A Few Rules of English Commercial Correspondence

By: J. Mccorquodale

Business communications are becoming increasingly informal as electronic media and the Internet permeate every level of business contacts. It is no longer unusual to receive a business message from someone you have never met addressing you by your first name. Nonetheless, first contacts in the business world are still usually by letter, which is a far more formal medium. It is therefore useful to know the basic rules for business letter writing.

The tone of the letter depends on how you address your correspondent.

While it is better to err on the side of formality if you have never had any dealings with the person in question, French speakers should be careful to avoid starting a letter with simply Sir or Madam unless they wish to be extremely cold or to formulate a complaint of some kind. The usual form of address is either Dear Sir, Dear Mr Smith or Dear Jim - never: Dear Mr Jim Smith.

Unlike in French, the addressee's job title is not mentioned in either the opening of the letter or its closing remarks. Although you can address the Chairman of a company as Dear Chairman, no other job title can be used in this way. It is therefore important to include the addressee's job title under his/her name in the company's address.

Starting the letter:

Dear Sirs,
If you are addressing the company rather than a person within the company.

Dear Sir or Madam,
If you do not know the name of the person who will receive the letter.

Dear Sir, Dear Madam,
If you know the name of the person but wish to remain extremely formal.

Dear Mr, Mrs, Ms, or Miss Smith
If you know the name of the person or have a formal relationship with him/her. Use Ms if you are writing to a woman and do not know her marital status. Although Ms is used increasingly when writing to a woman whether or not you know her marital status, not all women like to be addressed as Ms.

Dear Jim,
If the person is a close business contact, with whom you are already on first name terms, or friend.

Sir, Madam,
Used only for legal communications, formal complaints, letters to the editor, to express anger, etc.


With reference to
your advertisement,
your letter of 20th June,
your phone call,
your enquiry,

Thank you for your
letter of 5th May,

Reason for writing:
I am writing to
enquire about,
apologise for,

Making a request:
I would be grateful if you could......
Giving bad news, formulating a refusal:
I'm afraid that,
I regret

Enclosing documents:
I enclose ...,
Please find enclosed

Closing remarks:
Thanking you in advance,
Thank you for your help,
Please contact us again if
we can help in any way,
you have any questions,
you require additional information,

Reference to future contacts:
I look forward to
hearing from you soon,
meeting you next Tuesday,

Ending the letter:
- For letters beginning Dear Sir, Dear Sir or Madam
Yours faithfully,
- For letters beginning Dear Mr, Mrs, Miss or Ms.
Your sincerely,
- For letters beginning Dear Jim,
Best wishes,
Kind regards,
Warmest regards

If the letter is written on headed notepaper, the lay out should be as given in the example below:

Our ref: sb/132/SD
Your ref: js/vo
Mr. Jim Smith,
Managing Director,
Smith & Sons,
12 Temple Lane,
London WC5 4SN.

Dear Mr Smith,

Yours sincerely,
Sam Jones
Sales Director

In the case of a personal business letter, the sender's address should figure above the date.


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