Being Appropriate—what To Avoid
Under this head are grouped a few of the more common offenses against good form in letter writing; some of these have been touched on in other chapters.
Never use ruled paper for any correspondence.
Never use tinted paper for business letters.
Do not have date lines on printed letterheads. This of course has to do with business stationery.
Do not use simplified spelling, if for no other reason than that it detracts from the reader's absorption of the contents of the letter itself.
"Enthuse" is not a word—do not use it.
Avoid blots, fingermarks, and erasures.
Do not use two one-cent stamps in place of a two-cent stamp. Somehow one-cent stamps are not dignified.
Never use "Dear Friend," "Friend Jack," "My dear Friend," or "Friend Bliss" as a form of salutation. In the case of a business letter where a salutation for both sexes may be necessary, use "Gentlemen."
Never cross the writing in a letter with more writing.
Never use "oblige" in the place of the complimentary close.
Do not double titles, as "Mr. John Walker, Esq." Write either "Mr. John Walker" or "John Walker, Esq."
A woman should never sign herself "Mrs." or "Miss" to a social letter. In business letters it may be necessary to prefix "Mrs." or "Miss" in parentheses to show how an answer should be addressed to her.
Never omit "Yours" in the complimentary close. Always write "Yours sincerely," "Yours truly," or whatever it may be. Never write a letter in the heat of anger. Sleep on it if you do and the next morning will not see you so anxious to send it.
In some business offices it has become the custom to have typed at the bottom of a letter, or sometimes even rubber-stamped, such expressions as:
Dictated but not read.
Dictated by but signed in the absence of ——.
Dictated by Mr. Jones, but, as Mr. Jones was called away, signed by Miss Walker.
While these may be the circumstances under which the letter was written and may be necessary for the identification of the letter, they are no less discourtesies to the reader. And it cannot improve the situation to call them to the reader's attention.
In the matter of abbreviations of titles and the like a safe rule is "When in doubt do not abbreviate."
Sentences like "Dictated by Mr. Henry Pearson to Miss Oliver" are in bad form, not to speak of their being bad business. They intrude the mechanics of the letter on the reader and in so doing they take his interest from the actual object of the communication. All necessary identification can be made by initials, as: L. S. B.—T.
Do not write a sales letter that gives the same impression as a strident, raucous-voiced salesman. If the idea is to attract attention by shouting louder than all the rest, it might be well to remember that the limit of screeching and of words that hit one in the eye has probably been reached. The tack to take, even from a result-producing standpoint and aside from the question of good taste, is to have the tone of the letter quiet but forceful—the firm, even tone of a voice heard through a yelling mob.
Do not attempt to put anything on paper without first thinking out and arranging what you want to say.
Complimentary closings in business letters, such as "Yours for more business," should be avoided as the plague.
Stock Phrases in Business Letters
There are certain expressions, certain stock phrases, which have in the past been considered absolutely necessary to a proper knowledge of so-called business English. But it is gratifying to notice the emphasis that professors and teachers of business English are placing on the avoidance of these horrors and on the adoption of a method of writing in which one says exactly what one means and says it gracefully and without stiltedness or intimacy. Their aim seems to be the ability to write a business letter which may be easily read, easily understood, and with the important facts in the attention-compelling places. But for the sake of those who still cling to these hackneyed improprieties (which most of them are), let us line them up for inspection. Many of them are inaccurate, and a moment's thought will give a better method of conveying the ideas.
"We beg to state," "We beg to advise," "We beg to remain." There is a cringing touch about these. A courteous letter may be written without begging.
"Your letter has come to hand" or "is at hand" belongs to a past age. Say "We have your letter of ——" or "We have received your letter."
"We shall advise you of ——" This is a legal expression. Say "We shall let you know" or "We shall inform you."
"As per your letter." Also of legal connotation. Say "according to" or "in agreement with."
"Your esteemed favor" is another relic. This is a form of courtesy, but is obsolete. "Favor," used to mean "communication" or "letter," is obviously inaccurate.
"Replying to your letter, would say," or "wish to say." Why not say it at once and abolish the wordiness?
"State" gives the unpleasant suggestion of a cross-examination. Use "say."
"And oblige" adds nothing to the letter. If the reader is not already influenced by its contents, "and oblige" will not induce him to be.
The telegraphic brevity caused by omitting pronouns and all words not necessary to the sense makes for discourtesy and brusqueness, as:
Answering yours of the 21st inst., order has been delayed, but will ship goods at once.
How much better to say:
We have your letter of 21st October concerning the delay in filling your order. We greatly regret the delay, but we can now ship the goods at once.
"Same" is not a pronoun. It is used as such in legal documents, but it is incorrect to employ it in business letters as other than an adjective. Use instead "they," "them," or "it."
We have received your order and same will be forwarded.
We have received your order and it will be forwarded.
"Kindly"—as in: "We kindly request that you will send your subscription." There is nothing kind in your request and if there were, you would not so allude to it. "Kindly" in this case belongs to "send," as "We request that you will kindly send your subscription."
The word "kind" to describe a business letter—as "your kind favor"—is obviously misapplied. There is no element of "kindness" on either side of an ordinary business transaction.
The months are no longer alluded to as "inst.," "ult.," or "prox." [abbreviations of the Latin "instant" (present), "ultimo" (past), and "proximo" (next)] as "Yours of the 10th inst." Call the months by name, as "I have your letter of 10th May."
"Contents carefully noted" is superfluous and its impression on the reader is a blank.
"I enclose herewith." "Herewith" in this sense means in the envelope. This fact is already expressed in the word "enclose."
Avoid abbreviations of ordinary words in the body or the closing of a letter, as "Resp. Yrs." instead of "Respectfully yours."
The word "Company" should not be abbreviated unless the symbol "&" is used. But the safest plan in writing to a company is to write the name exactly as they write it themselves or as it appears on their letterheads.
As to the use of the symbol "&" and the abbreviation of the word "company," the safest plan in writing to a company is to spell its name exactly as it appears on its letterhead
Names of months and names of states may be abbreviated in the heading of the letter but not in the body. But it is better form not to do so. Names of states should never be abbreviated on the envelope. For instance, "California" and "Colorado," if written "Cal." and "Col.," may easily be mistaken for each other.
The participial closing of a letter, that is, ending a letter with a participial phrase, weakens the entire effect of the letter. This is particularly true of a business letter. Close with a clear-cut idea. The following endings will illustrate the ineffective participle:
Hoping to hear from you on this matter by return mail.
Assuring you of our wish to be of service to you in the future.
Thanking you for your order and hoping we shall be able to please you.
Trusting that you will start an investigation as soon as possible.
More effective endings would be:
Please send a remittance by return mail.
If we can be of use to you in the future, will you let us know?
We thank you for your order and hope we shall fill it to your satisfaction.
Please investigate the delay at once.
The participial ending is merely a sort of habit. A letter used to be considered lacking in ease if it ended with an emphatic sentence or ended with something that had really to do with the subject of the letter.
It might be well in concluding a letter, as in a personal leavetaking, to "Stand not on the order of your going." Good-byes should be short.
Next: Personal Letters—social And Friendly
Previous: The Parts Of A Letter