This issue is about writing business letters by email, which I know, looks a little contradictory. But we now use email daily in business and it raises the questions, when is a letter a letter? Or, what makes a letter a letter?
By definition, a letter is a written communication between parties, usually sent in an envelope. The features of letters are universal ie, they all have sender's and recipient's addresses, signatures, the dates sent and so on.
In recent years the practice of attaching a letter in word processor format to an email message has increased. Some organizations send an email instead of a letter. While I'm sure both practices will become increasingly common, what I have noticed is that when people use email in place of a letter, the standard of presentation sometimes declines .
It seems to me that we could use email instead of letters provided we maintain the degree of formality, the layout and other conventions used in letters. In fact, I used email almost exclusively to deal with communication between my office and job applicants. For example, to acknowledge receipt of their applications, to invite them to interviews, to inform them they had not been successful. My applicants' information kit and related documents made it clear that email would be the main medium for communicating with them. Everyone preferred it because of the many advantages it has, which include:
- It is quick, economic and very effective
- You can request a read receipt so that you know that your email has arrived at its destination and been opened
- One email can be sent to multiple addressees without creating additional pieces of paper, envelopes, postage stamps
- You can ensure that your email is received only by the person to which it was sent ie, it should not end up in the wrong inbox
True, there are several disadvantages of email, the most obvious of which is that it is not secure. However, for most
Business communication, lack of security is not an issue. If it is, then there are encryption protocols one can employ.
If you decide to use email
First, make sure that your clients or colleges are aware that you communicate primarily by email eg, your advertisements, documentation etc can state something like: "Acme Finance prefers to communicate via email". If people know what to expect, there's a better chance they'll give you their email address and they will not be aghast at receiving an email from one of the world's largest or grandest organizations.
Maintain a high standard of communication. Because we use email casually for so many of our messages, it's easy to fall into
The trap of using sub-standard business communication and including such things as emoticons in our messages … severely
Appropriate for a business email.
If possible, have a template made with your firm's colors and logo, address and other contact information. Do not pause
Your email with, "Hi guys" or anything other than you would put in a letter eg, "Dear Mrs Carruthers". Stick to the usual
Letter writing conventions and make sure you have a style guide for staff to use and you should find that your communication is well accepted.
If nothing else, your costs for production and distribution will drop substantially and you should also notice an improvement in business efficiency as email speeds up your daily communication.
Copyright 2005 Robin Henry