Routine Business letter example

Writing Routine Letters, Memos and Emails and routine adjustment letter sample and how to write routine letters
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08_hans_ch08.qxd 11/7/09 12:20 AM Page 170 Writing Routine Letters, Memos and Emails CHAPTER 8 LEARNING OUTCOMES After completing this chapter, you should be able to do the following: 8.1 Decide what infor- contents of a standard business mation needs to be message conventions included in routine 8.3 Structure routine 8.5 Write clear, courte- messages and messages to begin ous email mes- what should be with a key idea fol- sages that are sent left out lowed by necessary only to the appro- 8.2 Compose subject supporting details priate readers lines that provide 8.4 Format email mes- an accurate sages, letters, and description of the memos to follow08_hans_ch08.qxd 11/7/09 12:20 AM Page 171 Chapter 8 – Writing Routine Letters, Memos and Emails 171 THE COST OF COMMUNICATION An article in the Globe and Mail estimated that if a 40 000-a-year employee spent two hours a day reading and writing email, the annual cost would be 9000. The writer noted that both the 40 000 salary and the two daily hours 1 spent communicating were probably conservative examples. Communi- cation is expensive. The cost of communication is undeniable, but it is an expense that most businesses consider worthwhile. What is more, good communication skills can provide a valuable boost to your career. An article in the journal Supervision described how one man’s career progressed over five years from a low-level supervisory job in the computer department to a management position that paid three times his original salary. The author attributed this meteoric rise to the man’s carefully prepared presentations, which improved his image as “a resident communicator” and earned him a reputation as the 2 department problem solver. The era we live in is often called the Information Age, largely because the explosive growth in computers has made information a valuable product and communication a useful tool. The cost of communication comes both from 3 the 25 percent of their day that people devote to managing their written communications and from the supporting infrastructure: hardware, soft- ware, networks, printers, and paper. Learning how to fine-tune routine communications—letters, memos, and emails—can be invaluable to your career. ISSUES instead of writing them down on Nevertheless, such predictions have in Communication 4 paper. The phonograph went on to not become reality. achieve success as an entertain- The Dream of the ment device, but it was never con- PROLIFERATION sidered a practical tool for the Paperless Office OF PRINTING office. For most types of office com- munication, reading is faster and Paper is not disappearing. Walk more efficient than listening. into any office in the country and During the 1970s, the increa- you will see numerous printers, sed use of computer technology photocopiers, filing cabinets, sta- The dream of the paperless office gave rise to numerous predictions plers, and all the other tools used was around long before the first about the declining role of paper in to process paper. Our volume of computer was introduced. More 5 the modern office. Such predic- paper use has not declined either. than a century ago, inventor tions have a logical basis. Paper is World office paper consumption Thomas Edison predicted that his expensive to produce, bulky to almost doubled between 1980 and phonograph would allow office 6 store, and awkward to transport. 1998. workers to record their words08_hans_ch08.qxd 11/7/09 12:20 AM Page 172 172 Part 2 – Routine Communications TAKE IT FURTHER With computers, the internet, People often prefer paper when Covering the Country in Paper and email, people are now reading composing, editing, and reviewing and writing more at work than ever documents because it allows them In 2003, Canadians consumed 91.4 kilo- grams of paper per person. This is almost before. A study conducted for Lexmark to pencil in quick comments and 20 000 pages for each person, enough to found that 40 percent of workers in annotations. People also often 8 cover an Olympic swimming pool. small- to medium-sized businesses prefer to deliver paper copies of Canada is one of the world’s leading print correspondence that is received completed reports, partly because producers of paper, yet the paper indus- electronically. Two-thirds of all infor- of the increased feelings of security try is in trouble. Should people be mation created is printed at some that come with a tangible product, increasing their use of paper products 7 point. to support the industry? and partly so that they can answer Paper remains a common sight in almost every office—in some more than others.08_hans_ch08.qxd 11/7/09 12:20 AM Page 173 Chapter 8 – Writing Routine Letters, Memos and Emails 173 questions and maintain a more INCREASING USE OF TAKE IT FURTHER personal relationship with their ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION 9 readers. The Paperless Office in Canada Email is used heavily. One study says The rising consumption of paper that the typical American spends The widespread increase of computers does not mean that people and that began in the early 1980s sparked about half an hour each workday pro- organizations are rebelling against predictions of “the paperless office,” in cessing email—about ten incoming electronic information. Far from it. which all information would be trans- and five outgoing messages. About Businesses are bypassing paper for mitted electronically. Instead, Canada’s 15 percent of workers process more many routine transactions. More and consumption of printing and writing than 50 emails a day, and 4 percent paper more than doubled between 1983 more employers pay their employees spend more than four hours a day and 2003; Canada Post deliveries grew through electronic direct deposits 10 11 by 60 percent during the same period. doing email. When email was new, rather than the pay envelopes filled and a novelty to many people, it was with cash that were used a generation Assuming that email and electronic bill a routine for many people to print out payments have reduced Canada Post’s ago or the paycheques used a volume, how do you account for the net all the messages that they received— decade ago. increase? perhaps one or two a week. Paper will always have a use around the office.08_hans_ch08.qxd 11/7/09 12:20 AM Page 174 174 Part 2 – Routine Communications printing documents on an individual in the amount of written material pro- TAKE IT FURTHER basis rather than making multiple duced (with further implications for copies for distribution. (Between the amount of paper used). Email: An Investment in Time 1988 and 1993, the number of Companies have introduced some Another study estimated that, in 2006, photocopiers in use around the measures to reduce paper use (such people in business spent 26 percent of world rose by 5 percent, while the as by increasing the use of web- each workday reading and writing number of office printers jumped by based documents), but individuals 12 email. 13 600 percent. ) will find ways to reduce their own use Do you think that email helps people use If people can choose to print a of paper. their time efficiently? document, in many cases they can TIPS FOR REDUCING also choose to view it electronically PAPER USE Many North Americans use instead. scanning technology to process infor- The following ideas can help you mation that originated on paper. make a difference: THE FUTURE OF THE Documents can be digitized and PAPERLESS OFFICE ■ Learn to edit onscreen. Many stored electronically, usually as PDF word-processing programs come (portable document format) files. An Undeniably, both computer use and with tools to improve the writing ever-increasing proportion of most paper consumption have been process: outlining features that college and university libraries consist increasing. This has two implications assist planning; spell and gram- of digitized journal articles stored in for students: mar checkers that help with electronic databases. In offices, blue- 1. Being able to write routine proofreading; and reviewing tools prints, reports, research articles, and documents has increased in that facilitate collaboration. other company records can all be importance and will continue to ■ Decide whether a printed version stored this way, saving space and do so. is necessary. Some media, such improving efficiency. 2. People are growing increasingly as visual presentations and doc- alarmed at the costs associated uments containing hyperlinks, THE PERSISTENCE with paper consumption. work better electronically. OF PAPER ■ When printing is necessary, max- Not all documents lend themselves to Thomas Edison’s vision of an imize the use of space. Reduce electronic transmission and storage, office driven by recorded voice mes- the size of margins and fonts. though. For now, contracts and docu- sages was never realized. However, Print on both sides of a sheet ments requiring original signatures the foremost technological innovator and single space documents if will continue to be printed. People of our time, Bill Gates, has predicted possible. If you must print slides resist having their personal notes an increase in the sophistication of from a visual presentation, put saved for posterity, out of fear that speech recognition tools that allow six slides on a page. their rough work will be misinter- people to dictate directly into their ■ When printing revisions to a doc- preted or subpoenaed for court computers while the program 14 ument, check to see which cases. The paperless office is unlikely converts their speech to text. pages have changed, and print to become a reality any time soon, Widespread use of this technology only those. but the way everyone uses paper will will reduce keyboarding time but gen- continue to evolve. erally not affect the writing process. DISCUSSION Individuals can make a big dif- The skills required to organize and 1. Have you noticed paper being wasted at your ference in the volume of paper being plan routine messages will likely educational institution? Who are the biggest used by paying attention to their own change very little. culprits: students, instructors, or adminis- printing habits. People are relying If speech recognition does make trators? Give some examples. Consider how more on printers and less on photo- it easier to produce documents, it will people at your college or university could be copiers, which indicates that they are likely bring about a further explosion influenced to reduce paper usage.08_hans_ch08.qxd 11/7/09 12:20 AM Page 175 Chapter 8 – Writing Routine Letters, Memos and Emails 175 from paper? What are the advantages of What impact could widespread use of 2. Why has the number of printers worldwide reading from paper? that technology have on people’s soared while photocopier installations have 4. Voice recognition software allows a writing? remained almost constant? person to dictate into a microphone and 3. What advantages are there to reading have the computer convert it to text. from a computer screen over reading THE PURPOSE OF ROUTINE MESSAGES Routine messages keep business operations going. Most routine business messages fit into one of these three categories: 1. Providing information: “Our meeting will be postponed until after the contract is settled.” 2. Asking for information: “Have you heard any more information about contract negotiations?” 3. Requesting action: “Please update the other group members on the sta- tus of the negotiations” There is nothing sexy about any of these—no drama, no emotion, no empires won or lost. Routine messages are, by their very definition, routine (some would say boring). Anyone who has ever worked in an office can con- firm this simply by reading emails or letters written a year or two ago. For example, an email advising employees that the cafeteria will be closed on May 10 may be important at the time, but after that date it no longer has any value. Once a routine message has been dealt with, it is usually deleted and has no further interest to the reader. Routine messages may be boring to read and tedious to write, but that does not mean they are unimportant. If you are looking for strong emotion, you will find it instantly if you lose an email that told you the location of an important presentation. If you need drama, see what happens if you acciden- tally send a complaint about a dishonest customer back to that customer instead of to your supervisor. Competent writing at work may not even be noticed; it is expected. The time anyone’s writing skills are noticed is usually when problems occur. This also applies to associated skills, such as proofreading. A supervisor who sends a memo announcing changes that will affect people on the “late shaft” will be the target of rude jokes from the people receiving that message. A job appli- cant who writes about the “fast paste” environment of her last job will likely spend more time looking for work. What would you do if you received an email that contained the following line: “I updated the Status report for the four discrepancies Lennie forward 15 us via email (they in Barry file).” If the writer was a co-worker, you might have to write or call to find out what the message meant. If the person wrote08_hans_ch08.qxd 11/7/09 12:20 AM Page 176 176 Part 2 – Routine Communications that way consistently and you were a supervisor, you might have to take stronger actions. Bad writing wastes time and costs money. Even though routine office communications may not have the glamour of a celebrity news release or the complexity of a business plan, showing that you have developed these basic writing skills will improve your chances of obtaining a good job and future promotions. Considering Message Outcomes Each message you compose at work has two main outcomes: 1. It will communicate a set of ideas. 2. It will convey an image of you. 1. Communicating the Ideas You would not begin writing unless you had something to say. When you have something to communicate in routine let- ters, emails, and memos, remember that all good business writing shares these characteristics: ■ Good organization. Competent writing starts with a main idea and then provides any necessary details. Understanding the audience will help you to decide which ideas are most important. ■ Audience awareness. The information a co-worker requires may not be the same information that your supervisors need, so messages must always focus on the needs of a specific audience. ■ Clarity. Competent writing is simple and clear. Big words do not impress people. ■ Conciseness. Competent writing is as long as it has to be, but no longer than that. No one appreciates having to read any more than is necessary. ■ Courtesy. It is sometimes necessary to be firm with people, but it is never acceptable to be insulting or abusive. ■ Correctness. Providing inaccurate information or using bad grammar and spelling can damage your credibility. It’s easy to draw up such a list but not always easy to follow it. If it were easy, communication books, such as this one, would be unnecessary and people would not be drowning in a sea of poorly written and useless messages. It is true that competent writing skills are a basic expectation in business and that poor writing ability will short circuit a person’s career, and it is also true that people who display superior writing skills are likely to make a favourable impression in any organization. When someone rises above medi- ocrity, those in authority take notice. 2. Creating Your Written Image The second outcome of business messages— image—is often overlooked. The initial impression someone has of you often comes from a written message that you have prepared. That impression affects the reader’s image not only of you but also of the organization you work for. Just08_hans_ch08.qxd 11/7/09 12:20 AM Page 177 Chapter 8 – Writing Routine Letters, Memos and Emails 177 as polished shoes and a neatly tailored suit will create a far more favourable impression of you in a job interview than cut-off jeans and a T-shirt, careful attention to spelling and capitalization will help you to project an image of pro- fessionalism to your clients and to your employers. Think of every letter, memo, report, or email message that you write as a sales letter. The product you are selling is your image and that of your employer. Attention to detail, good grammar, and a well-organized writing style will have as much impact on the image you project as a designer jacket and a 300 pair of shoes. Beginning Employees An American survey of 120 corporations employing nearly 8 million people described workplace writing as a “threshold skill” for hiring and promotion among professional employees. The term “threshold skill” is perhaps best explained by the survey’s no-holds-barred title: Writing: A Ticket to Work . . . Or a Ticket Out. Many personnel officials said that they did not believe that salaried employees with poor writing skills would reach the point where they would ever be considered for promotion. Good writing skills were consid- ered a basic expectation of all employees looking to advance. Poor writ- ing skills were, however, an important factor in decisions to terminate 16 employees. STRATEGIES FOR WRITING ROUTINE MESSAGES Email, memos, and letters all have their place in routine business communi- cation. Email has replaced many paper-based documents, but it is still worth knowing that memos, letters, and email can all be used well—and badly—for getting your point across. Choosing Email and Memos Email is the most common form of written communication used in offices today. It long ago overtook letters and memos as the primary means of communication for routine business messages. It is fast, cheap, and effi- cient. Email messages are used for both internal messages that stay within an organization and for external communication with people outside the organization. At one time people would write a memorandum (usually shortened to memo) when they wanted to send an informal written document to co- workers, subordinates, or supervisors inside the organization. They would send letters to communicate with people outside their organization. Today, memos are used mainly in organizations in which some employees may not have easy access to computers. A memo announcing a change in work proce- dures could be posted on the wall of a break room, for example.08_hans_ch08.qxd 11/7/09 12:20 AM Page 178 178 Part 2 – Routine Communications The format and writing style of memos and email messages is similar. TAKE IT FURTHER The biggest difference between the two media is the audiences for each: Phishing ■ Memos are used strictly for internal documents. The Oxford English Dictionary says that ■ Emails are used for both internal and external communication. the term phishing was coined in 1996 Both documents are relatively informal and are usually unsigned, mean- and refers to internet fraud; specifi- ing that they do not carry the same weight as more formal letters or contracts. cally, “the impersonation of reputable companies in order to induce individu- Although the absence of a signature makes emails informal documents, als to reveal personal information, such the tone and writing style of emails vary greatly with the audience. A quick as passwords and credit card numbers, note to a co-worker or a friend may contain misspellings or grammatical 17 online.” errors that the writer does not bother to correct—errors that are usually What is the best way to educate people ignored as long as the message is understood. about the danger of phishing? Longer messages or those that are sent to people who are less well known to the writer require the same care and attention as any other written docu- ment and for the same reason: people are judged by the style of their writing. An email containing technical errors could be dismissed as spam or “phishing” if it is sent to a stranger, even if the message is legitimate. Because many fraud artists disguise their messages as ones that come from legitimate organizations, the appearance of spelling and keying errors are seen as signs of a scam. The importance of a good writing style increases in direct relation to the size of the audience and to your difference in familiarity with your reader(s). You may be able to get away with writing “C U l8r” in an email to a family member or a close business associate but not in one sent to a larger group or to your company president. Bad Email Look at Figure 8-1 to see an example of a poorly written email message. The message doesn’t contain any spelling or grammatical errors, but it is poorly written for four reasons: 1. Poor organization. The most important information is buried in the mid- dle of the document. 2. Key information missing. How will the new ID codes work with the new printer? 3. Unnecessary details. It is not necessary to provide detailed descriptions of the ways that people waste paper. 4. Confrontational tone. Several negative expressions, such as “heads will roll,” needlessly antagonize readers. Good Email in Action Solving all the problems with the poorly written email in Figure 8-1 requires two steps: 1. Making a few minor changes to the content of the message 2. Taking a more structured approach to the way it is organized In Figure 8-1, the outcome was a vague threat of the consequences if printing was not reduced during the next three months. The revised version of the email message in Figure 8-2 explains the introduction of the new08_hans_ch08.qxd 11/7/09 12:20 AM Page 179 Chapter 8 – Writing Routine Letters, Memos and Emails 179 A Poorly Written Email Announcing a Change FIGURE 8-1 From: Wai-Fong.Leung Sent: Thu 8/27/2009 10:28 AM To: Cc: The subject line is Subject: Printing vague. Printing costs are out of control. I am not sure what everyone is printing or even who is doing all the unnecessary printing, but a look in the recycling bin showed a number of areas of waste: The body of the message includes unnecessary – Printouts of email messages information. – Unneeded copies of documents – Draft copies of documents containing errors The main idea is buried – Blank (or almost blank) sheets containing only page numbers or empty spreadsheet cells in the middle of the document. This wasteful practice has to stop. Therefore, I had no choice but to remove all printers and photocopiers from the office and replace them with a single printer/photocopier. Important details are This, of course, means that printing will not be as fast or as convenient as it has been, but the old omitted. machines were noisy, inefficient, and a possible cause of indoor air pollution, so I know that everyone will welcome the change. I expect everyone to work toward reducing their thoughtless use of valuable resources by not printing out email messages, finding other ways to reduce paper waste, and sending The tone is too negative. large orders to Document Processing. To ensure that this happens, the new printer/copier will require you to enter an individual ID code before printing so that print volumes can be recorded. No further action will be taken with this information No signature or contact right now, but if wasteful printing is not reduced during the next three months, heads will roll. information is provided. The email takes too long to get to the point and includes irrelevant chatter while omit- ting important information. FIGURE 8-2 An Improved Email Message Announcing a Change From: Sent: Thu 8/27/2009 10:28 AM To: Cc: Subject: New Office Printer/Copier The subject line is informative. Good morning. To help reduce printing costs, the photocopier and the four printers in the office will be replaced next week by a single networked printer/copier. The new machine will be quieter, more efficient, and faster than the old equipment. It will print on both sides of a page, which will help to lower paper consumption. Its eco-friendly design will reduce indoor air pollution. The message begins Each person will be given a code so that printing volumes can be tracked. The codes will be distributed by email next with the main idea, fol- week. When you print from your computer, start the printing process, and then enter the code when prompted. When lowed by the necessary using the photocopier, first press the ID button, and then enter your code. supporting information. Having only one printer will create some congestion if we print as much as we have in the past. We need to cooperate to reduce the amount of printing we do without reducing efficiency: The important details are included. – Consider whether you really need a printout. – Print only the number of copies that you need. – Don’t print emails, in most situations. The tone is more positive – Preview your documents before you print them to avoid printing blank pages. and cooperation is – Send print jobs of more than 100 pages to Document Processing on the first floor. stressed. Page limits are not being set, but that may change after three months if printing costs haven’t decreased. Please share The signature block has any suggestions you have for cutting printing costs further, and contact me if you have any problems with the new system. additional contact information. Wai-Fong Leung, manager of accounting 416-555-1234 This email may contain confidential material. If you were not an intended recipient, please notify the sender and delete all copies. We may monitor email to A confidentiality notice and from our network. is included.08_hans_ch08.qxd 11/7/09 12:20 AM Page 180 180 Part 2 – Routine Communications machines in more detail and presents the information in a less confronta- tional way that is less likely to anger the readers. Luckily, similar messages have already been written. We will discuss those patterns next, and you can use them in your own writing. “Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” —Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland08_hans_ch08.qxd 11/7/09 12:20 AM Page 181 Chapter 8 – Writing Routine Letters, Memos and Emails 181 Beginnings and Endings for All Messages Some of the truest words about business writing appeared in Lewis Carroll’s classic book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: “Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Business messages have no set length. Many email messages are only a few words long. Some letters go on for two or three pages. Your job, when writing, is to focus on accomplishing a specific goal—for example, answering a question, making a sale, or organizing a meeting. Often the hardest part of the job—especially if you have little experi- ence writing at work—is to decide where to begin, where to end, and when to stop. Some inexperienced writers start letters or email by introducing them- selves. “My name is . . . and I am a....” Such an approach may work in a few limited situations, such as a new sales representative introducing herself to clients in her area. In almost all other situations, though, it is unnecessary. Your name always appears in the signature block of letters and at the top of email messages. It does not need to be repeated in the opening sentence of a message. It is also not usually necessary to begin with polite chat about the weather or the state of anyone’s health. Psychologists say that the placement of information has an impact on how it will to be noticed and remembered. People have the best memory of the information they read first and the information they read last. Since people do not always read documents through to the end, the most impor- tant information should be placed at the beginning of most routine docu- ments. If you are making a request or asking a complicated question, it may be necessary to explain yourself, but this information can follow the main idea. Beginnings and Endings in Action Figure 8-3 and Figure 8-4 are two versions of a letter to the local city council requesting information about the develop- ment of a meat-processing plant. Notice how long the first version (Figure 8-3) takes to get to the point. Figure 8-4 contains the same message, but it has been restructured. It begins with the main idea and is more polite and easier to understand than the first version. After reading the opening sentence in Figure 8-4, the reader would understand the key point of the request. The body of the letter explains the reasons for the request and presents further details about the exact require- ments. The ending presents a specific date by which the information is needed, along with a reasonable justification. Knowing When to Stop The letter in Figure 8-4 was simple and polite. The writer’s objective was to obtain information about a prospective city develop- ment. There was no political agenda and no attempt to convince the reader of anything. The first letter (Figure 8-3) put the reader on the defensive by using intimidating language and threatening a lawsuit against someone whose only role is to distribute information. Strong language does have a time and a08_hans_ch08.qxd 11/7/09 12:20 AM Page 182 182 Part 2 – Routine Communications A Poor Request for Information FIGURE 8-3 Two Rivers Taxpayers’ Federation Box 1991A Winnipeg, MB R2R 2G9 204-555-2345 April 7, 2010 City Clerk’s Department Council Building, 510 Main Street Winnipeg, MB R3B 1B9 To Whom It May Concern: SUBJECT: Pork Processing Pollution We, the members of the Two Rivers Taxpayers’ Federation, strongly protest the move by Concarné Foods to begin construction of a hog slaughtering plant in the Two Rivers The tone is emotional Industrial Park. An industry such as this will do irreparable damage to our businesses, and demanding. to the neighbourhood surrounding the park, and to the city in general. We will be doing everything in our power to put a stop to this ill-advised proposal. As such, we demand that you provide us with copies of the Clean Environment Commission’s report, a poll that was commissioned on the Concarné hog plant, and The request being information provided by Concarné on its efforts to control odours both at the Two Rivers made is unclear and plant and at its other operations. the language is We have a legal right to this information under the Access to Information Act, and we will confrontational. be pursuing legal action if the documents are not forthcoming. The closing includes a threat. Sincerely, Bob Knolten The angry tone of this request would do little to ensure the cooperation of the employee being asked to provide the information. place, but the writer has to choose the circumstances carefully to avoid alien- ating the reader. An employee whose job had been eliminated once sued his former employer when a manager writing a letter about the need for more efficient production equipment explained his needs but then made the mistake of going on to write about “getting rid of deadwood” and “targeting those over 18 55 for early retirement.” If the writer had known when to stop writing, he would have saved his company an expensive lawsuit.08_hans_ch08.qxd 11/7/09 12:20 AM Page 183 Chapter 8 – Writing Routine Letters, Memos and Emails 183 An Improved Request for Information FIGURE 8-4 Two Rivers Taxpayers’ Federation Box 1991A Winnipeg, MB R2R 2G9 204-555-2345 April 7, 2010 City Clerk’s Department Council Building, 510 Main Street Winnipeg, MB R3B 1B9 SUBJECT: Information request: Concarné Foods’ Proposal to build a pork The subject line is processing plant specific. Please provide us with information regarding the proposal from Concarné Foods to build a pork processing plant in the Two Rivers Industrial Park. The Two Rivers The request is clear and uses neutral Taxpayers’ Federation is concerned that the plant may have a serious impact on language. existing businesses. Specifically, we are requesting the following documents: • The Clean Environment Commission’s environmental assessment of the plant’s The specific documents operations needed are listed. • The results of a taxpayer-funded poll on the Concarné processing plant • The report provided by Concarné Foods on the effect that its plants have had on other municipalities and the measures it uses to control odours The TRTF will be meeting on June 1 to discuss its position on the Concarné A reasonable date for proposal. We would appreciate having the documents by May 15 so that we can delivery and an distribute copies to our members and give them time to study the information. explanation are given. Sincerely, The writer’s signature Alice Strongpela and title are included. President, TRTF The formal request for information is assertive yet polite. Applying a Pattern to Your Writing Reading in the workplace is work. People have deadlines to meet and do not enjoy wading through unnecessary details to get to important information. They expect the messages they receive to be structured in a way that makes it easy for them to extract the information they need. They may still get that information if it is found at the end of a long, rambling document, but they will be as annoyed at having to sort through the irrelevant information as they would be at receiving their pay a week late.08_hans_ch08.qxd 11/7/09 12:20 AM Page 184 184 Part 2 – Routine Communications There are several reasons why you should not let the idea of writing with a pattern intimidate you: ■ It will not stifle your creativity. ■ It will not make your writing tedious to read. ■ Over the years, simple patterns for writing have evolved for many types of communication. The writers of murder mysteries, for example, use a structure where the crime is committed at the beginning of the book and solved at the end. People who watch slasher movies know the fate of the first person to explore the basement alone. Simple structures impose order on the writing process, but they do not necessarily inhibit the writing—they can enhance it. They provide a frame- work for your creativity. If you begin a writing task knowing that you will begin with a key idea and then deal with a number of related issues, you will be able to concentrate on identifying those ideas rather than on trying to sort out other less important issues. When you are writing at work, you want people to pay attention to the quality of your ideas. In almost all cases, that means beginning with the most important ideas and ending when you have provided all the necessary infor- mation. Providing unnecessary details can be almost as bad as leaving out important information. Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and philosopher once wrote, “I am sorry for the length of my letter, but I had no time to write a short 19 one.” Pascal’s point was that it takes time and effort to separate the key ideas from all the other useless information that surrounds them. The Direct Pattern Business writers apply different patterns to different types of documents. There are patterns for writing persuasive documents, for refus- ing requests writing, and for writing employment application letters. Most routine workplace documents follow the fairly simple direct pat- tern shown in Figure 8-5, which can be applied to most common letters, emails, and memos. Main Idea The most important information should appear at the very beginning of the message—often in the first sentence. People will not always read the entire message, but they will usually read the first part. (Some email programs even encourage the practice by flashing the first few words of incoming messages in the corner of the recipient’s computer screen.) The main idea should be thought of as the information that the reader needs most. Often it is a summary of the entire message. In the example that appeared earlier, the writer began with a blunt state- ment that printing was out of control, followed by a list of complaints about wasted paper that would probably have most people’s eyes rolling at the thought of a highly paid manager chasing after them for a few dollars’ worth of excess printing. The most important information in this case is the fact that the printers and photocopiers are being replaced, a statement that does not appear until the middle of the message.08_hans_ch08.qxd 11/7/09 12:20 AM Page 185 Chapter 8 – Writing Routine Letters, Memos and Emails 185 FIGURE 8-5 The Direct Pattern for Writing Routine Messages Main idea the central idea of the message Details supporting details: dates, times, prices Outcome What comes next? Details All the information that supports the main idea should be placed in the middle of the document. In the case above, the details are the informa- tion relating to the installation of the new printer/copier. In other cases, the details might include background information on an issue, dates of an event, prices of equipment, or names of key personnel—anything that helps the reader to understand the main idea. Often the middle section is the longest part of the message. Figure 8-5 implies that the entire message is made up of three para- graphs. It could be, but if the message is detailed, then the details section itself could be much longer. The only details of the original message that need to be included from the example above are the reasons for replacing the old machines (cost, noise, indoor air pollution) and the fact that the new machine will require passwords. Details that should have been included are the dates for the changeover, information on how passwords will be distributed, and explanations of how to use the new machine. Outcome The final section should tie everything together by explaining what happens next. It could be an explanation of what the writer intends to do next or a question or a request. Lists in Documents Letters, emails, and other business documents frequently contain lists of various types. Sometimes they are numbered; sometimes they are set off with bullets. Lists help readers to find important information quickly. This improves reading efficiency and shortens documents. Lists can be made up of a group08_hans_ch08.qxd 11/7/09 12:20 AM Page 186 186 Part 2 – Routine Communications of items, steps in a procedure, or key points for discussion. Your lists will be more effective if you follow these four guidelines: 1. Keep lists brief—three to six items. 2. Keep items short—a few words or a sentence at most. 3. Use lists sparingly—no more than one list per page. 4. Introduce lists with a sentence that leads smoothly into the list—usually ending with a colon (i.e., :). Bullets or Numbers? Use numbered lists to indicate sequence or impor- tance. Numbers should also be used when the preceding text emphasizes the number of items, as above, or when a later paragraph refers to a specific item. For example, a memo to workers in a factory may list the company’s priorities this way: 1. Eliminate all lost-time accidents 2. Increase customer satisfaction. 3. Improve productivity. This list indicates that safety is the company’s top priority, with customer satisfaction and productivity coming next in importance. Instructions for operating a fire extinguisher would also use a numbered list: 1. Remove the pin. 2. Direct the nozzle at the base of the flames. 3. Pull the trigger. 4. Spray the foam in a fanning motion. The steps for these instructions (and most others) have to be followed in this precise order for the equipment to work properly. However, when there is no intent to indicate chronology or importance, neutral bullet points should be used. For example, a meeting reminder might ask participants to come prepared with a number of items: ■ Year-end reviews ■ Monthly departmental reports ■ Proposals for next year’s campaign In this case, the sequence of the items is unimportant, so no numbers are needed. Consistency of Lists Items in a vertical list should follow a consistent style. Make each item in the list grammatically parallel with the others. These guidelines will help: ■ Try to start each point with a key word, often a verb or a noun. ■ Ensure that verbs are all in the same tense, usually either the present or the past tense.08_hans_ch08.qxd 11/7/09 12:20 AM Page 187 Chapter 8 – Writing Routine Letters, Memos and Emails 187 ■ Capitalize the first word on each line. ■ Use punctuation at the end of the line if the points are sentences; other- wise use no punctuation. Remember that lists should be used sparingly. A document that has more bullets than narrative is usually thought of as an outline. Although outlines are a useful tool and you should definitely make use of them when planning documents, your readers will think your message is incomplete if you use too many lists. Choosing between Letters and Email Letters have not completely disappeared as a tool for conducting routine busi- ness, but their use is rapidly declining. Two main reasons for this are as follows: 1. Speed. Traditional letters are often called “snail mail” and with good rea- son. A local letter may take a few days to be delivered; an international letter could take several weeks. An email usually arrives in minutes, no matter where in the world it is being sent. 2. Cost. Email is usually cheaper than traditional mail. As long as both par- ties are connected to an email network, the only cost of the email mes- sage is the time it takes to write and to read the message. Traditional letters have the same costs in the time it takes to write them, along with the additional costs of printing the message and delivering it to the recip- ient. The additional delivery costs for a single message may amount to only a dollar or so, but with a mass mailing, which could involve a thou- sand letters or more, the costs will begin to add up fast. Reasons in favour of choosing letters over email include the following: ■ Confidentiality. Letters are a more secure form of communication than email and are useful when confidentiality is an issue. Although letters do not ensure complete confidentiality—they can always be photocopied or scanned and sent to unintended audiences—they are more secure than TAKE IT FURTHER emails. Emails can be forwarded to unintended audiences with a click of Document Security in an a mouse, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes on purpose. Stories fre- Earlier Time quently appear in the news media about people who have been publicly embarrassed—or worse—when their email messages were read by unin- Long before computers and document tended audiences. encryption, document security was pro- tected with sealing wax. A blob of hot ■ Formality. Letters also convey more formality than email messages. It is easy wax imprinted with the writer’s seal to include pictures and graphics in an email, or even animations and sound, was used to close a folded document. but it is not possible to include embossed paper, genuine watermarks, or This acted both as a signature and as original signatures. Although the importance of paper-based letters as a tool a means of preventing unauthorized for conducting routine business may be declining, letters will continue to be people from reading or altering docu- a common business tool for many years to come. ments. Sealing wax is used today as a 20 decoration, not as a security device. ■ Signatures. Letters carry signatures. In legal documents or in situations in which it is necessary to verify the identity of the sender, a letter (or other Many business emails come with a warn- paper document) may be the only medium that the receiver will accept. ing that readers should ignore and delete In situations in which the information could be considered confidential, any messages they receive by mistake. Are these warnings useful? a signed letter may be required.08_hans_ch08.qxd 11/7/09 12:21 AM Page 188 188 Part 2 – Routine Communications Wax seals were once used to guarantee documents’ authenticity and to prevent them from being read by unauthorized readers. In some special situations, writers may prefer to use letters for other reasons. Many direct marketing campaigns depend on the sales or fundraising letters that people find in their mailboxes every day. Job applicants are often encouraged to write a cover letter when submitting their resumés, and employers may write letters of reference to recommend job candidates. People may write letters when making complaints, or when responding to them. Letters can convey a more personal touch than email messages.08_hans_ch08.qxd 11/7/09 12:21 AM Page 189 Chapter 8 – Writing Routine Letters, Memos and Emails 189 Goodwill Letters In some situations, the formality that letters provide may be far more important than the speed email offers. Although a quick email message may be appropriate to thank a co-worker who has done a favour for you, a formal letter of thanks would be far more appropriate to acknowledge the services of a long-time business associate. See Figure 8-6. Letters of Condolence A letter or a card can be used to express emotion far more effectively than any electronic medium. If, for example, you need to express sadness for the loss of a business associate, it may be preferable to use a handwritten letter or card, rather than typing the message. Messages of FIGURE 8-6 An Appropriate Goodwill Message Blue Skies Development 2175 Avenue Road. Regina, SK S3T 1S9 306-555-0987 February 10, 2010 Troy Eastwood CEO, Prairie Interweb Design 41 Albert Street Regina, SK S4R 2N3 Dear Mr. Eastwood: Congratulations on winning the Most Innovative Website regional award from the Canadian Society of Graphic Designers. When I saw the announcement in last Tuesday’s Leader Post, I immediately agreed with the judges’ choice. Your design showing a banjo morphing into a football was brilliant. I’m sure that the recogni- tion that accompanies the award will help create a bright future for your company. Since our first meeting, I have continually been impressed by the professionalism and creativity of your web designers. Their ideas are always fresh, their attention to detail is exceptional, and our deadlines are always met. I am happy to have chosen your firm to design and maintain our website. Again, let me offer my sincere congratulations. I am confident that the website will go on to win further awards when it is entered in the national competition next month. Good luck. Sincerely, Nickolas Scratch Nickolas Scratch Manager of media relations, Blue Skies Development