2 Chapter 1: The style and structure of a commercial letter

1. The Style of a Commercial Letter

The Commercial letter is the principal means used by a company to keep in touch with customers; very often it is the only one and customers form their impression of the firm from the tone and quality of the letters it sends out.

Good quality paper and an attractive letter head play their part in this, but they are less important than the message they carry. Business does not call for the elegant language of the poet, but it does require the writer to express himself accurately in a plain language that is clear, concise, courteous and readily understood.

Second to grammatical correctness, achieving an appropriate business style may be the biggest problem for the writer of commercial letters. A sure sign of an inexperienced writer, in fact, is the obvious attempt to sound overly “businesslike”.

As per your request, please find enclosed herewith a check in the amount of $1,649.

Such expressions as “herewith” and “as per” contribute nothing to the message while making the letter sound stilted and stiff.

The first step, then, to writing successful commercial correspondence is to relax. While business letters will vary in tone form familiar to formal, they should all sound natural. Within the limits of standard English, of course, you should try to say things in a “regular” way:

As you requested, I am enclosing a check for $1,649.

If you resist the temptation to sound businesslike, you will end up being more business-minded. The second version of our sample sentence is not only more personal and friendly; it is also more efficient. It uses fewer words, taking less time to write and type as well as to read and comprehend.

With this initial piece of advice in mind, review the following list of words expressions. Then plan to eliminate these terms from your commercial writing vocabulary.

1.1. Expressions in business letters

Instead of:


advise, inform

say, tell, let us know

along these lines, on the order of

like, similar to

at an early date

soon, today, next week

at your earliest convenience

a specific date

at this present time

now, at present

at this writing check to cover

check for


believe, consider

due to the fact that,


because of the fact that


favor, communication

letter, memo, et al

for the purpose of




free of charge


in accordance with

according to

in advance of, prior to


in compliance with

as you requested

in the amount of


in the event that

if, in case



of recent date



person, a specific name


not to be used as an adjective


not to be used as a noun

subsequent to

after, since

the writer, the undersigned


up to this writing

until now

Consider the difference between these two versions of the same letter:

a. Dear Mr. Pendleton,

With reference to your order for a Nashito 35mm camera, we are in receipt of your check and are returning the same.

I beg to inform you that, as a manufacturer, our company sells cameras to dealers only. In compliance with our wholesale agreements, we deem it best to refrain from direct business with private consumers.

For your information, there are many retailers in your vicinity who carry Nashito cameras. Attached please find a list of the said dealers.

hoping you understand.

Yours sincerely,

b. Dear Mr. Pendleton,

We have received your order for a Nashito 35mm camera but, unfortunately must return your check.

As a manufacturer, we sell cameras only to dealers, with whom we have very explicit wholesale agreements.

Nevertheless, we sincerely appreciate your interest in Nashito products. We are, therefore enclosing a list of retailers in your community who carry a full line of our cameras. Any one of them will be happy to serve you.

Sincerely yours,

1.2. Courtesy and Tact

While striving for a natural tone, you should also aim for a positive outlook. Even when the subject of your letter is unpleasant, it is important to remain courteous and tactful. Building and sustaining the goodwill of your reader should be an underlying goal of nearly any letter you write. Even a dificult – to -deal with customer may some day become a paying customer. A simple “please” or “thank you” is often enough to make a mundane letter more courteous. Instead of:

We have received your order.

You might try:

Thank you for your recent order.

Or, in place of the impersonal:

Checking our records, we have verified the error in your November bill

you could help retain a customer by writing:

Please accept our sincere apologies for the error in your November bill.

Saying “we are sorry” or “I appreciate” can do much to build rewarding business relations.

On the other hand, you must be tactful when delivering unpleasant messages. NEVER accuse your reader with expressions like “your error” or “your failure”. An antagonistic letter would say:

Because you have refused to pay your long overdue bill, your credit rating is in jeopardy.

A more diplomatic letter (and therefore one more apt to get results) might say:

Because the $5,200 balance on your account is now over ninety days past due, your credit rating is in jeopardy.

Because the second sentence refrains from attacking the reader personally (and also includes important details), it will be read more openly.

A word of caution is necessary here. Some writers, in an effort to be pleasant, end their letter with sentence fragments:

Looking forward to your early reply.

Hoping to hear from you soon.

Thanking you for your interest.

These participial phrases (note the – ING form in each) should NOT be used to conclude a letter:

We look forward to your early reply.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Thank you for your interests.

Consider the deference between these two versions of the same memo:


TO: Department supervisors Date 1 March, 20…

FROM: Assistant Director

Inform your subordinates:

1. Because so many have taken advantage of past leniency, lateness will no longer be overlooked. Paychecks will be docked as of Monday, March 6.

2. As a result of abuses of employee privileges, which have resulted in exorbitant long distance telephone bills, any employee caught making a personal call will be subject to disciplinary action.

As supervisors, you will be required to enforce there new regulations.


TO: Date 1 March, 20…

FROM: Wanda Hatch, Assistant Director

Unfortunately, a few people have taken advantage of lenient company policies regarding lateness and personal phone calls. As a result, we must all now conform to tougher regulations.

Please inform the members of your department that:

1. Beginning Monday, March 6, the paychecks of employees who are late will be docked.

2. Personal phone calls are no longer permitted.

It is a shame that the abuses of a few must cost the rest of us. But we are asking all department supervisors to help us enforce these new rules.

Courtesy and tact are sometimes achieved by what is called a “you- approach”.

That is, your letter should be reader-oriented and sound as if you share your reader’s point of view. For example:

Please accept our apologies for the delay.

is perfectly polite. But:

We hope you have not been seriously inconvenienced by the delay.

lets your reader know that you care.

This, of course, does NOT mean you should avoid “I” and “we” when necessary. When you do use these pronouns, though, keep a few pointers in mind:

– Use “I” when you are referring to yourself (or to the person who will actually sign the letter).

– Use “we” when you are referring to the company itself.

– DO NOT use the company name or “our company”, both of which, like the terms listed earlier in this chapter, sound stilted. This practice is rather like referring to oneself by one’s name, rather than “I” or “me”.

Also, you should be careful to use your readers’ name sparingly in the body of your letter. Although this practice seems, at first glance, to personalize a letter, it can sound condescending.

Now, compare the two letters that follow, and see if you recognize the features that make the second letter more “you-oriented”.


Dear Mr. Biggs,

Having conducted our standard credit investigation, we have concluded that it would be unwise for us to grant you credit at this time.

We believe that the extent of your current obligations makes you a bad credit risk. As you can understand, it is in our best interest to grant charge accounts only to those customers with proven ability to pay.

Please accept our sincere regrets and feel to continue to shop at Allen’s on a cash basis.

Sincerely yours,


Dear Mr. Biggs,

I am sorry to inform you that your application for an Allen’s charge account has been turned down.

Our Credit Department believes that, because of your current obligations, additional credit might be difficult for you to handle at this time. Your credit reputations is too valuable to be placed in jeopardy.

We will be delighted, of course, to reconsider your application in the future should your financial responsibilities be reduced. Until then, we hope you will continue to shop at Allen’s where every customer is our prime concern.

Sincerely yours,

1.3. Notes on style

One last word about style: a good commercial letter must be well organized. You must plan in advance everything you want to say; you must say everything necessary to your message; and then you must stop. That is, a letter must be logical, complete, and concise.

When planning a letter and before you start to write, jot down the main point you want to make. Then, list all the details necessary to make that point; these may be facts, reasons, explanations, etc. Finally, rearrange your list; in the letter, you will want to mention things in a logical order so that your message will come across as clearly as possible.

Making a letter complete takes place during the planning state, too. Check your list to make sure you have included all the relevant details; the reader of your finished letter must have all the information he or she will need. In addition to facts, reasons, and explanations, necessary information, could also entail an appeal to your reader’s emotions or understanding. In other words, say everything you can to elicit from your reader the response you’d like.

On the other hand, you must be careful not to say too much. You must know when a letter is finished. If a message is brief, resist the temptation to “pad” it; if you’ve said what you have to say in just a few lines, don’t try to fill the letter out. One mistake is to reiterate an idea. If you’ve already offered your thanks, you will upset the logical order and, therefore, the impact of your letter if you end with:

Thank you once again.

Tacking on a separate additional message will similarly weaken the effect of your main point. Imagine receiving for a long overdue bill a collections letter which concludes:

Let us take this opportunity to remind you that our January Sales begin next week, with three preview days for our special charge customers.

Don’t, moreover, give your reader more information than it is needed:

Because my husband’s birthday is October 12. I would like to order the three-piece luggage ensemble in your Fall catalog.

Certainly, an order clerk would much prefer to know the style number of the luggage than the date of your husband’s birth.

In a similar vein, you should strive to eliminate redundant words and phrases from your letters. For example.

I have received your invitation, inviting me to participate in your annual Career Conference.

Since all invitations invite, the words “inviting me” are superfluous. Another common mistake is to say:

The green coloured carpet.


The carpet that is green in colour.

Green is a colour, so to use the word colour is wordy.

Adverbs are often the cause of redundancy:

If we cooperate together, the project will be finished quickly.

Cooperate already means work together, so using the work together is unnecessary.

Also, when one word will accurately replace several, use the one word. Instead of:

Mr. Kramer handled the job in an efficient manner.


Mr. Kramer handled the job efficiently.

1.4. Redundant Expressions

The following list of common redundancies should help you eliminate the problem form your writing.

Don’t use:


and et cetera


as otherwise


at about


attached hereto


avail oneself of


be of the opinion


both alike


both together


check into


connect up


continue on


cooperate together


customary practice


each and every

each or every

enclosed herewith


enter into


forward by post


have a tendency to

tend to

in many instances


in the amount of


in the matter of


in the process of being


in this day and age


inform of the reason

tell why

letter with regard to

letter of

letter with regard to

letter about

new beginner


on account of the fact that


past experience


place emphasis on


place an order for


repeat again


same identical


send an answer


up above


write your name


Now consider the following two sample letters. Notice the redundancies in the first are eliminated in the second.


Dear Mr. Rodriguez,

I am very pleased with the invitations that I received from you inviting me to make a speech for the National Association of Secretaries on June 11. Unfortunately, I regret that I cannot attend the meeting on June 11. I feel that I do not have sufficient time to prepare myself because I received your invitation on June 3 and it is not enough time to prepare myself completely for the speech.

Yours sincerely,


Dear Mr. Rodriguez,

I am pleased with the invitation to speak to the National Association of Secretaries. Unfortunately, I cannot attend the meeting on June11.

I feel I will not have sufficient time to prepare myself because I received your invitation on June 3.

I will be happy to address your organization on another occasion if you would give me a bit more notice. Best of luck with your meeting.

Sincerely yours,

Of course, as you exclude irrelevant details and redundancies, you should be careful NOT to cut corners by leaving out necessary words. For example, some writers, in a misguided attempt at efficiency, omit articles (the, a and an) and preposition:

Please send order special delivery.

The only effect of omitting “the” and “by” here

“Please send the order by special delivery”

is to make the request curt and impersonal.

2. Structure of a Commercial Letter

Before discussing letter content, you must examine letter appearance, for it is the physical condition of a letter that makes the first impression on your reader. Before reading even one word you have written, the reader has formed an opinion based on the way your letter looks – the arrangement, the typing quality, etc.

When you have composed the body of your letter and are ready to type, keep in mind three things:

Typing Letter should be single-spaced with double spacing between paragraphs. Tying should be neat and dark. Errors should not be erased; correction fluid or paper should be used instead.

Paragraphing Paragraph breaks should come at logical points in your message and should also result in an EVEN appearance. A one-line paragraph followed by an eight-line paragraph will look bottom heavy. Paragraphs of approximately the same length will please the eye.

White space In addition to the space created by paragraphing, leave space by centering your letter on the page. An ample margin of white space should surround the message, top and bottom as well as both sides. If a letter is brief, avoid beginning to type too high on the page; if a letter is long, do not hesitate to use an additional sheet of paper. (See Figure 1 for recommended spacing between letter parts).

2.1. Parts of a Business Letter

While the horizontal placement of letter parts may vary (see the next section, “Arrangement Styles”), the vertical order of these parts is standard. Refer to the model letter (Letter Layout 1) as you study the following list of letter parts.

2.2. The Layout

As previously noted, the horizontal placement of letter parts is flexible within the limits of three basic styles. Often, however, a company will have a preferred arrangement style which employees are required to use.

LETTER LAYOUT 1: All letter parts begin at the left margin. It is therefore the fastest traditional arrangement style to type.

LETTER LAYOUT 2: Like letter layout 1, all letter parts begin at the left margin, except the dateline, complimentary closing, company signature, and writer’s identification, which start at the horizontal center of the page. (Options: the dateline may end at the right margin; attention and subject line may be centered or indented five or ten spaces).

LETTER LAYOUT 3: This is the same as a letter layout 2 with one change: the beginning of each paragraph is indented five or ten spaces.

2.3. Punctuation Style

Regardless of punctuation style, the only letter parts (outside of the body) to be followed by punctuation marks are the salutation and complimentary closing. Within the body, the general rules of punctuation apply.

Note: The salutation and closing should be punctuated consistently: either both are followed by punctuation or neither is followed by punctuation.

OPEN: No punctuation is used, except in the body. (Letter Layout 2)

STANDARD: The salutation is followed by a comma and a colon in the USA, the complimentary closing, is followed by a comma. (Letter Layout 3)

Dhannt & Sons Co., Ltd.

315 Newell Str. Birmingham B3 3EL UK

Our ref: LC/dt 24 Sept., 20….

Your ref:


36 Ba Trieu Str.

Hanoi Vietnam

Attn: Ms Ha An

Dear sirs
Re: Order No. TD 5644

Please find enclosed our order No. TD5644 for men’s and women’s sweaters in different sizes, colours and designs.

We have decided to accept the 15% trade discount you offered and terms of payment viz D/P, but would like these terms revised in the near future. Would you please send the shipping documents and your sight draft to Northminster Bank, Deal Street, Birmingham B3 SIQ.

If you do not have any of the listed articles in stock, please do not send substitutes in their place.

We would appreciate delivery within the next six weeks, and look forward to your confirmation.

Yours faithfully

For Dhannt & Sons Co., Ltd.



Import Manager

Enc: Order No. TD 6544

C.C: Mr. Quang Huy

Dhannt & Sons Co., Ltd.

315 Newell Str. Birmingham B3 3EL UK

Our ref: LC/dt 24 Sept., 20….

Your ref:


36 Ba Trieu Str.

Hanoi Vietnam

Attn: Ms Ha Anh

Dear sirs,
Re: Order No. TD 5644

Please find enclosed our order No. TD5644 for men’s and women’s sweaters in different sizes, colours and designs.

We have decided to accept the 15% trade discount you offered and terms of payment viz D/P, but would like these terms revised in the near future. Would you please send the shipping documents and your sight draft to Northminster Bank, Deal Street, Birmingham B3 SIQ.

If you do not have any of the listed articles in stock, please do not send substitutes in their place.

We would appreciate delivery within the next six weeks, and look forward to your confirmation.

Yours faithfully,

For Dhannt & Sons Co., Ltd.



Import Manager

Enc: Order No. TD 6544

C.C: Mr. Quang Huy

Letter Layout 2

Dhannt & Sons Co., Ltd.

315 Newell Str. Birmingham B3 3EL UK

Our ref: LC/dt 24 Sept., 20….

Your ref:


36 Ba Trieu Str.

Hanoi Vietnam

Attn: Ms Ha Anh

Dear sirs
Re: Order No. TD 5644

Please find enclosed our order No. TD5644 for men’s and sweaters in different sizes, colours and designs.

We have decided to accept the 15% trade discount you offered and terms of payment viz D/P, but would like these terms revised in the near future. Would you please send the shipping documents and your sight draft to Northminster Bank, Deal Street, Birmingham B3 SIQ.

If you do not have any of the listed articles in stock, please do not send substitutes in their place.

We would appreciate delivery within the next six weeks, and look forward to your confirmation.

Yours faithfully

For Dhannt & Sons Co., Ltd.



Import Manager

Enc: Order No. TD 6544

C.C: Mr. Quang Huy

2.4. Postscripts

It is advisable to avoid postscripts: when the letter is well planned, all key information will be included in the body. However, when a postscript is required, it is arranged as the other paragraphs in the letter preceded by “P.S.” or “PS”.

P.S. Let me remind you of your special discount on orders for a dozen or more of the same model appliance.

2.5. Special Paragraphing

When the message contains quotation of prices or notation of special data this information is set in a special paragraph indented five spaces on the left and right, preceded and followed by a blank line.

2.6. The Envelope

Envelope addresses are written in a similar way to inside addresses, but for letter in or going to the UK, the post code is usually written offer the name of the city or the town, and the name of both the town and the country are written in capital letter. For example:

a.Mr. G. Penter

49 Memorial Road


Kent BR6 9UA

b.Messrs W. Brownlow Co.

600 Grand Street



In the USA, an envelope should be addressed to correspond with the inside address.

On an envelope, though, the state name may be abbreviated in accordance with the United States Postal Service ZIP-code style. On a standard business-size envelope, the address should be four inches from the left edge, fourteen lines from the top as in the example (c).

In accordance with Postal Service guidelines, the address should be blocked and single-spaced: and it should include the ZIP code one space after the state. Because NO information should appear below the ZIP code special instructions (such as ATT: Mr. Smith or Please Forward should be placed four lines below the return address. Similarly, mailing services, such as Airmail or Certified Mail should be typed below the stamp).

The return address, matching the letterhead, is usually printed on business envelopes.




12207 Sunset Strip

Los Angeles, CA 91417

Ketchum Collection Agency

1267 Hollywood Boulevard

Los Angeles, CA 91401


2.7. Some Final Notes on General Correspondence

Some business firms use Esq. after the name instead of Mr. before it. But never use both e.g.

Mr. John Scare or

John Scare Esq.

Neither of these forms is used when a title is put before a name, e.g.

Dr. Patricia Denham

Prof. Hoang Trong Phien

Sir Herman Black

Short forms of University Degrees are written after the name i.e. MA (master of Arts), MBA (Master of Business Administration), MD (Doctor of Medicine), B. com (Bachelor of commerce); e.g. Michael Cluster, MD; Thu Hong, MBA; Henry Steward, PhD; Gladys Shopper, B.Com.

Messrs. stands for Messieurs. This form is never written in full in English and is widely used for partnerships and limited companies.

Dear is never used with Gentlemen. The form Gentlemen is accepted when the letter is addressed to a committee, a Board of Directors of other public bodies and preferred by Americans.

2.8. Guidelines for Writing

The rules for good commercial letter writing may be summarized as follows:

1. Think first of the reader and address yourself to his interests. Tell him all he wants to know and don’t leave him to read between the lines.

2. Adopt a tone suited to the occasion and to the purpose of the letter.

3. Write naturally, as you would talk, using plain and familiar words.

4. Write clearly and to the point.

5. Write courteously and make your letter sound friendly and sincere.

6. Avoid wordiness, but at the same time remember that it is more important to be clear and courteous even if it means using more words.

7. Avoid commercial jargon with its roundabout meaningless forms of expression.

8. Write effectively by using simple language, by being consistent and precise.

9. Avoid monotony by introducing variety.

10. Write to a plan if your letter is long or especially important

11. Pay special attention to the opening and closing paragraph as first and last impressions leave a special mark on the reader.

12. Check your letter carefully after writing.


1. Answer the following questions:

1. How do you write a commercial letter?

2. What kind of language does it require?

3. What are the main parts of a commercial letter?

4. What does the letterhead contain?

5. How do you write the date?

6. How do you treat the various topics of a business letter?

7. What do you write in the complimentary closure?

8. What does Messrs. stand for? When is it used?

9. When and where Gentlemen is used?

10. Where do you write ref. which stands for reference in your letter?

11. Who is the sender of the model letter?

12. Who is the recipient of the model letter?

13. What is the model letter about?

14. What are enclosed with the model letter?

2. Translate into English

– Địa chỉ và địa chỉ điện báo của Công ty xuất nhập khẩu tạp phẩm là gì?

– Khi viết thư, phải viết rõ ràng dễ hiểu và rất tự nhiên.

– Giấy tốt, hình thức bức thư đẹp rất quan trọng, nhưng quan trọng hơn và quyết định sự thành công hay thất bại của một bức thư lại là nội dung của nó.

– Chúng tôi đã nhận được thư của các ngài đề ngày 20 tháng 3, xin rất cám ơn.

– Chúng tôi tin tưởng rằng những gì chúng tôi đang gửi cho các ngài sẽ có ích cho các ngài.

3. Set out the following dates and addresses according to the given pattern All the letters are written by NAFORIMEX HANOI.

8th March, 20….

Black Co., Ltd.

20 Moorgate Street

London WC2 B21

Great Britain.

Dear Sirs,





Yours faithfully,








House No

Post code


Johnson Co., Ltd





CA 2475


John Eron Co., Ltd.




DE 5863


The sheffield Co., Ltd.




BE 4725


Alford & Son


Carter lane


CB 2040


Smith Co., Ltd.




LE 4472


Johns Co., Ltd.


Carter lane


LC 4123


Schech Shies Co., Ltd.



A. Dipleto


OO 2425







LP 3321


Hoover House (PTE) Ltd.



East Road



4 . Write a letter with the following

– Ngày viết 1-12-20…

– Người gửi Công ty xuất khẩu tạp phẩm, 36 phố Bà Triệu, Hà Nội, đại chỉ điện báo TOCONTAP HANOI, điện thoại: 04 83456362.

– Người nhận: J.C. GIlbert, Ltd. Columbia House, Aldwych, London, W.C. 2, Vương quốc Anh.

– Đại diện cho TOCONTAP HANOI ký thư là ông Nguyễn Thành Quang, chức vụ Tổng Giám đốc.

– Nội dung thư: TOCONTAP HANOI cám ơn thư của bạn hàng đề ngày 21 tháng 11, 20… và mẫu hàng các mặt hàng đã và đang được xuất khẩu sang Đông Âu và châu Á Thái Bình Dương. TOCONTAP sẽ nghiên cứu và rất có thể đặt những đơn hàng mua thử đầu tiên trong tương lai gần.

5. Type this letter in each of the 3 arrangement layouts 1, 2 and 3.

Dateline: July 9.20…

Inside Address: The Middle Atlantic Institute of Technology, 149 Danbury Road, Danbury, Connecticut 50202

Attention Line: Attention dean Claude Monet.

Salutation: Dear Sirs

Subject Line: Educational Exchange


The Commission for Education Exchange between United States and Belgium has advised me to contact your employment assistance.

I received my Doctor’s Degree with a “grandee distinction” from the University of Brussels and would like to teach French (my mother tongue) English, Dutton or German.

My special field is English literature. I wrote my dissertation on James Joyce but I am also qualified to teach language to business students. I have been active in the field of applied linguistics for the past two years at the University of Brussels.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Complimentary Closing: Respectfully yours

Signer’s Identification: Jacqueline Breuer

Reference initials.




Business Correspondence Copyright © by hevopress_ilove. All Rights Reserved.

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