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Business correspondence

Business Writing
Business essentials

Business letters should be printed on A4 paper that features the sender’s company logo, postal address, telephone number and email address, and company number and VAT number where required.

Recipient’s Address
This can be ranged left for a clean, modern look, although in some companies the preference is to range the address right. The address will contain the following information: the recipient’s title (Mr, Mrs, Ms, Dr, Professor, Lord, Sir etc), the recipient’s business title, eg Sales Director, Training Manager etc, the recipient’s company name in full, the address and postcode.

The date goes underneath the recipient’s name and address. Leave a minimum of one line space before the date. The recommended British style is ’15 July 2014′, but house styles may vary. Consistency is important.

In general, a letter should be addressed ‘Dear’ followed by the recipient’s title (Mr, Ms, Lord, Dr) and surname. To add a personal touch, this may be handwritten. If the sender is familiar with the recipient, then the letter can be addressed using their first name only, eg ‘Dear John’. If the sender has already received correspondence from the recipient, then they should mirror the recipient’s chosen style of address.

If the sender does not know the name of the recipient, then ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ can be used. Every effort should be made, however, to find out the recipient’s name in order to personalise the letter.

Subject Line
This should be a brief informative line that will help with filing and clarity. It might mention a reference number in response to an earlier letter. Leave one line space after the subject line, before the body of the letter.

The Body of the Letter
Letters are typed with two spaces after a full stop, one space after a comma. This style does not apply to longer text documents, such as company reports. It is advisable to keep business letters concise, to the point and preferably on one side of a sheet of A4 paper.

The sign-off depends on the salutation. Conventionally, ‘Yours faithfully’ is only used for letters beginning ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Madam’, while ‘Yours sincerely’ is used for all letters beginning with a salutation by name. The sender’s name, in full, is added, with the job title on the line below, underneath the space allocated for the signature.

The inclusion of the sender’s title in brackets after the sender’s name – for example ‘Eliza Curzon (Miss)’ – is becoming a lessused tradition. It is, however, helpful as it provides the recipient with the correct form of address for the reply letter.

Final Notations
These are traditional notations, which are disappearing from contemporary correspondence. For example, the initials of the person who typed the letter may be added, or the abbreviation ‘encl.’ to indicate that an enclosure is included with the letter. If the letter is being circulated, the initials ‘cc’ can be added, with an alphabetical list of all the recipients. Notations are separated with a forward slash.

Since envelopes are now no longer individually typed, it is acceptable to use adhesive labels for substantial mail-outs.

It is preferable to handwrite addresses on envelopes when sending out important correspondence. Window envelopes are only really appropriate for mass mail-outs or invoices.

Digital Communication
Digital communication

Email has replaced many traditional forms of communication, including formal written business correspondence, telephone calls and informal verbal communications. It must be remembered that email is digital, and messages may be stored permanently and propagated exponentially. There is no such thing as a secure or confidential email. It should not be used for delicate communications or anything that the sender would not want to be attributed to themselves.

Nothing replaces real paper and ink; email should not be used for formal correspondence, such as replying to postal invitations or sending thank-you letters. These rules also apply to social emails.

Address and Subject Line
The subject line is a summary of the content of the email, and should alert the recipient. A well-written subject line will ensure that the message gets the appropriate attention. It is also used for filing and retrieval purposes so it is important that it accurately reflects the topic of the email.

Importance Label
The ‘importance’ label should be used discriminately. Otherwise it will be ignored because of its frequent misuse.

Cc and Bcc
Copies (cc) can be sent to individuals who only need to view the information for reference. They should be ordered alphabetically, or – in a business environment – by importance.

Blind copying (bcc) should be used with discernment; it is deceptive to the primary recipient. Instead, the email should be forwarded on to the third party, with a short note explaining any confidentiality, after its distribution.

If blind copying is essential – ie for a confidential document where all recipients must remain anonymous – then senders should address the email to themselves, and everyone else as ‘bcc’ recipients.

Ensure that correct punctuation is used. Do not use lower case letters throughout as this can appear lazy. Capital letters, on the other hand, may look over-insistent. If you want to emphasise something, try underlining or using italics.

Avoid abbreviations and text language. Many recipients will find this irritating or incomprehensible.

Email is a conversational medium, but this should not be reinforced by over-punctuating. Emoticons and kisses should be avoided in a business context.

Be discriminating about overloading emails with system-slowing extras. Always send a covering note with attachments.

Salutation and Sign-Off
Retain the same level of formality that you would use in all correspondence (eg ‘Dear Sir’, ‘Dear Mr Brown’, ‘Dear Bob’). If you’re approached with informality, then reciprocate in kind.

In formal emails you might use ‘Yours faithfully/sincerely’; in most cases you’ll use something more casual (eg ‘Best wishes’). In a business context, it’s always useful to add your full name, job title and telephone number under your sign-off.

Maintain threads (all the previous emails on a subject) where appropriate. If it’s a long thread a pithy ‘I agree’ isn’t very helpful, so briefly reiterate what you agree with. An itemised, numbered list will add clarity. Always read back through the previous threads to check that nothing has been said that the recipient(s) should not read.

Text Messages
Widely used in both a professional and social context, text messages are for conveying short, instant messages. Important information may need a more lengthy explanation; if in doubt, send an email where you have more flexibility and space.

Do not send a text message if tact or subtlety is required, and bear in mind that there are certain occasions when texting is not really appropriate: never respond to bad news by text message, a handwritten letter or a telephone call is always preferable; if you have to cancel an appointment, make a telephone call; if you’re sending a thank you for hospitality, a letter is preferable.

Texting Language
Use as much conventional grammar, punctuation and spelling as necessary for clarity. Whole words or phrases in capital letters may look intemperate. Do not use texts to express strong emotions; angry words may look intimidating on screen.

Most texts, unless they are sent in a business context to someone you do not know, do not require a salutation and if the recipient will recognise the sender then no sign-off is required. If they are less well-acquainted, or if the sender is in any doubt that their number will be recognised, a sign-off – eg ‘Thanks, Jessica’ – should be included at the end of the text message.

Other Business Stationery
Other Business Stationery

Compliments Slips
A compliments slip contains the same information that would appear on the standard company letterhead, and is pre-printed with the words ‘With compliments’. Usually, these are designed to fit, unfolded, into a standard DL/business envelope. A short handwritten note and signature can be added.

Compliments slips are a convenient shorthand enclosure to attach to, for example, a cheque, or a catalogue or price list that has been requested by a customer. They can be a pleasing addition to a routine mail-out and a way of maintaining good public relations.

They should never be used as a substitute for a handwritten note, and there are many occasions on which a compliments slip is not adequate – for example when you are sending thanks for help or hospitality, or posting a personal package. On these occasions a handwritten note on headed writing paper is always preferable.

Some companies choose to use A5 headed writing paper, or an A5 card, which serves the same function as a compliments slip or can be used for sending out brief, handwritten notes.

Faxes are much less prevalent in the era of email communication, but most companies still have fax machines. It should be noted that a fax is legally seen as a method of serving a notice, so faxes should never be dismissed as unimportant.

The cover sheet should include the following essential information: recipient’s name, company name and fax number; sender’s name, company name, telephone number and fax number. A brief explanation and indication of the number of pages can also be helpful.

Business Cards
These are used primarily for professional or business purposes, but with the decline of the visiting card they have taken on some of its social functions. Social usage should, however, be infrequent. Cards are usually printed, but may be engraved if a smarter impression is thought appropriate.

Business cards are usually about the same size as a credit card and landscape in format (vertical layouts can look striking, but may be inconvenient for recipients’ filing systems or cardholders). They should fit into a card holder or the card section of a wallet. They should contain the following: the employee’s name, without any prefixes (unless they have professional relevance, eg ‘Professor’); the company’s full postal address and website address; the company’s landline number. The employee’s direct line or mobile telephone number may also be included as well as the employee’s email address.

On a standard business card, the name and professional title should be centred, in large characters, above the name of the firm, or below the company logo. The address, telephone, fax and email information should appear in smaller characters in the bottom left- and right-hand corners, or spread across the bottom.

On a business card that is intended to show the bearer’s qualifications, the appropriate professional letters may be suffixed to the name, for example, FRIBA. First degrees, for example BA (Hons), should not be included.