Your first job in writing any letter is to gain your reader’s attention. It’s an important principle of effective writing to put the most important information first. Your opening paragraph is both the headline and the lead for the message that follows in the rest of the letter.
Don’t weigh down the front of your letter with boring repetition of information that your reader already knows. Many letters fail to start well because they follow the standard paragraph of every business letter.
Here are some typical examples of openings in business letters
•Thank you for your letter of 8th March 1998, which has been passed to me for my attention.
•I refer to previous correspondence in respect of the above and note that to date we have not received your cheque for the outstanding arrears.
•I write with reference to our telephone conversation yesterday regarding the above matter.
Starting with a reference to the incoming letter is weak and wastes your reader's time. Most readers skip it, looking to the second and third paragraphs to get the answer to their questions. If you step right into your subject in the first paragraph, you’ll show your reader you do not intend to waste valuable time. So get rid of any opening reference to the reader's letter and answer the most important question or give the most relevant information in your first sentence.
Make your first paragraph do something other than just referring to known information—so plunge straight into your message and don’t waste your reader’s time.
For example, you could
• answer a question
• ask a question
• explain an action taken
• express pleasure or regret
• give information
As the opening paragraph sets the tone for your letter, try to avoid using tired phrases that are wordy, give little information and create a formal and impersonal tone. Using the classic business-speak opening of Further to... almost guarantees the rest of the letter will be a typical, long-winded, standard piece of business writing.
These opening phrases are so popular because we don’t have to think of what to write.
Watch out for standard phrases in opening paragraphs. Examples are:
• Further to my recent
• I am writing
• I refer to my letter dated
• I refer to previous correspondence
• I write in reference to
• In respect of the above
• Recent correspondence
• With reference to
• With regards to
So be sure your opening paragraph sets the right tone for your letter. Be direct and use your words positively so your reader has a good impression from the beginning of your letter. Decide what is the most important information—and put it in the your first paragraph. Don’t be afraid to start your letter strongly.
Writing a strong close to your business letter
If the average business letter starts poorly, then it invariably finishes poorly. Your closing paragraph should bring your letter to a polite, businesslike close. Typical final paragraphs in business letters invite the reader to write again or use overused and meaningless phrases that detract from the impact of the letter. Take a look at these examples of good closing sentences for business letters:
•I would again apologise for the delay in replying and I trust that this has clarified the points you have raised, however, if you wish to discuss any points I have not clarified, or need any further information, you may wish to telephone or contact me accordingly.
•I look forward to hearing from you and in the meantime, should you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact me.
•I regret that I cannot be of more assistance in this matter, and should you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Your last paragraph should do something. In a longer letter it can summarise the key points or repeat the key message. If some action is needed, explain what you want the reader to do or what you will do. Use positive words such as when not if.
Make sure you avoid using weak phrases and overused business phrases in your closing paragraph.
• Thanking you for your...
• Hoping for a prompt reply...
• Thanking you in advance for your assistance...
• Trusting this answers your questions...
• Please do not hesitate to contact me
• I trust this clarifies the situation
End your letter positively and politely. Don’t leave your reader in mid-air, but use the final paragraph to explain or repeat what you want your reader to do.
Look at these examples from typical business letters and you’ll see how removing the business clichés changes the tone of the sentence. The originals have a formal and impersonal tone; the redrafts sound more personal and genuine.
We trust this is satisfactory, but should you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact us.
We hope you are happy with this arrangement but if you have any questions, please contact us.
Further to your recent communication. Please find enclosed the requested quotation…
Thank you for contacting us. I enclose the quotation you asked for…
Hackneyed business phrases ruin a clear natural style; so avoid using them and choose your own words instead
Business letter writing checklist
When you write a business letter, use this checklist to remind you of the key principles of effective letter writing.
Keep it Short
• Cut needless words and needless information.
• Cut stale phrases and redundant statements.
• Cut the first paragraph if it refers to previous correspondence.
• Cut the last paragraph if it asks for future correspondence.
Keep it Simple
• Use familiar words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
• Keep your subject matter as simple as possible.
• Keep related information together.
• Use a conversational style.
Keep it Strong
• Answer the reader's question in the first paragraph.
• Give your answer and then explain why.
• Use concrete words and examples.
• Keep to the subject.
Keep it Sincere
• Answer promptly.
• Be human and as friendly as possible.
• Write as if you were talking to your reader.