I am regularly amazed at how often business people fail to follow basic guidelines when it comes to writing their business letters. If you want your business to thrive and succeed in the long-term it is critical that one of your primary business tools — the business letter — is both efficient and effective.
Below are a few tips and guidelines that I have compiled as a result of reading and writing many hundreds of business letters over the past 30+ years. (These points apply to business letters as well as personal letters that deal with business matters).
1. Limit Them To One Page
Business letters should be short and to the point, preferably one page in length. Busy business people do not like to read beyond the first page, and will actually delay reading longer letters. So, if you don’t want your letter to gather dust in an in-basket, keep it as short as possible.
2. Be Reader-Friendly
Always try to focus on the needs of the reader and make an effort to see things from their perspective. Put yourself in their position and imagine what it would be like for you to be receiving your letter. This is easily done, since we are all “customers” of some other business in some part of our lives.
3. Keep Tone Formal and Factual
The tone and content of business letters should be formal and factual. Feelings and emotions do not belong in business letters. So, avoid phrases like “we feel”; and instead use “we believe” or “we think”. A cordial/friendly approach is ok, but try to keep it businesslike. Avoid overly formal and legalistic terms like “heretofore”, “as per”, “herewith”, “inasmuch”, etc.
4. Carefully Plan Your Letter
Before writing the letter, take a few minutes to list all of the specific points you need to cover. Sometimes it may even mean a phone call to the intended recipient or his/her company to confirm a specific point. Remember, the purpose of the letter is to tie up all of the details on the subject at hand, so that more letters won’t have to be written back and forth.
5. Make It Clear, Concise and Logical
Use a clear and direct writing style that uses simple words and straightforward phrases. Make sure that your flow follows a logical progression, first identifying the main subject, elaborating on it, and then leading to the logical conclusion(s).
6. Accuracy and Timeliness Are Key
Business letters need to be accurate and timely. They almost always have financial implications and related impacts on other businesses and/or people. Double-check all of the facts stated in the letter, and make sure that any future dates specified give others enough time to realistically complete what is expected of them.
7. Relegate Technical Details To Attachments
Sometimes it is necessary to include detailed technical information as part of a business letter package. In such cases, use the main letter as a point form cover letter that lists and briefly explains what is referenced in the attached (or enclosed) documents.
8. Use Non-Discriminatory Language
Make sure that you avoid language that is specific to gender, race, or religion in all business letters, either to other businesses, or to customers. For example, use “workforce” instead of “manpower”, or “chairperson” rather than “chairman”. Most style guides contain detailed lists of the offensive terms with recommended substitutes.
9. Eliminate Redundant Words And Phrases
There are certain words and phrases that one often sees in business correspondence that tend to make the language more complicated and cumbersome than necessary. For example, instead of the phrase “in spite of the fact that” use “although”, or instead of “in the normal course of events” use “normally”. There are many such redundant phrases, so review your letter and eliminate them.
If you operate any type of business in which business letters are important communication tools, you would do well to take the above tips and advice to heart. Remember, the business correspondence that you issue is a direct reflection of the overall products and/or services offered by your business. Poorly-written, amateurish, and/or shoddy business letters will surely result in lost sales; or worse, lost customers.
To see samples of some real-life business letters go to the following page:
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