Types of Business Writing
No matter what your job title is, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll have to write something related to your work, usually on a regular basis. Emails, memos, records, letters, reports, and forms—even when they don’t appear as part of your job description—are routine in any workday and must be com- pleted correctly. Technicians, sales associates, service personnel and, of course, all kinds of office workers are expected to have the skills needed for everyday communica- tions.
Earlier, you learned about the ABCs (abstract, body, and conclusion) of writing a report or other document for school or work. Now we’ll look at the ABCs of business correspondence: accuracy, brevity, and clarity. We’ll revisit the importance of writing according to the needs of your audience and purpose, and define the differences between internal and external customer service.
Successful business writing produces correspondence that’s professional in tone and a positive reflection on your company, as well as efficient and effective in completing the task at hand. In this study unit, we’ll help you prepare for the various kinds of writing you’re most likely to need for your job.
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When you complete this study unit, you’ll be able to
• Process routine information requests and correspondence
• Assist in writing well-structured letters that are professional in appearance
• Correctly format business letters, memos, and emails
• Explain safe and effective uses of email
• Describe the types, purposes, and proper completion of typical office forms
WRITING EFFECTIVE CORRESPONDENCE 1
The Five C’s of Letter Writing 1 Writing with Style 5 External Customer Service 8 Internal Customer Service 10
WRITING EMAIL 16
Using Email Safely 17 Email Etiquette 18 Formatting Email 20
WRITING MEMOS 23
Why Write Memos? 24 Formatting Memos 24
WRITING BUSINESS LETTERS 30
Parts of a Business Letter 30 Writing the Body of a Letter 41 Styles of Business Letters 47 Selecting and Addressing Envelopes 53 Templates and Sample Letters 60 Writing Tips 73
Purpose of Forms 78 Types of Forms 80 Using Forms 82
PRACTICE EXERCISE ANSWERS 85
SELF-CHECK ANSWERS 91
C o n t e n t s
C o n t e n t s
WRITING EFFECTIVE CORRESPONDENCE
Business correspondence is a personal reflection of the writer, but it also reflects his or her professional standing by its contents and its appearance. For the sake of simplicity, the principles of effective business correspondence will be applied here to letters, but those principles apply as well to email, memos, reports, and so on.
Some letters will be written by the employer and dictated, usually into a dictaphone machine, for later transcription by the secretary. Other letters, concerning the more routine matters in the office, may be written by the secretary. But, no matter how routine the letter might be, its purpose is to convey a message that the reader will understand. Effective letters are characterized by their clarity, conciseness, completeness, courtesy, and correctness. The five C’s of letter writing are good to remember.
The Five C’s of Letter Writing
A letter is, above all, a message to the reader. If the reader doesn’t grasp the message clearly and easily, the letter has failed in its purpose, no matter how correct its form or how attractive its appearance. The letter must convey a message
Types of Business Writing
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in unmistakable terms. One way to write clearly is to use simple, direct language. Instead of “We beg to advise you that Mr. Quest is out of town at this time,” write “Mr. Quest is away.” Instead of “Enclosed please find,” just say “Enclosed” or “Here is.” Don’t use heavy closing statements like “Thanking you in advance, I am” or “Anticipating the pleasure of an early reply, we remain.” Just say what you have to say, and close with “Sincerely yours.” When it’s necessary for you to sign the employer’s name (always sign in ink, preferably black ink), put your initials directly under your employer’s signature.
By conciseness, we mean that unnecessary information should be omitted from the letter. You should always avoid lengthy, repetitive explanations. Get to the point.
Conciseness also means avoiding wordy, repetitious phrases. See Figure 1 for examples of wordy phrases and more concise ones to replace them.
You must never leave information out of a letter just to make the letter shorter. Remember that the purpose of the letter is to convey a message, and your message should be complete. Before you start the letter, make a checklist of each item that should be discussed in the letter, and make sure that all of the important items are included. Once the letter is written, read through it to make sure that you’ve included each of the items you’ve listed and haven’t included extra items which aren’t essential.
The success of a business office depends on the courteous relationships maintained with clients, patients, business colleagues, and other businesses. The employer’s correspon- dence contributes a great deal to this relationship. Even a collection letter can be written in a courteous way. In appropriate places, you should include phrases of cordiality and goodwill.
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WRITING A LETTER
WORDY CONCISE WORDY CONCISE
along the lines of like may perhaps may similar to
at all times always past experience experience
attached hereto attached previous to, prior to before
at the present time now seems to be seems at this writing
both of them both short space of time short time
by means of by there are many that many
depreciate in value depreciate there can be no doubtless doubt that
due to the fact that as, because, up to this writing (or we have not for the reason that since time) we have not in view of the fact that
during the course of during with reference to about with regard to
final completion completion in the city of Chicago in Chicago in the month of August in August in the year 19— in 19—
first of all first in the meantime meanwhile
for the month for September in the near future soon of September
for the purpose of for in the neighborhood nearly, about of around
inasmuch as since in this place here
in order to to made out of made of with a view to
in the amount of for
in the case of if in the event that in the event of
FIGURE 1—Saying It Concisely
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In any type of correspondence, correctness is a key ingredient. If the letter isn’t correctly written, then it doesn’t matter if it’s concise, clear, or courteous. Of course, any business commu- nication must be correct in its content, especially in fields like medicine and law, where incorrect information can have serious consequences. In addition, any letter that contains errors, either in the information given or in its grammar, creates a negative impression about your office (Figure 2). After each letter is composed, check it for correctness of
• The form of numerical expressions
If you use a spell-check system, which you should, make sure to run it on every letter. Even if you think you’re an excellent speller, a spell checker can call your attention to typo- graphical errors that may have escaped your eye. Spell checks won’t catch all errors, how- ever. Proofreading is still necessary.
Keep those five C’s in mind when composing a letter. And review your letter to make sure that none of those elements has been overlooked.
In addition to the letters that the employer has dictated, a good secretary composes some
letters. Either you or your employer may sign them. You must be able to produce letters that are pleasing in appearance and written in a professional manner. When you compose letters for someone else’s signature, you should write them as that person would. This will take a certain amount of experience and familiarity with your employer’s letters and the way that person thinks and talks. Above all, letters must be profes- sional, clear, concise, and correct in every detail.
FIGURE 2—“When in doubt, look it up!” Don’t risk creating a negative impression by sending a letter marred with errors.
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Writing with Style
Everyone has a unique way of doing things. For example, if you want to run well, you have to follow instructions and train yourself to perform efficient motions to increase your speed, but you’ll still have a certain way of running which is all your own. Speaking style is also unique. Some styles of speech are pleasing; others aren’t. But regardless of a person’s style, the message is conveyed only if the spoken language is understood.
Writing style, like style in running and speaking, also differs to some extent from individual to individual. Yet the difference in your writing style shouldn’t be so great that, when you write, it becomes difficult to understand what you’ve written. Style is individual, but it must be regulated by certain time- tested principles. A sentence that’s perfect in meaning, grammar, and spelling can sound flat if it lacks style.
There are three basic principles of writing style: unity, coherence, and emphasis.
If a person must spend considerable time trying to figure out what a letter is trying to say, money is being wasted. A letter must have unity. Unity means that the communication has one main point and that everything in it relates to, develops, and supports that point. In a business communication, it’s a good idea to state your main point at the beginning: “Here is the brochure you requested on November 6 and the answers to the questions you asked.” Then make sure that everything that follows relates to that main point. Here are some rules to make sure that your writing is unified:
1. Write complete sentences, not sentence fragments.
2. Avoid any loose, illogical relationship of sentence parts.
3. Include everything that’s needed to make your idea fully understood, but nothing more.
4. Avoid foggy ideas. When in doubt, rewrite.
5. Be clear in every way.
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Not only is it important to know what you’re writing about, it’s also important to express ideas in an orderly manner. Ideas must be tied together logically. Follow these steps:
1. Have a general plan.
2. Let your thoughts flow in a natural and logical succession. Thoughts and events have their own order. The details of any happening or line of thought must be so arranged and worded that the relation of one to the other is natural and sensible.
3. Finish one topic before beginning another.
4. Use transition words or phrases as necessary to make the relationship clear between sentences and paragraphs.
Here are some common transitions:
above behind in front of over
across between inside to the right
around down near under
about during prior to today
after first until soon
before second meanwhile immediately
as likewise in the same way
also like similarly
but nevertheless although
however on the other hand conversely
yet on the contrary otherwise
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again with this in mind truly
to repeat for this reason to emphasize a point
For concluding or summarizing:
as a result this in summary
finally therefore in short
consequently accordingly all in all
For adding information:
again and for instance furthermore
also besides likewise finally
additionally for example moreover along with
that is put another way to clarify
in other words stated differently for instance
By stressing certain parts of your letter and playing down other parts, you can emphasize important ideas over less important ones. Proper emphasis holds the reader’s attention. Arrange each sentence so that the most important idea occupies the most prominent position. Don’t make the reader hunt for the main idea. The beginning and end of every sentence is a prominent position. These two parts of the sentence shouldn’t be occupied by unimportant words.
For instance, the sentence “Our relations have been satisfactory in every way” gains emphasis if the important word satisfactory is placed at the end, thus: “Our relations have in every way been satisfactory.”
Vary the word order. Show the reader what’s most important by the way you arrange the ideas in your sentence. The sentence “They’re today the biggest sellers in the field of low-priced books” isn’t as forceful as the sentence “In the field of low- priced books, they’re the biggest sellers today.”
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Omit words that add nothing to the thought. If you wish to be emphatic, express your thoughts in the fewest words possible. The sentence “Concerning the offer you made to me, I desire to state that it appeals to me strongly” is weak because it’s wordy. Why not come right to the point? “Your offer interests me.” Wordiness weakens an idea. The greater the number of words, the less emphasis you have.
External Customer Service
Tact and courtesy are indispensable ingredients in all business correspondence. You wouldn’t think of slamming the door in a customer’s face or of speaking to the customer with loud, abusive language. Nor should you ever write a letter which, in effect, does the same thing (Figure 3). Offensive, argument- provoking phrases have no place in business letters.
Your attitude is reflected in your writing. Once a letter is written and mailed, it can’t be recalled. You can’t be there to show by gesture, by tone of voice, or by the persua- siveness of your personality that everything you said was intended for the best interests of the customer. The words you choose must reflect an attitude appropriate to the subject and audience.
Your letter may be courteous and tactful. It may be written so that it adheres strictly to grammatical principles, and it may present a pleasing appearance; yet it may lack a “from me to you” attitude. Every person is, to a greater or lesser degree, an egotist. A letter should be written so that it appeals to your reader, who is an egotist. Look at the two letters that follow. Both say the same thing, but the second letter would make a better impression on the reader.
FIGURE 3—The friendly, professional manner you use with customers should extend to your correspondence.
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The “from me to you” attitude, however, isn’t conveyed merely by a liberal sprinkling of “you’s” in the letter. It takes much more than that. You must put yourself in the reader’s place. You must think with the reader’s mind, see with the reader’s eyes, and feel with the reader’s emotions. In other words, you have to be both writer and reader. Your chief concern is the question, How will these words affect my reader?
A good business letter will be patient. Even when you’re answering a correspondent who seems unintelligent or addresses you in a way which might ordinarily provoke anger or resentment, you must be cool and careful in your own letters. You must make detailed explanations when they’re necessary. You must try to understand the stresses and problems of the other person. As a business correspondent, you must never give yourself the luxury of being short-tempered.
A good business letter will be firm. It will make its points with such clarity that a yes or no answer follows naturally. It won’t deal in shades of meaning, in words or ideas like perhaps or possibly. It will show decisiveness without oversimplifying the problem.
Firmness results from the careful planning of your letters. It’s difficult to be firm and decisive unless you know exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it.
We have received your letter of July 27, and we wish to say that we appreciate your response to our survey. Our purpose is to provide the best service possible to our customers.
Thank you for your thoughtful comments in your letter of July 27. It was kind of you to take the time to tell us you’re pleased with our service. When you call on us again, we’ll be happy to serve you in any way we can.
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Knowledge of Your Company
To write the best possible letters to customers or clients, you must have a complete knowledge of your company’s products, policies, achievements, and plans for further growth. The more you learn about your firm, the more fun you’ll get out of working—and the more valuable you’ll become to your employer. Only with the help of complete, practical, factual knowledge can you hope to write a business letter that will fulfill its purpose.
Interest and Freshness
Last of all, a good business letter shows that its writer has a real interest in the matter at hand. Be sure your letters aren’t repetitious. The addressee wishes to feel, for a time at least, that you’ve devoted all your effort and attention to him or her.
Too many letter writers lack originality. They follow the path of least resistance and wearily plod along with the same old ideas expressed in the same old way. To develop reader interest, avoid the clichés and tired phrases that can so easily creep into business writing. You must compose each letter as a separate entity, with its own special phrasing.
Internal Customer Service
The term customer service applies not only to a company’s external customers, but also to relationships among company employees. These relationships are no less important to the success of the business than external communications. Your correspondence, no matter how informal, should address your internal customers respectfully and professionally.
Attitude and Medium
While memos used to be the standard method of inside communication, email has now become the quickest way to contact others within the company. Since many people also use email to stay in touch with friends and family, they may become accustomed to the informal, slapdash writing that’s
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accepted in very casual circumstances. But lax writing prac- tices are never acceptable in business. Remember, even if you’re writing a quick question to a friend in your own department, business correspondence must meet professional standards. At minimum, make sure you write in complete sentences and use correct spelling, capitalization, and punctuation.
Other types of internal communications—memos, announce- ments, reports, policy documents, and so on—are written more formally. Make sure you adjust your writing style to fit the purpose and the audience for each type of document. Some companies use standardized templates or forms for cer- tain types of documents, which may make your job easier if you’re assigned to produce one. If you don’t have a template to work from, you may want to look at a few samples of the type of document you have to write to get an idea of what it should look and sound like.
Don’t be surprised if, especially at first, you’re asked to rewrite your work. It can take some time to grasp exactly what your supervisor wants (Figure 4). If you haven’t hit the mark the first time, ask questions to help you focus on where you made your mistakes. Perhaps you’ve got all the information right and the grammatical points are fine, but the manager wants her memo to sound more like her own style of expression. In that case, ask her for a few specific words she would substitute for what you’ve written to give you an idea of her phrasing. You may even want to keep a list of “her” words—many people have favorite expressions—to use in the future. As you get to know the people for whom you write, you’ll pick up on their preferences and the fine distinctions in their speech that define their personal style of communication.
The corporate culture of your company also has a “voice” or style. Pay attention to the structure and vocabulary of its publications. Since communications reflect the company’s mission and personality, they offer many good clues to what the administration will be looking for in its written materials. It may take some time to absorb all you need to know, but looking for patterns and asking questions will help you adapt more quickly.
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FIGURE 4—Your super- visor is likely to check your work, at least until you’re familiar with the company culture and writing style.
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Practice Exercise 1 Your online store received a complaint about a sewing machine it sold. An assistant jotted down the following draft as a response. However, you can easily see that the letter doesn’t meet the five C’s of letter writing. Identify the writing errors, then mark any grammatical errors you find. Rewrite the letter, keeping in mind customer service, attitude, unity, coherence, and style, as well as the five C’s.
At this time I have no reason to believe it is damaged or defective. You mean you think the Shuttle Hook and Bobbin assembly is out of synchronization with the Motor, whichis impossible. It seems to me that the problem is not with the machine but rather with the operator. There can be no doubt about it that if you thread it right it will work without bunching up the thread like that. Or if you need to adjust the tension. I make the assumption that you have already gone ahead and read the instructions as anyone should do when they get a new piece of equip- ment like this. If not than do so immediately. You may have to look under troubleshooting. This happens alot.
Enclosed please find copies of the warranty, which you may perhaps should of also read before final completion of the sale. You’ll notice it doesn’t cover this type of problem.
Yours truly, Alex Cleaver Alex Cleaver CS Rep
Check your answers with those on page 85.
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At the end of each section of Types of Business Writing, you’ll be asked to pause and check your understanding of what you’ve just read by completing a “self-check” exercise. Answering these questions will help you review what you’ve studied so far. Please complete Self-Check 1 now.
In the examples below, name the “C” quality of effective correspondence that’s being violated.
1. Now at this point in time it can be said with absolute certainty that this is the appointed hour.
2. Sitting long hours at the computer.
3. He told him that his turn was next.
4. I’ll fill your order when I can get to it.
Answer the following as indicated.
5. Coherence in a paragraph or letter is achieved in large part by using _______ words or phrases.
6. Two emphatic positions in a paragraph or letter are the _______ and the _______.
7. If a writer strays away from his or her main point to points not directly related to it, he or she is violating the principle of _______.
8. Briefly explain appropriate tone in a business communication.
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Indicate whether the following statements are true or false.
______ 9. Having a “from me to you” attitude in a business communication can be achieved by
simply writing a letter or memo with a lot of “you’s” in it. Explain your answer.
______ 10. The term “customer service” applies only to your company’s clients.
______ 11. Standard writing rules apply to emails in the office.
______ 12. Asking questions and reviewing company publications will help you adapt your writing
style to the needs of your employer.
Check your answers with those on page 91.
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In today’s world, email (electronic mail) has become the work- horse of both personal and interorganizational communication (Figure 5). “Checking email” has become an office ritual people repeat many times in a business day. Understanding how and when to use email has become a critical skill in the modern office.
Email communication is distinctive in a number of ways. First, email screens may be used to forward messages in either memo or letter format. In fact, they may be used to transmit images, graphs, charts, or tables. Second, unlike a written memo or letter, an email is both the message and the medium. Written memos must be posted to employee mail- boxes, and letters must be posted for mailing. Emails, however, can be quickly prepared and instantly sent. Depending on the servers that handle them, emails arrive any place in the world within moments of when they’re sent.
The marketing of personal computers has emphasized email as the new way to communicate all kinds of messages, senti- ments, and images across distances. For that reason, emails can clutter electronic mailboxes with jokes and animated greeting cards from friends, chain letters, sales pitches and other “junk mail,” as well as personal messages.
FIGURE 5—Millions of people depend on email for both personal and professional communications.
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Because of the large volume of email traffic, the office computer has become a creature that needs managing. It may become very tempting to respond briefly and ever so informally to emails that need “clearing.” It’s also too easy to send ill-considered responses. For these reasons and others, email discipline is a skill demanded of all kinds of people in all kinds of organiza- tions in this new electronically linked twenty-first century.
Using Email Safely
Safety in email use refers partly to your safety and partly to organizational security. An email that you send to one individ- ual may end up on the computers of people you didn’t intend to address. Emails that include company policies or strategies may end up in places you would rather they didn’t. And email messages get stored on hard drives for a long time. Ill-conceived or rash messages may end up creating a permanent record that you wish didn’t exist. To be safe, assume that all your email correspondence will be monitored for quality assurance. In that way, you’re more likely to be careful about what you say.
You must also be careful of computer viruses. A virus is a program or piece of computer code that gets into your computer without your knowledge. Email arriving at your computer may bring computer viruses with it. For that reason, it makes sense to avoid opening email messages that arrive from unknown senders, even if your computer is protected by antivirus software. Be particularly wary of email with attach- ments, especially if you don’t know the person who sent it. The attachment itself may contain a virus that activates when the attachment is opened.
Computers have become central to day-to-day operations in business and industry. Pay attention to virus warnings, and remember that carelessness on your part may cause or contribute to a catastrophic loss of information or even the collapse of an electronic information network.
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The etiquette followed in email is sometimes referred to as netiquette (short for Internet etiquette). It consists of community-accepted standards you should follow when corresponding by email. Most of them are common sense.
• In general, keep the emails you send concise and to the point. They shouldn’t exceed three monitor screens in length.
• Differentiate between internal and external recipients. Carefully create messages intended for external parties, and generally make them a bit more formal than those directed to people within your organization.
• Check the electronic address carefully. Computers are totally unforgiving when it comes to address typos. To avoid mistakes and wasted time, store frequently used e-addresses in your online address book.
• Use standard grammar, punctuation, and word choices just as you would for any type of written communication. You may use contractions in emails, but avoid slang. Always spell-check what you’ve written before you send it.
• Use standard capitalization. Don’t type in all capital letters—on the …