The Professional Edge: Writing on the Job
Ready or not, it's time you mastered the basics of business writing: letters and resumés. First, we'll review the characteristics, different purposes, and formats of business letters. Then, I'll teach you how to write the most important kinds of business letters, including good-news letters, bad-news letters, resumés, and cover letters.
The Desk Set
Along with good interpersonal skills, the ability to write well is the single most important factor in promotions and job security. The ability to communicate effectively in writing can also be the decisive factor in a candidate getting a position. Ben Ordover, a division president at CBS, notes, “Many people climbing the corporate ladder are very good. When faced with a hard choice between candidates, I use writing ability as the deciding factor. Sometimes a candidate's writing was the only skill that separated him or her from the competition.”
Say there's an improvement in the company's billing policy—and you're the lucky employee who gets to write the letter about it. Perhaps you need to announce a smaller holiday party or a limit to “Dress-Down Fridays,” or reject a would-be employee. Or it's time to move on and you need to send a cover letter and resumé. Whatever the task, successful professionals know how to write winning letters and resumés. Now you can, too! Here are their secrets.
While no two kinds of business letters are exactly the same, they do share certain features besides their format.
Style and Substance
Business letters are single-spaced on 8 1⁄2 × 11-inch letterhead. There are three different formats you can use: the block style, the modified block style, and the semiblock style. The differences among the three styles depends on paragraph indentations and the placement of headings and closes. Here's the run-down:
Pick one letter style—the block style, the modified block style, or the semiblock style—and stick with it. You're less likely to make mistakes if you're consistent.
Which format should you use for letters you write on the job? The block format is becoming more popular with business communication, while the semiblock format is more commonly used for personal letters or letters that don't carry a company letterhead. In general, match your letter style to the company's letter style.
Here are the guidelines for the block style. Vary them as previously explained if you wish to use the modified block or semiblock style instead.
If you don't know the gender of the person you're addressing, use the person's full name and omit the title. Avoid “Gentlemen” and “Dear Sir,” since they are considered biased language. If you don't have a clue who will be receiving the letter, fall back on the traditional “To Whom It May Concern.”
Appearance Is Reality
Good letter design is more than a matter of looks: It also saves time and money. Letters that are hard to read waste time and create extra work for the recipient. Well-designed letters create customer satisfaction and show that you value the people both inside and outside your organization. Good letter design is just plain good business.
Here's how to make your letters look as professional as they read:
White space is the empty space on a page. It is a key element in all document design.
Times New Roman is a “proportional” font, so-called because each letter is the same size. Courier is not a proportional font, because every letter is a different size. Both of the previous sentences are written in a 12-point font, but notice how much larger Courier appears than Times New Roman.
Good-quality letterhead paper is the writing equivalent of the power suit; it always makes a great impression. Traditionally, local printers typeset letterhead, but a good-quality laser printer and software package can create fine letterhead as well.
Now that you've got the basics, let's explore some of the most common letter-writing situations you're likely to encounter in your professional life, starting with good-news and bad-news letters.
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well © 2000 by Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.