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Variety May Be the Spice of Life, but Brevity is the Spice of the Business Letter
While you might include a paragraph on your weekend in Tahoe when writing to a close friend, in the business letter, brevity and conciseness is key. On that subject, even if you know the recipient of your letter personally, avoid mentioning personal things like family, friends, vacation, politics, etc. The business letter should have a purpose. For example, you don't send a business letter to find out how a CEO is doing. Instead, you send a business letter to accomplish a specific task.
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What is Your Task?
Why are you writing this letter? Write down the purpose of the letter on a scrap piece of paper. If you are trying to build your credit, are you writing the letter in order to settle an old debt? Have a mistake removed from your credit report? Ask a creditor to stop harassing you? If you are writing a sales letter, who is your audience - a potential client? a competing company? a supplier? Try to sum up the purpose of your letter in one sentence.
Now that you have identified your task, you can begin writing your letter.
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Draft Your Letter
Once you have identified your task, you can begin a draft of your business letter. Your draft is a great place for trying out all of your ideas for the letter. As close to the beginning of the letter as possible, identify your task. Next, explain your reasons. For example, a business letter may be addressing an unpaid debt. Explain that you understand that the payment may have been overlooked or that there may be extenuating circumstances. Always give the benefit of the doubt, but ask also that they respond in a timely manner.
Business letters don't need to explain how the clock is made, they just need to tell the time. Don't recap the whole conversation when sending a thank you note, just express your gratitude for the interview.
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Revise Your Letter and Put it Into Proper Business Letter Form
Go through your letter and be sure that it has proper grammar and spelling throughout. Also, make sure that the only words in the letter are necessary for the reader to understand the intent of the letter. Take out any unnecessary or redundant words. Check for typos by reading through the letter aloud. Done with your editing and proofreading? Good, now you should type the letter if it hasn't already been typed, and put it into the following format (all left justified) :
[Full name of the recipient]
[Title of recipient]
[Address of recipient]
[Dear Mr./Ms. First Last:]
[Closing (Best, Regards, Sincerely yours, etc.)]
Drop a few lines this is where you will sign your letter
[Full typewritten name]
[Any indications (we'll cover these in a moment)]
When formatting your letter, be sure to proofread it again to ensure that everything is in tip-top shape.
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End of Letter Abbreviations
Finally, if you are sending additional items, or copies of the letter to multiple people, you may have an abbreviation in the line below your typewritten name in a business letter. These abbreviations include:
- Encl. - This stands for "enclosure." It is good practice to type what enclosures you are including. For example, if you are writing a cover letter to a gallery, you may type Encl.: (names of slides)
- P.S. - Post Script - you may already be familiar with this one. Use this one very sparingly in business letters - in sales letters you might sometimes see "P.S. Respond now and get x% off your order"
- C.C. - Carbon copy - just like in email, this indicates that the letter is a copy of one you are sending to someone else. List the names of the recipients next to the CC in alphabetical order.
- RSVP - Please reply. You will see this at the bottom of invitation letters.
- P.P. - Per Procurationem - This is an abbreviation you may use if signing the letter on someone else's behalf.
It is rare that you will need to use these - the most common ones in business letter writing these days are Encl. and C.C. If you utilize these writing ideas for business letters, you'll be sure to succeed.