English for Business and Office Purposes Anno accademico

Anno accademico
English for Business and Office Purposes1
- How to Write Business Letters and Emails
Dott.ssa Catherine L. Farwell
Copia aggiornata e ampliata (2008) di materiale pubblicato dall’autrice nei Quaderni
di economia, matematica e statistica, Facoltà di Economia, Università degli Studi di
Urbino “Carlo Bo”, Quaderno/Working Paper n.89, 2004.
Instructions and Background Information
Regarding the Reading Passage and Comprehension Exercise
‘The Fundamentals of Business Writing’
Read the passage and then answer the comprehension questions that follow; you will find an answer
key at the end to check your understanding of the piece.
Background Information
The business letter theory reading passage at the beginning of this section was originally developed
in 2007 for the University of Urbino Applied Computer Science (STI) online degree course. Thus,
the reading passage, comprehension exercise and answer keys have been left inside their original
Applied Computer Science templates to thank the STI for allowing the author of this Dispensa to re-use
them, since it published this © copyright material and therefore retains the rights thereto.
Instructions for the use of the writing exercises
The materials herein simulate the writing section of the Business English Certificate (BEC) offered
by the University of Cambridge ESOL exams commission (U.K.) The linguistic level is that of the
Vantage exam – or level B2 on the Council of Europe2 scale.
However these materials are less ‘neutral’ in style than BEC materials, i.e. reference is made to noglobal protests and employee reassignment within a firm which has undergone a merger.
Thus the present materials are slightly longer and more difficult to handle than the standard BEC
writing exam material. This fact makes the materials more appropriate for a University course for
students of economics and business subjects, therefore, helping them to somewhat over-prepare for
an eventual BEC Vantage test.
The B2 and other linguistic levels are outlined in the Quadro Comune Europeo di Riferimento per le lingue del
Consiglio d'Europa (CEFR).
Applied Computer Science
Urbino Worldwide Campus
Reading “The Fundamentals of Business Writing”
When you have to write to someone regarding a non-personal topic in English (here, we
specifically talk about “Business Writing”), the first question that you should ask yourself is “Will
I be writing to someone who works inside my company, or someone who works in some way
with my company—such as a supplier3, or will I instead be writing to someone outside of my
work environment?”.
Depending on the answer, you will find some advice below on how to write a letter or
message that communicates your purpose in terms of both its form and content. How do we know
whether something we write is appropriate both in form and content? Well, every language has
its own way of codifying4 what proper business writing looks and “sounds” like; the codified
phrases are often called “formulas”. Therefore formulas should be memorized and repeated over
and over again, exactly as you learn them. By using appropriate formulas at the right point in your
business writing, you use an organizational code that helps people to immediately understand
exactly what you want to say. Don’t try to “combine” formulas or improvise your own, as that
only leads to trouble when you are writing to someone who can’t see your face or hear your voice.
It’s true: business letters are indeed the rigid discipline that they seem…so save your creativity for
situations in your professional life that do not involve letter writing!
Another word of introduction before we go any further: many people who are preparing to
work or have just found their first job are confused about how to write business messages with
email. In reality, the “traditional” business letter rules still apply to email messages. Young
writers particularly tend to make mistakes, as they associate a specific ICT medium—a p.c.—with
other, much less formal writing situations like participating in “chat conversations” and
exchanging emails with friends.
So just what are those “traditional” business letter rules? We can now return to addressing
our very first question about who we are writing to.
If the person you are writing to works in your same company or has worked with your
company for a long time, like a supplier, then you can follow these guidelines for informal
business writing:
1. Start the message without an opening salutation5;
© 2007 CLIL staff
A supplier = a company from which your company buys something which it then re-sells to the final customer;
sometimes there is an intermediate step in this process, i.e. your company buys a piece or a component from a supplier,
which it uses to manufacture the product that it sells to the final customer.
To codify = to make something a defined rule, ex “a grammar rule” or a “rule of usage”; the formulas mentioned are
“rules of usage.”
The most common opening salutation in English is “Dear Mr. Rossi/Dear Ms. Bianchi/Dear Dr. Verdi, etc).
Applied Computer Science
Urbino Worldwide Campus
2. To ask someone you work with to do something it’s not necessary to use conditional
verbs, but you must still use courtesy forms like please before imperative verbs, i.e.
“Please send me the sales figures for this month by 2:00 p.m.”;
3. It’s acceptable to abbreviate in informal written messages, i.e. I’ll instead of “I
4. It’s not necessary to use a closing sentence formula or closing salutation like “Best
Regards” (but it’s alright if you do).
If, on the other hand, the person you are writing to works outside of your company, then
you should following the following, quite different, set of guidelines for formal business
1. Always start the message with an opening salutation; there are two versions
according to whether you: (a) know the name of the person you are writing to;
(b) only know the name of the company and the professional title of the person you
want to write to.
Most situations resemble example (a), that is you have a person’s name. In that case,
the opening salutation must be “Dear Mr. / Mrs. / Ms6. / Dr. + the person’s family
name” (see footnote 6 below);
(b) If you only know you are writing to—say —the ICT Manager of a company, then
open your letter or email with the words “Dear Sir / Madam, ”. Never vary from this
formula, because you don’t know whether the ICT Manager is a man or a woman;
putting both “Sir / Madam” guarantees that the person who’s reading will not feel
© 2007 CLIL staff
Note that Ms. is the neutral title for an adult woman whose marital status you do not know (so it’s like Mr., which is
also a neutral title for adult men). In the English-speaking world the title “Miss” is no longer used much, except when
writing to girls under 18 years of age. Some exceptions exist, so if you correspond with someone who emphasises her
unmarried status by signing her name as Betty Cole (Miss) then you should address her in future letters or emails as
Dear Miss Cole. Cases like this have become rare, however, at least in business situations. Again: using the neutral
title Ms. + family name is the most useful title for women you don’t know.
Until the mid-1970s, the most popular similar opening salutation was Dear Sirs, but with the entrance of many more
women into the work world, this has been solidly replaced with the modernised “ Dear Sir / Madam,”.
Applied Computer Science
Urbino Worldwide Campus
2. The easiest way to start the main body of any business letter is to use the formula
“With reference to … + whatever it is that you are writing about (i.e. “With
reference to + your letter dated 15 October, 2007”, “ + your catalogue item
HY469”, “ + our telephone conversation earlier today”, “ + our distribution
agreement”, etc.).
3. Always dedicate a separate paragraph to each separate topic;
4. Never abbreviate words;
5. And—if you have to ask someone to do something—always use conditional verbs to
do it, i.e. “We would like to receive a copy of your latest price list”, “Could you
send us a copy of your most recent price list?”, etc.;
6. Always close your letter with a formulaic sentence. A popular one is “Looking
forward to verb+ing” (where the thing that you expect will be the result of the letter
is mentioned, i.e. “Looking forward to receiving your reply”, or “Looking forward
to hearing from you”, or “Looking forward to seeing you at the upcoming Trade
7. Finally, if you know the name of the person you are writing to then (a) use the
closing salutation “Yours sincerely”; if you did not use a name, i.e. you wrote Dear
Sir / Madam, then use (b) the closing salutation “Yours faithfully”.
8. Write your name underneath the closing salutation as follows: Your name Your
family name;
9. Write your professional title underneath your name, if you are writing for work
The above are some general guidelines to writing informal and formal business letters or
email messages in English.
In closing, any good business letter manual can give you many
examples of real letters on different topics to complete your knowledge of this subject. Here is the
name of a popular business writing book, in case you don’t already own such a manual:
Shirley Taylor, Model Business Letters, E-mails & Other Business Documents, Pearson
Education Limited Ed., 2004.
© 2007 CLIL staff
Applied Computer Science
Urbino Worldwide Campus
Reading “The Fundamentals of Business Writing ” (exercise)
Question 1: Why should you ask yourself who you are writing to before starting a letter or
a) There are different rules for informal and formal writing.
b) There are different rules for people of different ages.
c) There is not enough information to answer.
ANSWER _______________
Question 2: Which group of writers tends to make mistakes when they first start producing
business letters?
a) Elderly people.
b) Young people.
c) Middle-aged people.
ANSWER _______________
Question 3: What single element always varies according to whether you are writing informally
or formally ?
a) The use of a subject line.
b) The use of an address.
c) The use of abbreviation.
ANSWER _______________
Question 4: In which context should you always use the conditional form for verbs ?
a) In formal letters and emails.
b) In “business informal” letters and emails.
c) There is not enough information to answer.
ANSWER _______________
Question 5: Where, on the page, should you put the line with the date?
a) Above the subject line at the top.
b) Below your signature at the bottom.
c) The reading passage does not mention this.
ANSWER _______________
© 2007 CLIL staff
Applied Computer Science
Urbino Worldwide Campus
Reading “The Fundamentals of Business Writing”
(key to exercise)
1) a.
b – Young people. The passage states that “Young writers particularly tend to make
mistakes, as they associate a specific ICT medium—a p.c.—with other, much less
formal writing situations like participating in ‘chat conversations’ and exchanging
emails with friends.”
c – The use of abbreviation.
4) a.
c. There is not enough information to answer.
© 2007 CLIL staff
Question 1
 You are currently involved in a work project; it was scheduled for completion
by the end of next week, but there has been a delay.
Hand-write a message to your project supervisor:
 Apologising for the delay
 Explaining what caused the delay
 Explaining that you need another 10 days to complete the project.
Your message should be 40-50 words long.
Write your message below.
Question 2
 Read the extract of a letter below from Dr. Smith, the director of a Master’s
degree Course at a local University.
Our Master’s Degree course is trying to locate firms interested in taking students for a
brief job placement experience. Would your company possibly be interested in taking two
students for a two-month period, so that they can become more familiar with the work
world? It would not be necessary to pay the students, of course.
Thanking you for your time and looking forward to hearing from you,
Yours faithfully,
Dr. Sybil Smith
Write a letter to Dr. Smith
 Saying that you can take from one up to three students.
Briefly explaining the type of work your firm does and the type of work the job
placement students will do.
Explaining that she should telephone you next week to arrange the final details
Write 120-140 words.
Write below, sign your own name and do not include any postal addresses.
Question 1
 You are a top supervisor in a small eyewear design firm that has just concluded
negotiations to merge with a much larger firm in the sector, LuxuryOptics, Ltd.
Write an email message to all employees:
 Informing them of the merger.
Explaining that no employees will lose their jobs as a result (indeed, some will
receive promotions).
 Asking employees to send a C.V. to the Human Resources Division, to allow the
re-assignment of jobs within the new company.
Your message should be 40-50 words long.
Write your message below.
Question 2
 You work in the Public Relations department of a large multinational firm that
is currently considering entering the Pakistani market.
 Look at the letter below, offering you a video and manual on how to
diplomatically deal with protesters who fear that globalisation always damages the
world economy.
To whom it may concern,
Please find enclosed some informational material and prices relative to our latest video and
manual entitled:
“Understanding and Neutralising No-Global Protests against Your Firm”
These materials were developed with considerable in-put from social forum participants, as
well as leading workplace psychologists, so that you can understand the concerns of NoGlobal protesters. This information can help you begin peaceful, fruitful talks with
protesters concerning the advantages that your firm’s presence can bring to local
economies around the world.
Looking forward to receiving your order, and remaining at your disposal for any
additional information that you may require,
William Willis
CML Publications
San Francisco,
Write a letter to Mr Willis
 Saying that you are interested in the materials.
Asking him for a list of names of other multinational firms that have already
adopted this approach.
Explaining that, if you are satisfied, you will purchase numerous copies for all
of your firm’s world offices (tell him how many there are).
Write 120-140 words.
Write below, sign your own name and do not include any postal addresses.
Question 1
 You are the Vice-Director of a bank with sixteen small branch offices which are
geographically rather far from one another. The bank’s Board of Directors has just
decided that all window clerks must attend IT lessons, so that they can better deal
with customers’ frequent questions about using the new online banking system.
Write a memorandum to all the bank branch Managers:
 Informing them of the Board’s decision.
 Explaining why the Information Technology teacher will travel around the
different branches during the upcoming month (instead of holding classes at the
bank headquarters).
 Asking the managers to gather information about the best days for the course at
their branch, and then email the information to you a.s.a.p.
Your message should be 40-50 words long.
Write your message below.
Question 2
 You are the owner of a small ice cream factory that employs 200 people.
 Look at the letter below, in which a woman living in the neighbourhood close to
your production site complains about the noise generated when workers leave the
plant after the late shift.
Dear Ms/Mr [your name],
I am writing to express my irritation about the loud voices of your workers as they leave the
plant after the 1:00 a.m. shift. Honestly, you’d think it was mid-day the way they shout “goodnight!” to one another before getting into their cars!
I am a former schoolteacher and a pensioner and already have trouble sleeping at night, so you
can imagine how frustrating this situation is for me.
Therefore, I am expecting to hear from you as soon as possible, and particularly in learning
how you intend to solve this problem.
Yours Sincerely,
Mrs Edna Simpson
P.S. : I do occasionally enjoy a dish of your ice cream. It’s delicious, I must admit!
Write a letter to Mrs Simpson
Apologising for the disturbance.
 Saying that you were not aware of the problem (your firm recently received the
“Good Business Neighbour” award from the Neighbourhood Association in which it
is located).
Promising that you will speak to the workers about the problem and take
other steps to keep the noise level down (give one example of such an additional
Write 120-140 words.
Write below, sign your own name and do not include any postal addresses.