However, I am reluctant to do this and am offering you a further ten days to settle the account.