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I. Indispensable Parts of Business Letters
Every business letter should contain a sender’s address, a date, an inside address, a salutation, a body, a complimentary close, and a signature.
Sender’s Address. The sender’s address consists of three lines in the upper right corner of your stationary or on the left, depending on which form you use. The first line gives your street address or route number. It also has your apartment number, if you have one. The second line gives your town or city, state and postcode. You may spell out the name of your state, use the standard abbreviation, or use the Postal Service abbreviation. The third line gives your country if you write to another country. In the UK, in contrast to the practice in some countries, it is not usual to write the sender’s name before the sender’s address.
When you have a printed letterhead, it gives a great deal of information about your company. The name of the Chairman (or, in the USA, the President), who runs the concern, may also be given, as well as the names of the Directors, who decide the overall policy of the firm. The Managing Director (in the USA, Chief Executive), who takes an active role in day-to-day running of the company, may be mentioned if he is different from the Chairman.
In addition to the address of the office from which the letter is being sent, the letterhead may also give the address of the head office or registered office if different and the addresses of any branches or other offices the company owns.
Telephone, telex, fax numbers, and a cable (telegram) address may also be given. The registered number appears in small print, sometimes with the country or city in which the company was registered. The VAT number (Value Added Tax) may also be given.
Date.The date is written three lines below the sender’s address, sometimes separated from it by a space. In the case of correspondence with a printed letterhead, it is usually written on the right-hand side of the page.
The month in the date should not be written in figures, as they can be confusing; for example, 11.1.93 means 11th January 1993 in the UK but 1st November 1993 in the USA. Nor should you abbreviate the month, e.g. Nov. for November, as it simply looks untidy. It takes a moment to write a date in full, but it can take a lot longer to find a misfiled letter, which was put in the wrong file because of the date confusing.
Many firms leave out the abbreviation ‘th’ after the date, e.g. 24 October instead of 24th October. Other firms transpose the date and the month, e.g. October 24 instead of 24 October. These are matters of preference, but whichever you choose you should be consistent throughout your correspondence.
Inside (receiver’s) address. This is written below the sender’s address and the date. The inside address consists of the surname of the person you are writing to, his/her title or position in the company, the name of a particular department in the company, the name of the company, the address of the company.
Ø If you know the surname of the person you are writing to, you write this on the first line of the address, preceded by a courtesy title and either the persons initial(s) or his/her first given name, e.g. Mr J.E. Smith or Mr John Smith, not Mr Smith.
Courtesy titles used in addresses are as follows:
Mr (with or without a full stop; pronounced /`mist∂/) – for a man;
Mrs (with or without a full stop; pronounced /`misiz/) – for a married woman;
Miss (with or without a full stop; pronounced /mis/) – for an unmarried woman;
Ms (with or without a full stop; pronounced /miz/) – both for married and unmarried women. Many women now prefer to be addressed by this title, and this is a useful form of address when you are not sure whether the woman you are writing is married or not;
Messrs (with or without a full stop; pronounced /`mes∂z/; abbreviation for Messieurs, which is never used) – used occasionally for two or more men (Messrs P. Jones and B.L. Parker) but more commonly forms part of a firm’s name when there are surnames in it (Messrs Collier & Clerke & Co.).
Special titles, which should be included in the addresses, are many. They include:
– academic or medical titles – Doctor (Dr.), Professor (Prof.);
– military titles – Captain (Capt.), Major (Maj.), Colonel (Col.), General (Gen.);
– aristocratic titles – Sir (which means that he is a knight; not to be confused with the salutation Dear Sir and always followed by a given name, e.g. Sir John Brown, not Sir J. Brown), Dame, Lord, Baroness, etc.
– Esq (with or without a full stop; pronounced /es`kwai∂/; abbreviation for Esquire) is seldom used now. If used, it can only be used instead of Mr and is placed after the name. Don’t use Esq and Mr at the same time, e.g. Bruce Hill Esq, not Mr Bruce Hill Esq.
All these courtesy titles and special titles, except Esq, are also used in salutations.
Ø If you don’t know the name of the person you are writing to, you may know or be able to assume his/her title or position in the company, (e.g. The Sales Manager, The Finance Director), in which case you can use it in the address.
Ø Alternatively you can address your letter to a particular department of the company, e.g. The Sales Department, The Accounts Department.
Ø Finally, if you know nothing about the company and do not want to make any assumptions about the person or a department your letter should go to, you can simply address it to the company itself, e.g. Soundsonic Ltd., Messrs Collier & Clerke & Co.
Ø After the name of the person and/or the company receiving the letter, the order and style of addresses in the UK is as follows:
Some European addresses may place the number of the building after the name of the street. It is also common to substitute the name of the country with an initial before the district code number, as in the two examples below:
If punctuation is used, a comma, except the last line, follows each line of the address. But the majority of firms now use open punctuation, i.e. without any commas.
Salutation. The salutation is the greeting. In it, capitalize the first word and all the nouns. Here are some ways to open a letter:
Letters don’t usually open with Dear Mr John or Dear Mr John Smith. Unless you know that a woman prefers to be known as Miss or Mrs, it is best to use Ms. Don’t make assumptions about your correspondent’s sex if you don’t know it: use Dear Sir or Madam. If you know the person’s name but not his/her sex (either because he/she only signs with an initial, or because his/her given name is new to you), then use Mr/Mrs… , e.g. Dear Mr/Mrs Barron.
The comma after the salutation is optional. Note that in the USA a letter to a company usually opens with Gentlemen, followed by a colon, not with Dear Sirs. In American English, a job title is sometimes used to open a letter, e.g. Dear Corporate Section Manager.
Body. The body of the letter contains the paragraphs that state your business. Leave an extra line of space between the salutation and the first paragraph. Also leave an extra line of space between paragraphs.
Most letters have three parts in the body. These are as follows:
Complimentary Close. Complimentary close appears below the last paragraph. The way you close the letter depends on how you open it.
Note, that the Americans tend to close even formal letters with Yours truly or Truly yours, which is unusual in the UK in commercial correspondence. In American English Faithfully yours, Sincerely yours are used instead of Yours faithfully, Yours sincerely.
The comma after the complimentary close is optional. Make sure to capitalize the first word.
The position of the complementary close – on the left, right or in the centre of the page – is a matter of choice. It depends on the form of the letter (blocked letters tend to put the close on the left, intended letters tend to put it in the centre) and on your firm’s preference. Make sure it aligns with the first word of the sender’s address or of the inside address.
Signature. The signature is, of course, your name. Always write it in longhand, even if you type your letter. Place you signature under the complimentary close. Always type your name after your handwritten signature and your position in the firm after your typed signature, even if your letter is handwritten. This is known as the signature block.
It is, to some extent, a matter of choice whether you sign with your initial(s) (D. Jenkins) or your given name (David Jenkins), and whether you include a courtesy title in your signature block. But if you give neither your given name nor your title, your correspondent will not be able to identify your sex and may give you the wrong title when he/she replies.
Including titles in signatures is, in fact, more common among women than among men, because many women like to make it clear either that they are married (Mrs) or unmarried (Miss) or that their marital status is not relevant (Ms), and partly because there is still a tendency to believe that important positions in a company can only be held by men.
Sometimes the term per pro (p.p.) or for and on behalf of is used before the typed signatures. It means ‘for and on behalf of’. Secretaries sometimes use p.p. when signing letters on behalf of their bosses. Before the handwritten signature a company signature (a printed or stamped name of the company) is sometimes used to emphasize that the writer is acting on behalf of the company.
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