Make quite sure that you use the correct title in the address and salutation, that you spell your correspondent's name correctly (nothing creates a worse impression than a mis-spelled name), and that you write his/her address accurately.
Do not make assumptions about your correspondent's sex if you do not know it. If you are writing, for example, to a Chief Buyer who you do not know, do not assume that he/she must be one sex or the other: use Dear S/'r or Madam rather than Dear Sir or Dear Madam. If you know the person's name but not his/her sex (either because he/she only signs with an initial, or because his/her given name is new to you), then use Mr/ Mrs.... e.g. Dear Mr/Mrs Barren.
When replying to a letter, make sure you quote all references accurately. Your correspondent will not be pleased if it is not immediately clear which letter you are replying to.
Prices, measurements, etc.
Special care must be taken when quoting prices or giving specifications such as measurements, weights, etc. A wrongly-quoted price in a letter can cause complications.
Always check that you have actually enclosed the documents you have mentioned in your letter. And check that you have enclosed the right documents: if, for example, you say in the body of the letter, that you are enclosing 'our leaflet PB/14', do not then enclose leaflet PB/15. Or, when sending a covering letter with an order, make sure you have quoted the order number accurately in your letter.
Points to remember
1 Include just the right amount of information in your letter. (But better to include too much than too little.)
2 Plan your letter before you start writing, to make sure it says everything you want to say and says it in a logical sequence.
3 Use a simple but polite style of language. Beware of idioms.
4 Your letter should be clear and unambiguous. Take care with abbreviations and figures.
5 Accuracy is important. Pay special attention to titles, names and addresses, references, prices and specifications, enclosures.
Words to remember
order and sequence
style and language
to open a letter
to introduce oneself
to acknowledge an enquiry
to draw attention to something
to point out something
to make a point
to restate a point
to enclose a catalogue
to encourage further contact
to close a letter
CONTENT AND STYLE
Length; order and sequence; planning your letter; style and language; clarity; accuracy.
This unit gives you some general ideas on how to write business letters: how much information to give, how to plan your letter, what sort of style to use, how to make your letters as clear, informative and accurate as possible. They are, however, only general ideas, your real appreciation of what to do and what not to do in commercial correspondence will only come as you read through and study the following units.
Students often ask how long their letter should be. The answer is, as long as necessary, and this will depend on the subject of the letter; it may be a simple Subject, e.g. thanking a customer for a cheque, or quite complicated, e.g. explaining how a group insurance policy works. It is a question of how much information you put in the letter: you may give too little (even for a brief subject), in which case your letter will be too short, or too much (even for a complicated subject), in which case it will be too long. Your style and the kind of language you use can also affect the length (see 2.4). The right length includes the right amount of information.
The three letters that follow are written by different people in reply to the same enquiry from a Mr Arrand about the company's product.
There are a number of things wrong with a letter of this sort. Though it tries to advertise the products and the company itself, it is too wordy. There is no need to explain that stores or shops are stocking for Christmas; the customer is aware of this. Rather than draw attention to certain items the customer might be interested in, the letter only explains what the customer can already see, that there is a wide selection of watches in the catalogue covering the full range of market prices. In addition, the writer goes on unnecessarily to explain which countries the firm sells to, the history of the company, and its rather unimpressive motto.
Dear Mr Arrand,
Thank you very much for your enquiry of S November which we received today. We often receive enquiries from large stores and always welcome them, particularly at this time of the year when we know that you will be stocking for Christmas.
We have enclosed our winter catalogue and are sure you will be extremely impressed by the wide range of watches that we stock. You will see that they range from the traditional to the latest in quartz movements and include ranges for men, women, and children, with prices that should suit all your customers, from models costing only a few pounds to those in the upper-market bracket priced at several hundred pounds. But whether you buy a cheaper or more expensive model we guarantee all merchandise for two years with a full service.
Enclosed you will also find our price-list giving full details on c.i.f. prices to London and explaining our discounts which we think you will find very generous and which we hope you will take full advantage of.
We are always available to offer you further information about our products and can promise you personal attention whenever you require it. This service is given to all our customers throughout the world, and as you probably know, we deal with countries from the Far East to Europe and Latin America, and this fact alone bears out our reputation which has been established for more than a hundred years and has made our motto a household world - Time for Everyone.
Once again may we thank you for your enquiry and say that we look forward to hearing from you in the near future?
There are a number of points missing from this letter, quite apart from the fact that, since the writer knew the name of his correspondent he should have begun the letter Dear Mr Arrand and ended Yours sincerely.
1 There is no reference to the date or reference number of the enquiry.
2 Catalogues should be sent with a reply to an enquiry; it is annoying for a customer to have to wait for further information to be sent.
Thank you for your enquiry. We have a wide selection of watches which we are sure you will like. We will be sending a catalogue soon.
3. Even if a catalogue is sent, the customer's attention should be drawn to particular items that would interest him in his line of business. He might be concerned with the upper or lower end of the market. He might want moderately priced items, or expensive ones. There may be a completely new line that should be pointed out to him.
4. A price-list should also be included if prices are not listed in the catalogue, and any special discounts that are available should be quoted as well as delivery dates if possible.
The right length
Here is a letter that is more suitable. See 2.3 to? the points listed.
Dear Mr Arrand, Thank you for your enquiry of 5 November.
We have enclosed out winter catalogue and price-list giving details of c.i.f. London prices, discounts and delivery dates.
Though you will see we offer a wide selection of watches, may we draw your attention to pp. 23-28, and pp. 31-36 in our catalogue which we think might suit the market you are dealing with? And on page 25 you will notice our latest designs in pendant watches which are becoming fashionable for both men and women.
As you are probably aware, all our products are fully guaranteed and backed by our world-wide reputation.
If there is any further information you require, please contact us. Meanwhile, we look forward to hearing from you soon.
Your letter should be neither too long nor too short. It is better to include too much information than too little. Your reader cannot read your mind. If you leave out vital information, he won't know what he wants to know, unless he writes back again and he may not bother to do that. If you include extra information, at least he'll have what he wants, even though he may be irritated by having to read the unnecessary parts. Provided, of course, that you include the vital information as well as the extras: the worst letter of all is the one that gives every piece of information about a product - except the price.
Order and sequence
As well as containing the right amount of information, your letter should also make all the necessary points in a logical sequence, with each idea or piece of information linking up with the previous one in a pattern that can be followed. Do not jump around making a statement, switching to other subjects, then referring back to the point you made a few sentences or paragraphs before.
Consider this badly-written letter. There is no clear sequence to the letter, which makes it difficult to understand.
We are interested in your security systems. We would like to know more about the prices and discounts you offer.
A business associate of ours, DMS (Wholesalers) Ltd., mentioned your name to us and showed us a catalogue. They were impressed with the security system you installed for them, so we are writing to you about it. Do you give guarantees with the installations?
In your catalogue we saw the Secure 15 which looks as though it might suit our purposes. DMS had the Secure 18 installed, but as we mentioned, they are wholesalers, while we are a chain of stores. We would like something that can prevent robbery and shoplifting, so the Secure 15 might suit us.
How long would it take to install a system that would serve all departments? Could you send an inspector or adviser to see us at some time?
If you can offer competitive prices and guarantees we would put your system in all our outlets, but initially we would only install the system in our main branch.
We would like to make a decision on this soon, so we would appreciate an early reply.
Here is a better version of the same letter, in which the ideas and information are in logical order.
Dear Mr Jarry,
We are a chain of retail stores and are looking for an efficient security system. You were recommended to us by our associates DMS (Wholesalers) Ltd. for whom you recently installed an alarm system, the Secure 18.
We need an installation which would give us comprehensive protection against robbery and shoplifting throughout all departments and the Secure 15 featured in your catalogue appears to suit us. However if one of your representatives could come along and see us, he would probably be able to give us more advice and details of the available systems.
Initially we will test your system in our main branch, and if successful, then extend it throughout our other branches, but of course a competitive quotation and full guarantees for maintenance and service would be necessary.
Please reply as soon as possible as we would like to make a decision within the next few months. Thank you.