3.2 Letters and Memos
A business letter is a means of establishing rapport, providing official notification, clarifying expectations and formally acknowledging a job well done by an employee or a vendor. Business letters are often a call to action so think about how you could motivate your readers to act by giving them reasons that matter specifically and significantly to them. Some tips on being effective and professional, an activity to help you identify common errors in business letters, and review the purposes and some guidelines when creating a memo.
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Corresponding by letter is a large part of doing business, even today. A business letter is a means of establishing rapport, providing official notification, clarifying expectations and formally acknowledging a job well done by an employee or a vendor. When you are writing a business letter, be direct, be personable, focus on your reader’s perspective and avoid hedging or equivocating. Business letters are often a call to action so think about how you could motivate your readers to act by giving them reasons that matter specifically and significantly to them. If you have an unpleasant message or bad news, it’s best to ease into it. An effective approach is to sandwich your negative or unpleasant message between happier elements. In this lesson, I will present the basic structure of a formal business letter. Some tips on being effective and professional, an activity to help you identify common errors in business letters, and review the purposes and some guidelines when creating a memo. The basic structure of a letter is pretty consistent across industries. As a rule, a formal style is recommended for most business correspondence. Unless invited otherwise, or you have already established a relationship with the person that you’re writing to. A formal style shows courtesy, professionalism, and knowledge of protocol. A formal letter usually contains the following sections. The senders full name and address. The addressee’s full name and address. The date the letter is sent. A formal salutation, such as dear and the persons name. A subject heading. The body, and the formal closing. The format of your business letter depends on the stage of your working relationship with the letter recipients, the seniority of the recipient, and the level of privacy required. For clients that you’ve just met, or have yet to establish a relationship with a formal format is always advisable. When writing to a senior member of the company, or any individual with a high rank, go for a more formal format. And don’t forget about privacy. You may have established greater familiarity with the person you are corresponding to, but remember that all business letters also serve as a company record. So, if you are writing to something that would be distributed or seen by people beyond the addressee, be careful what you say and how you say it. When responding to someone else’s letter you can respond at the level of formality in which they wrote to you. Unless of course the letter is too informal, or inappropriate, or rude, of course. In that case, you take a professional, somewhat formal and very respectful tone in your letter. There may also be company standards or specific procedures for formal letters. Be sure you find out before you send letters, particularly to recipients that are outside of the organization. Here are a few tips on how to write a good business letter. First, keep your purpose in mind when writing a business letter. There are many types of business letters. For example, letters of inquiry, a letter of application, a letter of announcement or a letter of congratulations. Each type has suggested content and formats. As I suggested in the first module, you want to write with a positive tone. Even if the subject of your letter is unpleasant, it’s important to remain courteous and tactful. Building and sustaining goodwill is imperative in all business letters and business communications and documents. Written documents which have greater significance that verbal conversations intend to be shared and kept for long periods of time. Personalize your business letter by keeping your readers perspective in mind. Even though you can find a template for just about any type of letter, it sill speaks well of you if you can make your letters more personal and targeted to your recipient. Also follow standard spelling and grammar rules, even if your letter is informal. If you’re answering a question, or anticipate a question your reader will have, answer it directly in the body of your letter. Use your own voice and write as if you are speaking in a professional environment. In other words, be personable, courteous, considerate, diplomatic and thoughtful. And, of course, avoid those biz-speak phrases like, we are in receipt of. Who says that in real life? And finally, don’t write in anger. Or, more specifically, don’t send in anger. Many people have found that writing a letter when angry can be quite cathartic, but such letters must never be sent. If it helps to alleviate the anger, go ahead and write the letter. But don’t print it, don’t mail it, and by all means don’t write it in your email software and risk hitting send by accident. In this activity, you’ll be provided with a letter with several errors in it. Memos are generally formal notifications distributed within an organization. Memos are often used by the administrative departments of an organization to announce changes in policy or procedure or announce events, or request for input, or participation, or informational presentations. They’re typically short, fairly formal and to the point. When you write a memo, create a brief, clear title that says exactly what the memo is about. For example, change in vacation policy. In the body of the memo clearly explain the problem or the issues, the reasons or justifications, any recommendations and be straightforward about any drawbacks or negatives. Now, most should be brief and to the point. They should include realistic and accurate numbers when appropriate and be written in a positive and professional tone. They should also include any effective dates of change and a contact person for further information or questions. Many memos are written to announce new organizational policies, or changes to existing policies. If you are writing a memo announcing a new policy, be sure that you include the following in your memo, the reasons for the change or the new policy, an explanation of how it will effect everyone. The advantages, the disadvantages and the effective date. Emphasize the advantages, be honest and straight forward about the disadvantages and put the change into context. This lesson focused on letters and memos, which, except for emails, are likely to be the bulk of your business writing. Personalized friendly formality is the best approach in general. And of course, use correct grammar. Check your spelling, check your word use, be brief, avoid those biz-speak phrases, and remain positive.
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