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When composing a letter, be mindful of your etiquette, especially if it is a first contact business letter. Keep the recipient of your correspondence in mind, as well as what and how you want to communicate. If this is your first contact with the recipient, your goal should be to make a good “first impression.” You want to encourage the reader to actually read your message and respond in a timely manner.
Have the recipient’s information correct—title (Mr., Mrs., etc.), name, and mailing address. If the first name is such that it can be a male or female, do your homework— find out which. If a female receives your letter and it is addressed to “Mr.,” she will immediately know that you do not know who she is and may dismiss your letter as not all that important.
The subject line should be complete and concise. Let the reader know why you are writing. If the recipient has a file number for that particular subject, include it for easy reference.
Use short precise sentences and short paragraphs. Do not ramble. Say what you want to say, and go on to the next topic. If your message covers several items, separate them by bullets or numbers to establish the separation.
When composing a letter for someone else’s signature (i.e., your employer), your message should reflect what he or she would write. A good assistant will not only offer to compose the letters, he or she will do so as if the employer actually wrote it.
If faxing your letter, the cover sheet should reflect the same correct information as to title, name, etc., and contain a subject line as well as an indication of how many pages are being sent. Without the correct information, your fax message may never get to the intended recipient. Remember, fax messages may be seen by everyone.
With the advent of email, many consider it to be a very informal means of communication—not paying attention to spelling, grammar, etc. and using shortcuts (i.e., “u” for you, “r” for are, and symbols). While this is acceptable in short personal messages, it is not acceptable in a business email message. Care should be taken to first determine just how formal the letter should be, then proceed accordingly. A first letter contact by email to an outside organization should be written with the same care and under the same rules as a hard copy letter. This is the first impression for the recipient of your message, and first impressions are most important—whether in person, on the phone, in a regular business letter, or in an email message.
Once your email communication has been established, some of the formality may be dropped, but, because it is business, the standards of a good business letter still apply. Your organization’s correspondence, whether snail mail or email, may at a later date be referred to either in a positive or a negative manner or perhaps even as part of a legal action.
Always keep in mind the Netiquette code of behavior when composing an email message. The subject line should be descriptive of the message. Never compose a message in capital letters (it means you are shouting). Capital letters may be used to stress a point, but only in a positive manner; underscoring would be much more appropriate. Edit, proofread, and spell-check your message just as you would with a business letter.
The email recipient may not be able to read your message immediately; it may perhaps be several days. Therefore, your message should have a “look at me now” subject line; one that you know will pique the recipient’s interest immediately. Your message should then be short, concise, and to the point. If you have more than one or two topics or items you are referring to, send a separate email message with appropriate subject titles.
You are a professional in a professional atmosphere and should extend that professionalism in all your correspondence. Follow the seven “Cs”—correct, clear, concise, courteous, constructive, conversational, and confident. The recipient of your letter will be more receptive to your request or questions, the information you are sending, or whatever it is you are attempting to impart.
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Correct. Verify the information conveyed in your message is correct. Check the accuracy of all names, dates, facts, and figures. Watch punctuation, capitalization, and grammar. Be sure every word is spelled correctly.
Clear. Every statement should be easy to understand and impossible to misunderstand. Avoid long, involved sentences. Steer clear of flowery language. Simplicity and directness of expression are the best guarantees of clearness in a business letter.
Concise. Needless words are serious handicaps. They waste time and discourage the reader’s interest. Watch out for empty phrases and irrelevant details. Make every word contribute something to the meaning of your letter.
Courteous. Whatever the purpose of your message, be sure it contains no trace of rudeness or ill temper. The tone of your letter is just as important as its language. Treat your reader as you would want to be treated if you were in his or her place.
Constructive. Your letter should be written from the reader’s point of view, with an emphasis on points that are favorable to him. Avoid any evidence of selfish motives. Eliminate negative words. Stress the benefits of your message to the reader.
Conversational. An easy, informal style of writing gives a letter the human touch. Avoid trite expressions. Use your own words and let them reflect your personality. Write as naturally as you would talk to your reader. Be friendly.
Confident. Be sure your message contains no suggestion of a critical or superior attitude toward the reader. Be tactful. Try to be helpful in any way possible. Cooperation always helps to win the reader’s confidence and goodwill.
This article was orignally published on the NALS website.