Chapter One
Business Letters(商务信函) (商务信函)

  1.1 Introduction
Business letter is the most frequently used form of communication. It is very important in the business world. Business executives are supposed to write good business letters as to carry out business routine efficiently. If a businessman is unable to write an effective business letter, it is very difficult to represent himself positively, which may cause some problems in doing business. All business letters have two main functions. One is to ask for and give a reply to an enquiry, offer, order or complaint. The other one is to keep a record of all the important facts for ready reference. An effective business letter will say what the writer wants it to say clearly and simply. It should be precise, straightforward, relevant and action-centered. It should also be written in a friendly, formal style using plain language. Thus, in order to communicate effectively, you should ensure that the letters portray you as approachable, caring, effective and professional. In addition, you should be very familiar with the established layout and practice of business letters. There are three styles of business communication: the full blocked style, the indented style and the semi-blocked style. The fully-blocked style with open punctuation is the most popular method of display for business letters, because it is considered to be businesslike, simple and professional. The business letter can tell readers a lot about the writer and the writer’s company. A business letter that is neat, easy to read, and present a professional image will leave a good impression on the reader. Such a letter helps the writer as much as the reader, and will probably mean an earlier reply. In today’s global market place, the reader’s first impression often comes from the appearance of the documents and the quality of the paper. So you should pay more attention to the paper quality, the paper color, the paper size and margins. Firstly, never use paper that is too flimsy. Secondly, white is the standard color for business purposes, although light colors such as gray and ivory are sometimes used. Thirdly, the size of papers varies slightly from country to country. In the United States, the standard paper size for business documents is
  8.5 by 11 inches. The last but not least, the document is to be centered in the page, leaving at least one-inch margins all around. We can use word-processing software to achieve the balance by defining the format.
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This chapter is intended to develop skills in writing good business letters. It contains guidelines on developing personal writing style, using appropriate tone and composing effective communications in modern business language.

  1.2 Writing Guide

  1.
  2.1 The Essentials of Business Letter Writing
Since the main purpose of business correspondence is to convey a message, the letter should be written in language that is easily understood. The writer must make sure that it should be free from grammatical blemishes, and also free from the slightest possibility of being misunderstood. There are certain essential qualities of business letters, which can be summed up in the following 7 “Cs” principles.
  1. Clarity You must try to express yourself clearly, so that the reader will understand. To achieve this, you should keep in mind the purpose of the letter and use appropriate words in correct sentence structures to convey your meaning. We should also avoid ambiguous sentences. Otherwise, the business letter will cause trouble to both sides. All in all, good, straightforward and simple language are what are needed for business letters.
  2. Conciseness Conciseness means saying things in the fewest possible words. The elimination of wordy business jargon can help to make a letter clearer and at the same time more concise. If conciseness conflicts with courtesy, then make a little sacrifice of conciseness. Generally speaking, to achieve conciseness, one should try to avoid wordiness or redundancy.
  3. Courtesy Courtesy is not mere politeness. It should hardly be necessary to stress the importance of courtesy in your letters. One of the most important things is promptness. Punctuality will please your customer who dislikes waiting for days before he gets a reply to his letter. Differences are bound to occur in business, but with diplomacy and tact they can be overcome and settled without offence on either side. Remember that it’s nearly always wrong to doubt a statement made in good faith by the other side and even worse to contradict it. In letters we should
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always keep in mind the person we are writing to, see things from his point of view, visualize him in his surroundings, see his problems and difficulties and express our ideas in terms of his experience.
  4. Consideration Consideration emphasizes You-attitude rather than We-attitude. When writing a letter, keep the reader’s request, needs, desires, as well as his feelings in mind. Plan the best way to present the message for the reader to receive.
  5. Correctness Correctness here refers to appropriate and grammatically correct language, factual information and accurate reliable figures, as well as the right forms and conventions. All facts should be checked and double checked. Special attention should also be paid to names of goods, specification, quantity, figures, units, etc.
  6. Concreteness To make the message specific, definite and vivid is the key point of concreteness. The writer must ensure that the letter contains all the information the recipient needs to act upon. Put yourself in reader’s place. It is necessary to check the message carefully before it is sent out.
  7. Completeness Like any other letter, a good business letter should be complete, providing all the information and data necessary for a specific issue. If any necessary piece of information is lacking, the reader will have to ask for clarification, which means that you will have to write another letter. It will not only waste time, energy and money, but also damage the image of your company.

  1.
  2.2
The Structure of Business Letters
Business letter has its special formats. In the formal business letters,we usually use 12 factors. They are letterhead, reference, date, inside address, attention line, salutation, subject line, body, complimentary close, signature, IEC block, postscript. Among them,the return address, date, inside address, salutation, body, complimentary close and signature belong to the standard factors and must be contained in the formal business letters. Whether to use other
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factors depends on the specific situation. The approximate locations of these factors in a business letter are as follows:
Letterhead Reference number
Date
Inside address
Attention line
Salutation
Subject line
Body
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Complimentary close
Signature
IEC block
Postscript
While the horizontal placement of letter parts may vary, the vertical order of these parts is standard. The followings are the most common components and formats.
  1. The Basic Components of Business Letters (
  1) Letterhead For letters to outsiders, many companies use letterhead stationery which
is professionally printed at the top of the page, though some are printed at the bottom or even at the upper-left corner of the page. The letterhead indicates the name, address, telephone, fax number and E-mail address of the company sending the letter. It helps the recipient identify the company from which the sender comes just at a glance. If letterhead stationery is not available, you can type the heading, which includes a return address, and leaves about a two-inch top margin. (
  2)Date Writing date in English goes in two styles: one is American style, and the other is British style. The standard order of typing the date in the U.S. is month, day, year. For example: September 12, 20
  08. While in Britain, the standard order is day, month, year. For example: 12 September, 20
  08. The day can be written or typed in either cardinal numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) or in ordinal numbers (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc.). The month and the year had better not be written in their abbreviation forms, otherwise, it may easily cause confusion. For example, 12/09/2007 in the U.S. would mean December 9, 2007, while in Britain it means 12 September, 20
  07. There is no rule for the date placement. If you use letterhead stationery, place the date
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one to three blank lines beneath the letterhead. If without letterhead, place the date immediately below the return address. (
  3)Inside Name and Address Generally, the inside name and address should include some or all parts of the following: the name of the recipient, the department name, company name, suite or room number, street address, city, postcode, state/province and country. Of all these parts, postcode is very important, it helps to facilitate mechanical mail-sorting. The inside name and address appears on the left margin and usually starts two to four lines below the date. It appears exactly the same way as on the envelope. If the receiver of the letter is in the U.S., the address also includes the name of the state which must be typed in capitalized two letter abbreviation followed by ZIP code. The same way is also used for the provinces and territories in Canadian address. Precede the addressee’s name with a courtesy title (such as Mr., Ms. or Dr.). If you do not know whether a person is a man or a woman, and you have no way to find out, omit the courtesy title and give the full name. The person’s job title can be placed on the same line of the person’s name, or on the line below. Try to square the address as much as possible. If the title appears on the same line, place a comma between the name and the title. If it appears on the next line dispense with the comma. e.g.: ① Mr. Dick Eaton, President ② Ms. Patricia T. Higgins Assistant Vice President If the name of a specific person is unavailable, you may address the letter to the department, followed by the name of the company. e.g.: ① Customer Service Department Acme Construction Company ② Director of Personnel International Trading Co., Ltd. In order to avoid ambiguity, when you write letters to other countries, always include the name of country, even if the city mentioned is the country’s capital. The following examples show all the information that may be included in the inside address. Dr. H. C. Armstrong Research and Development
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Commonwealth Mining Consortium The Shelton Building, Suite 391 353 Second St. SW Calgary, AB T2P Canada Mr. Thom Collins, President 164 Bay Road Liquorland Oklahoma City, OK 73125 U.S.A. (
  4)Salutation The salutation is the polite greeting with which a letter begins. Place it
two lines below the inside address. The salutation should correspond to the first line of the inside address, that is, if the first line of your inside address is a name of a person, the salutation is “Dear + the name”. Its form depends upon your relationship with the receiver. The customary formal greeting in a business letter is “Dear Sir” or “Dear Madam” used for addressing one person; and “Dear Sirs”, “Dear Mesdames” or “Gentlemen” for addressing two or more people. If the addressee is known to you personally, a warmer greeting such as “Dear Mr. Smith” is preferred. Quite often now companies are owned and /or managed by women, and it is more and more customary to use the greeting: Dear Madam or Sir, if you are not sure whether the letter will be read by a man or a woman. If the addressee is a group, use “Ladies and Gentlemen”. Or you may use a polite description, such as “Dear Friends”, “Dear SPA supporters”. End the salutation with a colon, or a comma. (
  5)Body This is the most important part of a letter. It expresses your idea, opinion, purpose and wishes, etc. It usually begins one or two lines below the salutation. Lines within a paragraph should be single-spaced and double-spaced between paragraphs. There is no strict rule regarding the content of the letter, but it usually includes three parts: the opening paragraph, the middle paragraph and the closing paragraph. The opening paragraph refers to any previous correspondence or introduces the purpose of the letter. The middle paragraph(s) supports the opening and/or provides additional information. The closing paragraph is short and serves as a request, suggestion, or look to the future. When writing, pay attention to courtesy, clarity, conciseness, consideration, completeness, concreteness and correctness.
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  6)Complimentary Close
The complimentary close, like the salutation, is purely a
matter of custom and a polite way of bringing a letter to a close. It appears one or two lines below the last line of the body. Capitalize the first word and end with a comma. The expression must match the salutation reflecting the relationship between the sender and the receiver of the letter. The main words in complimentary closure are as follows: sincerely, faithfully, cordially, respectfully and truly. These words may appear in any of these combinations: Yours sincerely, Sincerely yours. The expression used must suit the occasion. (
  7) Signature The writer’s signature consists of a
  •  
 

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