1. Business Letter Writing
(from: King. F.W., Cree D. Ann. English Business Letters. – Longman, 2003. – P. 12-23.)
Letter-writing is an essential part of business. In spite of telephone, telex and telegraphic communication the writing of letters continues; in fact most telephoned and telegraphed communications have to be confirmed in writing.
The letter is often evidence of an arrangement or a contract, and must therefore be written with care; even the shortest and most usual of letters may have this importance. The need for thought in writing is clear when you realise that in speaking — either face-to-face or by telephone — the reaction to the spoken word can be seen or heard immediately, but reaction to a letter is not known until the answer is received.
When you have written a letter, read it through carefully; see that you have put in everything you intended, and have expressed it well; read it again, trying to put yourself in the place of the receiver, to find out what impression your letter will make.
It is obvious that what has been said in the previous paragraph be-comes even more important when you write a letter in a foreign lan-guage. Unless you know that particular language very well you are certain to translate some phrases from your own language literally; these phrases may then convey quite a different meaning from that intended. It is in any case impossible to translate all business phrases literally as each language has its own characteristic idiom. With this in mind we have given as large a selection as possible of English phrases in gene-ral use.
A question frequently asked is: "How long should a good letter be?" The answer is: "As long as is necessary to say what has to be said”. The manner of interpreting this varies, of course, with the writer, and also very greatly with the nationality of the writer.
Because the aim of the letter is to secure the interest of the reader, and his co-operation, the letter should begin with sentences that will introduce the matter without undue delay, and polite forms to help the introduction must not be too long. The letter should continue with the subject itself and all the necessary information or arguments connected with it, but the wording must carry the reader along smoothly; jerky, over-short or disjointed sentences spoil the impression. The letter should have a suitable ending — one that is not long but makes the reader feel that his point of view is being considered. This is especially necessary when sellers are writing to buyers.
Waste of time in subsequent letters should be avoided by giving all the information likely to be required, unless the writer purposely re-frains from going into too much detail until he knows the reaction of his correspondent.
A good vocabulary is necessary, both in your own and foreign lan-guages; repetition should be avoided as much as possible, except where the exact meaning does not allow any change of word.
Everyone has a characteristic way of writing, but it must be remembered that the subject of the routine business letter lacks variety and certain accepted phrases are in general use. This is of great help to the foreigner, who can rely on them to compose a letter that will be understood. Let us say, perhaps, that a routine business letter is like a train, running on a railway track, whereas other letters are like cars that must, of course, keep to the road but are otherwise given greater freedom of movement than a train.
This greater "freedom of movement” applies also to business correspondence dealing with matters of policy, special offers, negotiations, reports and customers' complaints, all of which are matters that demand individual treatment. Here the correspondent must not only make his meaning clear but also try to create in the reader's imagination a true impression of his attitude. This is by no means so difficult as it may seem if the writer will remember that simplicity of word and phrase usually gives the impression of sincerity. Also a style of writing which is natural to the writer carries his personality to the reader.
In foreign trade, with its numerous problems and complications, the use of forms is a necessity: it facilitates the handling of goods at the various stages, indicates that regulations have been complied with, and saves unnecessary correspondence. It is the repetitive nature of many business transactions that makes it possible for the form to do the work of the letter. A study of the wording on forms is therefore advisable, and one or two specimens relating to certain transactions will be found in later chapters.
The growing use of the telephone and telegraph is also reducing correspondence in this age when, as never before, "time is money”. Another factor is the increasing personal contact in international trade. With any one part of the world only a few hours" flying time from any other it is not surprising that many businessmen prefer to make personal visits in order to discuss important matters on the spot.
Other modern conditions and tendencies that have their effect on the nature of correspondence are the establishment of foreign companies by large international organisations, business tie-ups between pairs of firms in different countries, export and import controls and restric-tions, currency controls and the financial policies of governments.
The really competent correspondent therefore needs to understand something of the principles and practice of modern commerce. There is no room in this book for even an outline of these principles, but some brief explanations of certain procedures are given in order to help the less experienced student to understand the letters that follow.
2. The letter heading and the layout
Business letters are usually typed on notepaper bearing a specially designed heading which provides the reader of the letter with essential information about the organisation sending it. Normally the heading will include the company's name and address, its telephone numbers and telegraphic addresses, the type of business it is engaged in, its telex code and V.A.T.' number, and in many cases the names of the directors. It is becoming increasingly common for firms to print an emblem or trademark on their stationery.
['Value Added Tax, an indirect tax which replaced Purchase Tax in connection with Britain's entry into the European Economic Community (the E.E.C.).]
Here is an example of a heading that might be used by a British company:
BRONK LONDON 01 486 0517
H. BROWN & W. PINK (2 lines)
Registered Number 725716 LIMITED
Home & Overseas Merchants
H.BROWN 18 HILL ST.
W.PINK LONDON WIM 5RN
The firm in this example is a limited company, and this fact is indi-cated by the word 'Limited' (very often abbreviated to 'Ltd.'), which is printed after the name. Since the name of the company does not show what its line of business is, this is stated separately.
Here are two more examples of letter headings, both of which would be used by partnerships.
Let us now look at an example of a letter typed on the stationery of a British limited company:
|GREY, BLACK & WHITE|
SOLICITORS Telephone: 01 3885599
London WC 1H 8 BA
|THISTLETHWAITE & CO. 596 Broad Street|
Chartered Accountants London EC4 3 DD
B. Black, F.C.A.
A. White, F.C.A.
J. Grey, A.C.A.
Telephone: 01 8299595
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.
a) GRAJO LEEDS GRADEN & JONES Leeds 978653
Home & Overseas Merchants
DIRECTORS: Upper Bridge Street
L.L. Graden, P..G. Jones LEEDS 2
(c) 13 July 1978
(d) Oliver Green and Co.Ltd.
25 King Edward VII St.
MANCHESTER M 24 5BD
(e) Dear Sirs
understand from several of our trade connections in Bolton that you are
the British agents for Petrou and
Galitopoulos AE of Athens.
you please send us price-lists and catalogues for all products
manufac-tured by this company, together
with details of trade discounts
and terms of payment.
We look forward to hearing from you.
(f) Yours faithfully
GRADEN AND JONES LTD.
The parts of the letter
(a) The heading. This has already been mentioned. Note that this example, like the one on page 15, 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 be-fore 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
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 16-17. 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 Brit-ish 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 cor-respondent is addressed by his or her name — "Dear Mr Brown”, "Dear Miss James”, etc. — the complimentary close will take the form "Yours sincerely”.
|Name and address ||Salutation||Complimentary close|
|Southern Airways Ltd. |
250 Oxford Street
London Wl 7TM
|Dear Sirs Sirs ||Yours faithfully |
|The Marketing Manager|
Richmond Surrey SFY3DF
|Dear Sir||Yours faithfully (Yours truly)|
|Ms J. Faulkner |
British Films Ltd.
3 Wardour St.
London Wl 5JN
Dear Ms Faulkner
(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 16-17 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.STYLE OF AMERICAN FIRMS Foreign learners of English commercial correspondence should be-ware of drawing a sharp distinction between British and American styles. The fact of the matter is that the similarities are more striking than the differences, and the differences between British and American English in general are fewer and less important now than they were, say, fifteen or twenty years ago. For correspondence purposes it is quite enough to be familiar with one particular layout and one particular set of conventions, since Americans have no difficulty in understanding British busi-ness letters, and vice versa. Another point to bear in mind is the fact that the majority of business letters today are written, not by Americans or British people, but by individuals and firms using English as a for-eign language. This is another factor which has caused the two styles to merge to a very considerable extent, and provided you follow the ad-vice given in this chapter and elsewhere, your letters will conform to modern business practice.TYPES OF BRITISH FIRMS The limited liability company, or joint stock company, is the commonest type of firm in the United Kingdom. The company is owned by shareholders, and the term "limited liability” means that when the full price of a share has been paid the holder has no further liability to contribute money to the company.
The shareholders in a limited company elect a Board of Directors, and these men and women are responsible for looking after the financial interests of those who elect them. The directors appoint one of their number to the position of Managing Director, and he or she is the link between the Board, who make policy decisions, and management, whose function it is to execute the policy determined on. Thus the Managing Director is in charge of the day-to-day running of the company, and in large organisations-he is often assisted by a General Manager. The various departmental managers — the Sales Manager, the Personnel Manager, the Chief Buyer, and others — are responsible to the Managing Director for the efficient running of their departments. British company law requires a limited company to have a Company Secretary. (See Chapter 14)
Another type of firm is the partnership. In this case limited liability does not extend to the whole firm and all partners (even in a limited partnership there must be at least one partner with unlimited liability), so partnerships are very seldom manufacturing or trading firms. They tend rather to be professional organisations such as firms of solicitors, auditors, architects, or management consultants. The names of all partners must, in accordance with the law in Britain, be printed on the stationery of a partnership.EXERCISES1. Design a letter heading for a company manufacturing washing machines, refrigerators and other household equipment. Include all the information about your company which is normally shown in a modern letter heading.
2. Write out the following date in three or four different ways in which it might appear at the top of a business letter: the fourteenth of April nineteen-seventy-eight.
3. Imagine you are writing to the company whose letter heading appears on page 16-17. How would you set out the inside address, and what would the salutation and complimentary close be?
4. Below are names and addresses which might appear — suitably set out, of course — in the top left-hand corner of a business letter. Give the correct salutation and complimentary close in each case:
(a) Burke and Sons Ltd., 55 Inkerman Road, London SE5 8BZ.
(b) The Sales Manager, BGW Electrics Ltd., Liverpool 4.
(c) Mr A. L. Moon, British Rail (Southern Region), London W1M
(d) Ms Angela Box, Gorton and Sons, 344 Oxford St., London Wl A
5. Which of the organisations mentioned in Exercise 4 should be addressed as Messrs.? Give your reasons for including or omitting Messrs. in all four cases.