Dollars and Sense: Give business letters the human touch

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 22, 2005

&8220;Pursuant to our telephonic conversation of even date, transmitted herewith are the invoices for the work completed through the ultimate month.&8221; Unless you were in the business world in the early part of this century, you probably never received a letter written in this style. This language is, however, still used by many people because they believe one must be formal when putting ideas on paper.

Formal language comes across as artificial and often insincere. Your message will be clearer and more easily accepted by the reader if you write the way you speak. Wouldn’t it be much clearer if that letter were written: &8220;Here are the invoices for the work completed through this month, as promised when we spoke on the telephone today.&8221;

Talk to your reader

Pretend the person who will read the letter or report is sitting across from you or you are on the telephone with him.

Be informal. Relax. Talk in your ordinary voice, the manner, the vocabulary, accents, idioms and expressions you usually use.

Use contractions

Contractions are a normal part of our speech. We rarely use full phrases. Why not use common contractions in writing? It makes your letter come across in a sincere, personal manner. Naturally, avoid slangy contractions like &8220;ain’t.&8221;

Use personal pronouns

When speaking we use I, we and you all the time. They’re part of the normal give and take of conversation.

Everybody, it seems, who writes for a company or organization clings desperately to the passive voice. Usually when writing for an organization, there isn’t too much opportunity to say &8220;I.&8221;

However, you should use &8220;I&8221; when you express feelings or thoughts that are your own.

Give your letters just the right human touch. Express your natural feelings.

If it’s good news, say you’re glad; if it’s bad news, say you’re sorry.

Remember, the person who will read your letter is a human being who will be annoyed if the letter is cold and pleased if it is courteous and friendly