Nothing comes as free lunch. Writing good business letters cannot be achieved overnight. However, anybody can attain good standards by sheer practice and perseverance.
‘Brevity is the soul of wit’. We all remember this famous English adage. This is very much relevant to business letters. The message to be communicated should be to the point and be brief. The words chosen should be familiar to the reader. Pomposity in style should be totally avoided. This is not the occasion wherein the writer can exhibit his literary wisdom and show off his range of vocabulary.
Words chosen in the letter should carry the right meaning and relevant to the context. A sales executive wanted an appointment for seeing the head of engineering department of a company to demonstrate his product. He wrote to the administrative manager stating that he would need an appointment to meet the concerned officer for demonstrating his product. How could the writer take for granted that the officer to be met is a worried person? Yes. That is what concerned officer means. When the word concerned is used as adjective here, it only means that. What should have been the correct usage? The writer should have mentioned that he would like to meet the say officer concerned instead of concerned officer. When you say officer concerned, it means that the particular officer in-charge. If the reader of the letter knows good English, what will he think of the sales executive? Certainly he does not want to be a worried person!
Even today we remember with interest the famous Gettysburg speech of Abraham Lincoln when he started with the words, “fourscore and seven years ago…”As a part of promotional campaign, a sales executive should not introduce his company to a new possible buyer starting that their company is in operation for the last, fourscore and seven years. A simple arithmetic says that fourscore and seven would mean eighty seven!
Long sentences should be totally avoided. The reader has no patience to read lengthy lines. He may not be able to follow the flow of thoughts expressed. Short sentences drive home the point and easier to be read and understood. Given below is a portion of a letter. It was written by a sales executive of a company manufacturing compressors to a buyer with an intention of impressing and winning an order. After reading, you judge for yourself as how effective this communication is.
“You will find the compressors manufactured by many companies are vociferous during operation as a direct antithesis to ours which are conspicuous by their silence during the process of delivering air and you will agree with us that amidst various other salient features, this essential criterion stands apart, putting us in the front and given an opportunity, this aspect can be proved by a live demonstration at your premises, for which purpose we now seek an appointment with the hope that you will reply at the earliest giving the dare”.
A reader’s mind will whirl with increasing speed on going through the above lines. The sales executive should have written as below.
“We seek an appointment to demonstrate our compressor which is noted for its noiseless operation. Kindly confirm the date suitable to you”.
In his letter, the sales executive has used ninety words, whereas the same could have been cut short to twenty-two words for effective communication. In the process, both he and the reader could save time three times. Moreover, usage of words like vociferous, antithesis, conspicuous etc., should be avoided in business letters.
Paragraphs should be as short as possible. Every paragraph should carry a message to be conveyed. This will make reading and understanding easy. In fact, numbering the paragraphs adds to the effectiveness.
Punctuation is of utmost importance in writing in general and business letters in particular. If this is not practised, there is a possibility of wrong meaning being conveyed. A part of a business letter is reproduced below. See for yourself as how best you understand the message.
“We would like to enter into annual service contract with you for maintaining our air conditioners in our premises we have totally twenty machines of your make and two of different make our of these twelve are window type and ten of split type two of the whole lot are in damaged condition the repair job can be taken up by you before entering into contract for that purpose please arrange to depute your service technician to our site he can give repair estimate subsequently we will study the rates given by you for repair and annual maintenance after getting the approval from our works Manager we will revert”.
The above is yet another case of causing confusion in the reader’s mind. The same wordings will give a clear understanding, if they had been correctly punctuated. Now you read the same passage.
“We would like to enter into annual service contract with you for maintaining our air conditioners. In our premises, we have totally twenty machines of your make and two of different make. Out of these, twelve are of window type and ten of split type.
Two of the whole lot are in damaged condition. The repair job can be taken up by you before entering into contract. For that purpose, please arrange to depute your service technician to our site. He can give repair estimate subsequently.
We will study the rates to be given by you for repair and annual maintenance. After getting the approval from our works Manager, we will revert”.
Apart from punctuation, the entire passage is split into three paragraphs. Each paragraph has separate information to be conveyed.
The tone of the letter should be gentle and courteous. Even while complaining the quality of a product, politeness should be adhered to. Harsh words will leave negative feelings in the reader’s mind. On the other hand, a polite letter will act as a catalytic agent in bringing about a positive response in the reader’s mind and in turn a good service can be expected from the supplier. Words have lasting effect and in this context, one should remember the English proverb which says that when the bow is too much bent, it breaks. Continuous use of acerbic language in business letters will eventually lead to breaking of good relationship with the supplier or the buyer as the case may be.
Before concluding this chapter, let us remember that a good business letter acts as an effective salesman in selling the idea of the writer. To acquire this skill, the writer should bear in mind the following.