(Linguistic Background of Business Correspondence)

(Linguistic Background of Business Correspondence)

Part IV. Structural and lexical peculiarities of a business letter


Bredgate 51,

DK 1260,

Sender's address Copenhagen K,


9th May 2001


Sounsonic Ltd.,

Warwik House,

Inside address Warwik Street,

(Receiver's address) Forest Hill,

London SE23 1JF



Attention line For the attention of the Sales Manager

Salutation Dear Sir or Madam,

Please would you sent me details of your quadrophonic sound system, which were

advertised in the April edition of "Sound Monthly"?

Body of the letter

I am particular interested in the Omega

range of eguipment that you specialize in.


Complimentary close Yours faithfully,

Ekaterina Gadyukova

Signature E. Gadyukova (Ms)

Per pro p.p. D. Sampson

Company position Sales manager


Enclosure Enc.


1. Structure of a business letter

Sender's address

In correspondence that does not have a printed letterhead, the sender's address is written on the top right-hand side of the page.

In the UK, in contrast to the practice in some countries, it is not usual to write the sender's name before the sender's address.


The date is written below the sender's address, sometimes separated from it by a space. In the cases of correspondence with the printed letterhead, it is also usually written on the right-hand side of the page.

The month in the date should not be written in figures as they can be confusing; for example, 11.01.1998 means 11th January 1998 in the UK, but 1st November 1998 in the US. Nor should you abbreviate the month, e.g. Nov. for November, as it simply looks untidy. It takes a moment to write a date in full, but it can take a lot longer to find a mis-filed letter, which was put in the wrong file because the date was confusing.

Many firms leave out the abbreviation 'th' after the date, e.g. 24 October instead of 24th October. Other firms transpose the date and the month, e.g. October 24 instead of 24 October. These are matters of preference, but whichever you choose you should be consistent throughout your correspondence.

Inside's (or receiver's) address

This is written below the sender's address and on the opposite side of the page, i.e. the left-hand one.

1.     Surname known

If you know the surname of the person you are writing to, you write this on the first line of the address, preceded by a courtesy title and either the person's initial(s) or his/her fist given name, e.g. Mr J.E. Smith or Mr John Smith, not Mr Smith. Courtesy titles used in addresses are as follows:

        Mr (with or without a full stop; the abbreviated form 'mister' should not be used) is the usual courtesy title for a man.

        Mrs (with or without a full stop; no abbreviated form) is used for a married woman.

        Miss (not an abbreviation) is used for an unmarried woman.

        Ms (with or without a full stop; no abbreviated form) is used for both married and unmarried women. Many women now prefer to be addressed by this title, and it is a useful form of address when you are not sure whether the woman you are writing to is married or not.

        Messrs (with or without a full stop; abbreviation for Messieurs, which is never used) is used occasionally for two or more men, e.g. Messrs P. Jones and B.L. Parker) but more commonly forms part of the name of a firm, e.g. Messrs Collier & Clerk & Co.

        Special titles, which should be included in addresses are many. They include:

        academic or medical titles, e.g. Doctor (Dr.), Professor (Prof.)

        military titles, e.g. Captain (Capt.), Major (Maj.), Colonel (col.)

        aristocratic title, e.g. Sir (which means that he is a Knight; not be confused with the salutation 'Dear Sir' and always followed by a given name - Sir John Brown, not Sir J. Brown or Sir Brown), Dame, Lord, Baroness, etc.

        Esq (with or without a full stop; abbreviation for Esquire) is seldom used now. If used, it can only be instead of 'Mr' and is placed after the name, e.g. Bruce Hill Esq., not Mr Bruce Esq.

2. Title known

If you do not know the name of the person you are writing to, you may know or be able to assume his/her title or position in the company, e.g. the Sales Manager, or the Finance Director, in which case you can use it in the address.

3. Department known

Alternatively you can address your letter to a particular department of the company, e.g. The Sales Department, or The Accounts Department.

4. Company only

Finally, if you know nothing about the company and do not want to make any assumptions about the person or the department your letter should go to, you can simply address it to the company itself, e.g. Soundsonic Ltd., Messrs Collier & Clerke & Co.

Order of inside addresses

After the name of the person and/or company receiving the letter, the order and style of addresses in the UK and in the US, is as follows:

British style

American style

1. Inside

Messrs Black & Sons,

159 Knightsbridge,

London SWL 87C

The International Trading Company

24 Churchill Avenue

Maidstone, Kent

ZH8 92B

Address (company)

International Trading Company

Sabas Building

507 A. Flores Street



The American Magazine

119 Sixth Avenue

New York, NY 11011

British style

American style


2. Addressing an individual

The Manager

The Hongkong and Shanghai

Banking Corporation

Main Office

Kuala Lumpur


Dear Sir,

Dear Sirs,

Messrs Mahmound & Son

329 Coast Road

Karachi, Pakistan

3. Addressing an individual


T. Hardy, Esq.,

c/o Waltons Ltd.,

230 Snow Street,

Birmingham, England

Dear Tom,

Miss Claire Waterson

c/o Miller & Sons Pty. Ltd.

Box 309

Sydney NSW 2000


on company business

Mr. C.C. Pan

Far East Jewelry Co.

68 Queen's Road East

Hong Kong

Dear Sir:


The Standard Oil Company

Midland Building

Cleveland, Ohio 44115

on private business

Mr. C. Manzi

Credito Milano

Via Cavour 86



Dear Mr. Manzi,

Continental Supply Company

321 Surawongse



Style and punctuation of addresses

Both the addresses may be 'blocked' (i.e. each line is vertically aligned with the one above) or 'indented', as below:

Bredgade 51,

DK 1269,

Copenhagen K,


There are no rules stating that one style or the other must be used, though blocking, at least in addresses, is more common. In any case you must be consistent, i.e. do not block the sender's address and then indent the inside address.

If punctuation is used, each line of the address is followed by a comma, except the last line. But, the majority of firms now use open punctuation, i.e. without any commas.

'For the attention of'

An alternative to including the recipient's name or position in the address is to use an 'attention of'.

e.g. For the attention of Mr. R. Singh (British English) or

Attention: Mr. E.G. Glass, Jr. (American English)


        Dear Sir opens a letter written to a man whose name you do not know.

        Dear Sirs is used to address a company. Note: in the US - Gentlemen.

        Dear Madam is used to address a woman, whether single or married, whose name you do not know.

        Dear Sir or Madam is used to address a person you know neither the name nor the sex.

        When you do not know the name of the person you are writing to, the salutation takes the form of Dear followed by a courtesy tille and the person's surname. Initials or first names are not generally used in salutations: Dear Mr Smith, not Dear Mr J. Smith. The comma after the salutation is optional.

The body of the letter

This may be indented or blocked. It is as matter of choice. Whichever style you use, you must be consistent and use that style all through the letter.

It is usual to leave a line space between paragraphs in the body of the letter; if the blocked style is used, this is essential.

For the information concerning the linguistic aspect of writing the body of the letter, consult the following chapters of my diploma paper.

Complimentary closes

        If the letter begins with Dear Sir , Dear Sirs, Dear Madam, Dear Sir or Madam, it will close with Yours faithfully.

        If the letter begins with a personal name - Dear Mr James, Dear Mr. Robinson - it will close with Yours sincerely.

        Avoid closing with old-fashioned phrases such as We remain your faithfully, or Respectfully yours, etc.

        Note that Americans tend to close even formal letters with Yours truly or Truly yours, which is unusual in the UK in commercial correspondence. But a letter to a friend or acquaintance may end with Yours truly or the casual Best wishes.

The comma after the complimentary close is optional. The position of the complimentary close - on the right, left or in the center of the page - is the matter of choice. It depends on the style of the letter (blocked letters tend to put the close on the left, indented letters tend to put them in the centre) and on the firm's preference.


Always type your name after your handwritten signature and your position in the firm after you typed signature. This is known as 'the signature block'. Even though you may think your signature is easy to read, letters such as 'a', 'e', 'o', and 'v' can easily be confused.

It is, to some extend, a matter of choice whether you sign with your initial(s), e.g. D. Jenkins, or your given name, e.g. David Jenkins, and whether you include a courtesy title, e.g. Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms. In your signature block. But if you give neither your given name nor your title, your correspondent will not be able to identify your sex and may give you the wrong title when he/she replies. It is safer therefore, to sign to sign with your given name, and safest of all to include your title.

Including titles in signatures is, in fact, more common among women then among men, partly because many women like to make it clear either that they are married (Mrs.) or unmarried (Miss) or that their martial status is not relevant (Ms.), and partly because there is a tendency to believe that important positions in a company can only be held by men. It would do no harm for men to start including their titles in their signatures.

Per pro

The term 'per pro' (p.p.) is sometimes used in signatures and means 'for and on behalf of'. Secretaries sometimes use p.p. when signing a letter on behalf of their bosses.

When writing on behalf of your company, it is useful to indicate your position in the firm in the signature.


If ther are many enclosures, e.g. leaflets, prospectus, etc., with the letter, these may be mentioned in the body of the letter. But many firms in any case write Enc. or Encl. At the bottom of the letter, and if there are a number of documents, these are listed, e.g.


Bill of landing (5copies)

Insurance certificate (1 copy)

Bill of exchange (1 copy)

Some further features of a business letter

1.     'Private and confidential'

This phrase may be written at the head of a letter above salutation, and more importantly on the envelope, in cases where the letter is intended only for ht eyes of the named recipient.

There are many variations of the phrase - 'Confidential', 'Strictly Confidential' - but little difference in meaning between them.

2. Subject title

Some firms open their letters with a subject title (beneath the salutation). This provides a further reference, saves introducing the subject in the first paragraph, immediately draws attention to the topic of the letter, and allows the writer to refer to it throughout the letter.

It is not necessary to begin the subject title with Re: e.g. Re: Application for the post of typist.

3. Copies

        c.c. (= carbon copies) is written, usually at the end of the letter, when copies are sent to people other than the named recipient.

        b.c.c. (=blind carbon copies) is written at the copies themselves, though not, on the top copy, when you do not want the named recipient to know that other people have received the copies as well.

2. Content of a business letter


How long should a letter be? The answer is as long as necessary and this will depend on the subject of the letter.

It may be a simple subject, e.g. thanking a customer for a cheque, or quite complicated, e.g. explaining how a group insurance policy works. It is a question of how much information you put in the letter: you may give too little (even for a brief subject), in which case your letter will be too short, or too much (even for a complicated subject), in which case it will be too long. Your style and the kind of language you use can also affect the length. The right length includes the right amount of information.

The three letters that follow are written by different people in reply to the same enquiry from a Mr. Arrand about the company's product:

1. Too long

Dear Mr. Arrand,

Thank you very much for your enquiry of 5 November which we receive today. We often receive enquiries from large stores and always welcome them, particularly at this time of the year when we know that you will be stocking for Christmas.

We have enclosed our winter catalogue and are sure you will be extremely impressed by the wide range of watches that we stock. You will see that they range from the traditional to the latest in quartz movements and include ranges for men, women and children, with prices that should suit upper-market bracket priced at several hundred pounds. But whether you buy a cheaper or more expensive model we guarantee all merchandise for two years with a full service.

Enclosed you will also find our price-list giving full details on c.i.f. prices to London and explaining our discounts which we think you will find very generous and which we hope will take full advantage of.

We are always available to offer you further information about our products and can promise you personal attention whenever you require it. This service is given to all our customers throughout the world, and as you probably know, we deal with countries from the Far East to Europe and Latin America., and this fact alone bears out our reputation which has been established for more than a hundred years and has made our motto a household world - Time for Everyone.

Once again may we thank you for your enquiry and say that we look forward to hearing from you in the near future?

Yours sincerely,

There are a number of things wrong with a letter of this sort. Though it tries to advertise the products and the company itself, it is too wordy.

There is no need to explain that stores or shops are stocking for Christmas; the customer is aware of this. Rather than draw attention to certain items the customer might be interested in, the letter only explains what the customer can already see, that there is a wide selection of watches in the catalogue covering the full range of market prices.

In addition, the writer goes on unnecessarily to explain which countries the firm sells to, the history of company and its rather unimpressive motto.

2. Too short

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your enquiry. We have a wide selection of watches which we are sure you will like. We will be sending a catalogue soon.

Yours faithfully,

There are number of points missing from this letter, quite apart from the fact that, since the writer knew the name of his correspondent he should have begun the letter Dear Mr Arrand and ended Yours sincerely. There is no reference to the date or reference number of the enquiry.

Catalogues should be have sent with a reply to the enquiry; it is annoying for a customer to have to wait for further information to be sent. Even if a catalogue is sent, the customer's attention should be drawn to particular items that would interest him/her in the line of business. He/she might be concerned with the upper or lower end of the market. He might want moderately priced items, or expensive ones.

3. The right length

Here is a letter that is more suitable:

Dear Mr Arrand, Thank you for your enquiry of 5 November.

We have enclosed our winter catalogue and price-list giving details of c.i.f. London prices, discounts and delivery dates.

Though you will see we offer a wide selection of watches, may we draw your attention to pp. 23-28, and pp. 31-37 in our catalogue, which we think might suit the market you are dealing with? And on page 34 you will notice our latest designs in pendant watches, which are becoming fashionable for both men and women.

As you are probably aware, all our products are fully guaranteed and backed by our world-wide reputation.

If there is any further information you require, please contact us. Meanwhile, we look forward to hearing from you soon.

Yours sincerely,

: 1, 2, 3

2009 .