Business Letter Etiquette


Business etiquette is fundamentally concerned with building relationships founded upon courtesy and politeness between business personnel. Etiquette, and especially business etiquette, is a means of maximising your potential by presenting yourself positively.

Writing a business letter is not simply a matter of expressing your ideas clearly. The way you write a letter and the etiquette you employ may have a significant impact on your success or failure in business.

Failure to observe correct business letter etiquette can result in you adopting an inappropriate tone, causing offense or misunderstandings, lack of clarity or purpose and hostility or soured relations.

The foundation of good business letter etiquette is 'Think before you write'. You should be considering who the letter is addressed to, how and why? This will then influence style, content and structure.

Here we cover some of the main issues relating to good business letter etiquette:

Addressing the Letter

Always make sure you have spelt the recipient's name correctly. It may sound simple, but you would be surprised at how many people fail to do so. The recipient's name should include titles, honours or qualifications if deemed necessary.

Many people use the 'Dear Sir/Yours Faithfully' formula when addressing the receiver. Although this is acceptable for routine matters it is impersonal and should not be used when dealing with those you know, queries or complaints. With these the 'Dear Mr?./Yours Sincerely' formula should be adopted.

Once a certain level of familiarity is reached it is not considered bad etiquette to use phrases such as 'Kind Regards' or 'All the best' at the end of the letter.

Confidentiality

If the content of the letter is sensitive, personal or confidential it must be marked appropriately. Marking the letter 'confidential' will suffice in highlighting this fact. If you only want the letter read by the receiver without the interception of a secretary or PA, mark it as 'Private', 'Personal' or 'Strictly Confidential'. If you have received such a business letter it is good etiquette to reciprocate and ensure that all future correspondence is kept at that level of confidentiality.

Style

Proper business letter etiquette requires that a consistent and clear approach, combined with courtesy, be employed. As a rule of thumb, aim to keep all business letters formal in style. Even when the receiver is familiar to you, it is advisable maintain a certain level of business etiquette as the letter may be seen by others or referred to by a third party in the future.

However, this does not mean you should use long or uncommon words to express yourself. This merely looks odd and makes the letter unreadable. It is best to read a letter first and consider whether you would speak to that person face to face in the same way. If not, then re-write it.

Letters should be signed personally. It looks unprofessional, cold and somewhat lazy if a letter is left unsigned. However, having a secretary or PA sign on your behalf is not considered a breach of business etiquette.

Humour

Humour can be used in business letters but only when the writer is completely positive the recipient will understand the joke or pun. From a business etiquette perspective it may be wise to avoid humour. This is because firstly, the letter may be read during a crisis, after receiving bad news or on a sombre occasion. Any other time the humour may have been appreciated but under these circumstances it may dramatically backfire. Secondly, the written word is open to misinterpretation. Your sarcastic or ironic remark may be taken the wrong way. Thirdly, it is possible that the letter may be read by a third party who may deem the humour inappropriate and pursue a complaint of some sort.

Responding

Good business letter etiquette calls for letters to be responded to promptly or within certain guidelines. This may normally be considered as 5 working days. If this is not possible then some sort of acknowledgement should be sent either by letter, fax, phone or e-mail.

Always use reference numbers or clearly state the purpose of the letter at the top, for example, 'Re: Business Letter Etiquette Enquiry'. This allows the receiver to trace correspondence and immediately set your letter within a context.

When replying to points or questions the proper etiquette is to respond in the same order as they were asked.

Managing Conflict

Letters are often an arena for conflicts or disputes. Even in these circumstances there are rules of business letter etiquette that should be adhered to.

If you initiate the dispute then, 1) Explain and set out your case simply and clearly to the most appropriate person, 2) Offer information that may be required by the other party to help answer questions, 3) Indicate a time scale by which you expect a reply or the matter to be resolved.

If you are receiving the dispute then 1) inform senior colleagues who may be affected or who may be able to offer assistance, 2) Submit all replies in draft form for a senior colleague to check, 3) Stick to the facts and the merits of the case and do not allow emotions to become involved, 4) Be polite, patient and courteous.

Using business etiquette in all matters and especially in business letters will ensure you communicate effectively, avoid misunderstandings and maximise your business potential.

About The Author

Neil Payne is Director of cross cultural communications company Kwintessential - http://www.kwintessential.co.uk


RELATED ARTICLES
Writer School?
Here's something from my mailbag. "Dear Michael, do you need todo good in school if you want to be a writer? I stink at schooland all my friends laugh at me when I tell them I want to write,but I'm serious.
Five Common Errors to Correct Before Submitting a Letter or Report
First impressions count in writing too! So it is always a good idea to carefully check documents such as letter, reports, and proposals before submitting them. Below are five of the most common errors.
Break in with Fillers: The Best Market for New Writers
Interested in breaking into writing or breaking into a new area? You can't go past writing fillers. Fillers are one of the most overlooked opportunities in the freelance writing world and offer one of the best opportunities for new writers.
Hero's Journey - The First Threshold
Beyond three and four act story structure, lies the Hero's Journey.The Hero's Journey is the most usable story structure consisting of at least 106 stages and the template for successful contemporary stories, from Star Wars to Al Pacino Scarface to The Incredibles to War of the Worlds to The Dirty Dozen to Midnight Cowboy.
Recommendation Letters Demystified
There is a lot of confusion about recommendation letters.Recommendation letters are often referred to in a numberof different ways including: letters of recommendation,reference letters, letters of reference, commendationletters, and sometimes even, performance evaluation letters.
How I Became a Syndicated Columnist -- And You Can Too!
Real Estate has "Location, location, location," and writing has "Clips, clips, clips."When people ask me how I became a syndicated columnist, I usually say, "it just snowballed.
How to Write Funny -- Its All About Timing
My Dad has this old joke that goes, "What's the most important thing about humor?" After a short pause, he interjects, "TIMING!"I've rolled my eyes many a time over this joke.But here's a new version for writers: "What's the most important thing about writing funny? .
The Prologue - When to Use One, How to Write One
What is a prologue? When should you use one? Should you forget about a prologue and simply start at Chapter 1?All too often we pick up a published book and read the prologue, then wonder why it was there at all. It doesn't seem to do anything that Chapter One couldn't have done - or that couldn't have been worked in during the story itself.
The Writing Club
Typically when falling asleep in bed at night great thoughts enter the mind, long stringed and meaningful sentences trip over each other to receive attention at the front of the brain alongside all the brilliant findings, results, meanings that speak volumes and hard hitting phrases that are just the ticket to open the door to success. The last thought in the brain before sleep overrides this brilliant future work is, "must use that tomorrow".
Effective Editing: It Spells the Difference!
If you think proofreading equals editing, then you're wrong! Editing is a lot more than just scrutinizing your manuscript for misspelled words or missing punctuation marks.As a whole:Edit only *after* you've written the *whole* piece.
Writing Styles for Fiction: Which Voice to Use
I recently set up a website to promote a new suspense novel. Once it started receiving hits I began getting questions about why I chose to write in third person.
Print-On-Demand: A Definition and a Comparison
The purpose of this article is to consider Print-On-Demandpublishing as an alternative for the aspiring author. It has itsstrengths and its weaknesses.
How To Publish Your Own Newsletter
With the expansion and diversion of businesses, manufacturers, and even hobbyists into more and more specialized areas of endeavor, there is an increasing need for information. And newsletters are the high profit way to cash in on the market for specialized information.
In Praise of Personal Pronouns
Rudolph Flesch, a pioneering advocate of readability, put great stock in the liveliness of the written word.One way of getting that liveliness into our writing, he said, is to use the personal pronouns: you, me, I, we, us, he, she, him, her, and they.
Whats in a Name? Giving Birth to your Characters
So you've got your plot outlined, a title lined up and the research is done. You're ready to start writing your novel.
Creative Writing Tips - Does The Name You Chose Suit Your Character?
How do you choose a name? Do you put down the first name that pops into your mind? Initially that's what I used to do, until someone pointed out to me that there are a few things to take into consideration when choosing a name?1. You Have To Be Comfortable With ItWe associate names with people we know.
Passionate About Writing?
I'm a writing fool! 2 book proposals, 1 user's guide, a business technology analysis paper, and a FileMaker Pro 7 application! Can you say, "RedBull?" Actually, my preferred energy drink of choice is Monster. But I'll save my energy drinks discussion for another time.
The Authors Life: 14 Hints on Creating a Career Plan
1. Remember publication is a business; writing is an art.
The Blank Mind
Many writers stare at the blank page or clean computer screen and wait for inspiration with a feeling of hopelessness. That white page or screen is always a struggle to fill, and it probably will always be for most writers.
10 Tips on How to Cultivate Relationships with Editors
If you are an aspiring writer, or you simply want to augment your professional qualifications by publishing material related to your field of expertise, listen up. Here are a few tips that will help ingratiate you in the hearts and minds of editors.