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Writing Effective Business Correspondence

The standard of your businesses written correspondence plays a huge part in the image that your business portrays. Getting it WRONG can lead to creating an undesired image with your clients or even worse a misunderstanding about details and inflammatory situations where none need have existed. Getting it RIGHT can increase your credibility as a business with your customers, suppliers and business partners and avoid heated situations that might have occurred.

If you follow some basic rules, getting it right it isn't so hard and if you set it up right your business systems correctly with some easy to use letter templates it doesn't take very long either. 

In this article I will cover some of the basics of a strategy for handling your business's written communication and how to write an effective business letter using tried and tested formulas for effective written business communication..

Being consistent by having a formal strategy for handling written business communication is imperative. This strategy needs to cover: 

1) Meeting a standard turnaround time for correspondence
2) Making sure that all outgoing corresponds answers the Why
3) Correspondence is not bureaucratic, stuffy, defensive or too long
4) Letters address every receiver as a client
5) Correct Grammar and modern plain English is used

Some of the Myths about Letter Writing

Firstly, there are some myths about writing business letters that need to be expelled:

1) It isn't an exercise in showing the receiver how much you know about something
2) It doesn't need to be stuffy, formal and 17 pages long.

What a letter needs to be is:

1) Written in plain English - Clear, Concise and Logical
2) Have a friendly conversational tone
3) Show empathy for the person reading it

Letter Structure

All letters that you write should have a basic structure to them, follow this and you are half way there...

Header Block
- Contains information about your business including: Business Name, ACN or ABN, Logo, address, contact details and maybe a quick line about your business (no more than ~10 words)

Address Block
- The name of the person or business that you are writing to must be precise. Include all titles etc (ring and check if you have to) 
- Correct address must be used
- There is no punctuation in the address block

- needs to be personal, good idea to avoid "Dear Sir/Madam" or "To whom it may concern"
- Title and Surname must be used
- There is no punctuation in the salutation
- If you know the person or have spoken with before etc, a nice personal touch is to include their name as Mr/s JA Bloggs and when you sign the the letter strike out (with a single stroke of your pen) the JA Bloggs bit and hand write their first name. 

Opening Paragraph
- in the case of a response refer to the date of the incoming correspondence
- contains a summary of the subject of the letter

- contains all the information in clear, concise and logical Plain English

Closing Paragraph
- should be short, positive and helpful
- contain contact details for further information 

Signature Block
Contains your name and position
- leave 5 vertical spaces between "Yours Sincerely" and your Name to allow enough room for signature

If you have attached or included any other documents in the letter mention them here. 

The Standard Letters

Business letters can be broken down to a few basic types which can be applied to most situations. These standard correspondence formats have been tried and tested extensively, they work so it would make a lot of sense to set you letter templates up in WORD (or whatever) around these formats:

The Request Letter

- to ask someone to do something or continue what they are doing
- Introduce yourself (business) and state clearly what you are requesting up front
- Give the background or reason that you are making the request
- Ask specific questions (this implies you want a specific answer)
- Identify exactly when, where and how you need the request to be confirmed
- close politely

The Yes Letter

(Yes we want to business with you / employ you)
- Open with the main message 
- Give specific answers or details
- close politely

The No letter (decline an offer, reject an employment applicant)
- Open with a polite buffer paragraph that is neutral and avoids immediate hostility
- lead logically through the reasons for making the decision
- specify the decision clearly
- make an alternative offer or a positive suggestion (to restore friendship)
- close politely

The Persuasive Letter - to get someone to act in a certain way or adopt your point of view. (This is the basis for a marketing letter, but this can be a whole topic on its own....)
- Arouse the readers interest (best done with something that will benefit them)
- Build your case by leading logically the issue that surround the decision you are asking them to make.
- Show the reader the benefits that they will receive if they agree
- Ask specifically for the necessary action required to accept the offer 

AND remember whatever the letter, it is a piece of communication between you and another single person reading the letter. Have empathy for the person reading what you are writing, write in their language, and in a friendly conservational tone.

The Content

The overall aim of a business letter is to communicate a message and leave the reader feeling good about themselves and this in turn means they will feel good about your business. This is very important because as we all know....

"A friend tells a few other friends but enemies will tell everybody"

So when it comes to adding the content to a business letter there is a few standard formats you can follow to help ensure that you achieve these aims. 

The message usually revolves around answering a query, informing someone of a negative or positive outcome or responding to a complaint or even responding to praise (Yes, you need to do that as well)

Writing in any form involves three steps:

  • PLAN - sketch out a plan of what your letter needs to contain to meet its objective, what sort of letter is it?
  • WRITE - put it down on paper (or the monitor I guess:) complete the letter in draft form before you edit it.
  • EDIT and REWRITE - have a break, come back and edit it. Do it from a perspective of whether it meets the objective of writing the letter. Sometimes it helps to get somebody else to read it as well.....
Here are some books that may help you with some of the finer points of business communication:

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