Are you paralysed by that business letter you’re supposed to write?
Don’t worry. Here’s all you need to know to get it done. I’ll give this to you in three pieces. First, I’ll tell you how letters are supposed to work. Second, I’ll show you some examples of how they look on paper. And third, I’ll give you a US and a UK format, so you can manage the mechanics of writing yours up no matter where you live in the English-speaking world. Can’t go wrong with this!
FIRST: How Letters are Supposed to Work
1. The general rule about letters is to make clear what you want right away. Long introductions irritate busy people in business, and they sort of frighten everybody else. So say what you want quickly, in the first sentence.
2. Then you say why it’s the two of you who need to interact, and not someone else.
3. Then you propose your solution, leaving a way for them to do what you ask without feeling railroaded.
4. And finally, you put a time-frame on things, and make it clear that within this time-frame you intend to continue your relationship.
SECOND: How This Looks on Paper:
You’d apply for a job in ‘Tractor Owner’ magazine like this:
“I write to apply for the position of layout editor, advertised this week in the Moosejaw Gazette.
News of this job opening really excites me, having just finished my associate’s degree in communications at Gudger College, and having long wished to work on a tractor magazine. My father is a John Deere dealer, so we know and admire your publication very much. (We find the monthly ‘Combine Roundup’ especially valuable.)
My resume will show that I have a lot of layout experience beyond what my coursework has required. I did most of the work in the Gudgerian yearbook, for example, and I also produced the capital fund drive brochures for our family church this year. I have learned attention to detail and the importance of budgeting time. I believe that these two things, and my love of tractors, make me a strong candidate for someone in your layout department.
With my resume I attach some recent sample work. I am ready to submit more on spec, if I may. And I am pleased to answer any questions that you may have, about my experience, my interests, or me. May I follow up with an e-mail in a few days, just to be sure this has arrived safely? I must say again how excited I am by this job posting, and I do look forward to hearing back from you.”
Or you’d badger someone for money like this:
“I write to thank you for your long and constant record of donations to the Save the Narwhal Foundation, and to ask if you would consider supporting us in another way this year. Our research vessel, Lancer, is in need of replacement. The government of Bingzi-Bangzi has generously offered us a surplus vessel, the 101-ton Rumpipumpi, if we can meet the cost of transporting and refitting her. We need help.
It is an exciting and critical moment in the Foundation’s history. With this vessel our efforts to reach and help endangered Narwhal herds can be doubled, or even tripled. Without it, we may fail to reach any of them. Our friends and sponsors at the Flipper level are stretched to their limit. Our Blubber volunteers are fundraising around the clock. (Have you bought your box of Narwhal cookies this season?) It is our patrons at the Tusk level to whom we are turning now. You are the dedicated individuals who have the expertise and the financial commitment to make our acquisition of Rumpipumbi possible.
We wonder if you would consider a one-time donation to this special project. $500 would buy a new propeller. $5,000 would buy an onboard flipper polisher. $50,000 would fund an entire nuclear tusk sanitizer. These are big numbers. But the narwhals’ problems are big too. Perhaps your company has a matching program?
I enclose a prepaid envelope and a short prospectus about the Rumpipumpi. May we be in touch shortly, to answer questions you may have? This is a pivotal moment in narwhal activism. We know we can count on your support.”
Or you’d dun someone for an overdue payment like this:
“I write to follow up on our telephone conversation today, in which we laid out a schedule for the remaining payments on your Aston-Martin DB-5, under lease no. 25479-010, entered on February 31, 2008, and due to end March 1, 2012. We are happy to receive payments of £404.23 on the 28th of each month, beginning next month, and totalling 13 payments. We have dropped all late charges, as agreed.
I very much appreciate your prompt attention to this, and I invite you to contact me directly with any concerns, if any arise. My direct line is 555-1212, and my e-mail address you already have.
To formalize our agreement, I request that you sign a copy of this letter below and send it back to me in the envelope I enclose. The other copy is for your files.
I will release your file as soon as I have your signed letter. I wish you best of luck in the rally season!”
THIRD: What About Format?
Here’s a common North American one:
“February 32, 2008
4 Burnt Swamp Road
Knuckleville, West Carolina 12345
Attorney Seamus Cooley
Wiggly, Poobah & Shad, P.C.
Dank Building, 103
Knuckleville, West Carolina 12345
Re: Kraut v. Heimer
Dear Attorney Cooley,
Very truly yours,
And here’s a common United Kingdom one:
The Old Sluggard
Pantsdown EH5 3DG
Miss Windolene Shapeleigh
12 Belfry Close
Punting Baddley, Harks RG6 2TR
31 February 2008
Dear Miss Shapeleigh
Re: Reference for Mr John Sneed
C Sneed (Mrs)”