Business Documents

Every business uses written documents to accomplish work. The first rule of success is to follow the organization’s rules–both explicit and implicit. Pay attention to how others use various documents. The first time you complete a document, it’s useful to ask for a sample. Look carefully at the details, and try to write like your professional colleagues do.

Email is one of the most commonly used forms of written communication in the business world, but business email is very different from social email or a text message. Email was first invented to replace the memo, and for business purposes its format, style, and content mimic those of the traditional memo (discussed below). Email has now replaced printed business letters and internal memos for many purposes, as well as face-to-face conversations and phone calls. For this reason, business emails are similar to these other forms of business communication, and the basic principles of a businesslike communication style must be observed.

A competent professional will use the proper document format, select appropriate message content, and follow the business rules of email etiquette.

There are also technical aspects to the effective and competent use of email, as well as political and legal repercussions when the technology is misused. Be careful with email in a business setting, and carefully abide by any company policies regarding its use.

Email SampleCapture

Header

This is system-generated information, but it is the sender's responsibility to make sure full information is generated by the system.

To: Make sure the address is entered correctly or the email will not be received. The address book feature will help you keep track of important email addresses, but don't trust autocomplete to select the right one. READ the entry to make sure the email is going to the right person and that it's the person's correct email address.

From: Your own email address should be mature and businesslike, preferably simple and including your last name. Avoid an email address that is humorous or advertises a nickname or hobby. The Reply To box should be completed so that a receiver sees your first and last name.

Subject line:
The recipient will use the subject line to determine the relevance and importance of your message. Provide a short, clear, and complete summary of the email content. The reader should know what the email is about without opening it.

Titles like "Important: Must Read! Do Not Delete!" provide no information. Many recipients will assume such emails are spam and delete them immediately. An example of a better subject line is " PRP Level 2, Makeup for Week 5."

If your email is urgent, a more useful subject line would provide the content as well as a deadline: "Johnson Contract Signature Needed by 2/3/12."

The subject acts as a title and should be capitalized. Pay careful attention to spelling and punctuation.

Cc and Bcc:
Carbon and Blind Carbon Copies are used to include people in an email who need to know of the correspondence but are not responsible for the actions being discussed. They are not expected to reply to the email.

Use the "BCC" option with caution. It is generally considered impolite, perhaps even unethical, to send an email without disclosing who will receive the message. However, this tool can be appropriately used to create a file copy or to avoid a long list of "CC" addresses when sending a message to many people at once. It is also appropriate to insure the privacy of those receiving a mass email.

Salutation:
A salutation should begin your email. In formal situations such as email to clients, new associates or superiors, use an honorific and the last name as you would in a business letter (for example, "Dear Mr. Jones"). Don't use "spam" greetings like "Dear Sir or Madam,", or "To Whom it May Concern." For close colleagues and co-workers, a more informal salutation might be just the person's first name.

Paragraphs:
Begin your email with a SHORT paragraph to summarize the purpose and content of the email. The last sentence of this paragraph should briefly state what action you wish the recipient to take. A reader should be able to read ONLY the first paragraph to get a brief version of the entire message.

Use additional paragraphs to add the detail for the points you are making. Use clear, concise language and only give the necessary information.

Use block format and leave a blank line between paragraphs for easier reading.

Closing:
The closing of your email will vary with the formality of the situation. In formal emails, close as you would with a business letter. "Sincerely," or "Best regards," are common examples. For informal emails, type your initials or first name above the system-generated signature.

Signature:
A system-generated signature will include your full name, title, company name and complete contact information, including the email address as well as phone number and mailing address. Often the signature will also include an image of the company's logo and a legally- required confidentiality statement.

The Message

When email is chosen as the best mode of communication, remember to utilize email's most positive attribute: efficiency. Emails are all about giving the exact right amount of information (not too much, not too little) to all the right people simultaneously. It is important to make your emails productive.

Although email is universal, efficient, and affordable it does have the downfall of replacing face-to-face and verbal communication. Remember that these two methods of communication are better for building relationships and are less likely to create misunderstandings based on assumed tone or intention. When possible, try to pick up the phone or schedule a meeting to maintain strong working relationships with co-workers, employers, and clients.

Try to keep emails short enough to be read in one screen shot. If it can't be read in less than a couple of minutes, most people will flag it to be read later, and later may not come for days.

Conversational emails

Although many emails are relatively formal, the speed of email means co-workers can have a sort of electronic conversation, zapping short questions and answers back and forth (Munter, Rogers, & Rymer, 2003). These emails are likely to be perceived as inappropriately formal if they are written in memo style, and they instead follow the style of text messaging. In a conversational email, there is no context paragraph. Instead, just the immediate response to the conversation partner is included. This means conversational emails make sense only when reading the entire series of messages, which is usually included as a series of previous messages. The overall document has been called a "mosaic" message (Yates & Orlikowski, 1992). Like texts, conversational emails often exhibit less concern for spelling or grammar errors, since both parties understand that the intended genre is more like a conversation than like a memo.

This conversational technique avoids the work and repetition of a contextualizing paragraph for each email, but the mosaic can become cumbersome if the email exchange extends too long and a recipient must scroll through many lines of attached text to find the context. Further, if the conversation is later sent to an outsider, misunderstandings can be huge -- not to mention the embarrassments of unprofessional spelling, punctuation and language.

Finally, the whole point of an email, like the memo, is to create a permanent copy of the message....the exact opposite of the conversational point of quick, text-like messages. The bottom line: when you really should be texting, IM chatting, or picking up the phone, don't use email instead.

Timeliness

Perhaps the most important factor in polite email is that it be answered in a timely way. The first step is to check your company email account regularly. For most business professionals this means at least once per day, and more often at two or three regular times, such as first thing in the morning, right after lunch, and just before leaving for the day. (For a UNIBusiness student, this means monitoring your UNI email address regularly!)

Email should be answered within 24 hours in most industries, although the expectations can vary. In some companies, people are expected to respond within a couple of hours or to respond to every email by the end of the work day.

Selecting the correct recipient

The "To" line in an email header offers three choices, and in a business setting the selection tells a great deal about who is responsible for the work being discussed, who reports to whom in the organization, and who has access to sensitive pieces of information. Forwarding mail adds audience members to the email that might or might not have been intended, and choosing between reply or reply-all involves several more choices about who should be reading the email. You can be in trouble if you don't copy the right people, but you can also be considered impolite if you unnecessarily fill people's mailboxes with too much junk email or too many large attachments. All in all, there are a lot of politics involved in deciding who is the proper audience for an email!

Attachments
One of the great advantages of electronic communication is the ease with which images, spreadsheets, video and audio data, and graphic representations can be sent. Unfortunately, businesses do not always have email software, download speed, or server space to handle it all. Unless you have made previous arrangements to send such materials, it is best to avoid graphics, html, and large attachments in your emails. Information too large for a client's or colleague's system, can be delivered through a website or cloud service provided in the body of the email.

Forwarding email
Generally, an email response will include the original email, and it is common to forward emails along to others for action or comment. This allows a reader to refer easily to the original question. Often an entire series of emails will be forwarded to multiple readers.

Avoid sending unedited text unless there is a reason the recipient needs to see the whole message. Instead, clip what you want to "quote," leaving the '>' marks at the beginnings of each line so the reader can easily determine what has been forwarded. The new message is placed at the TOP of the forwarded section, and a message should never be forwarded without a contextualizing note to explain why it has been sent.

Auto signatures on forwarded emails can be placed at the end of the note (generally preferred) or the end of the entire email.

NEVER forward someone else's email without checking the entire email for old messages, additional forwards, and advertisments which might be confidential or inappropriate for the recipient of the forwarded email. People have been known to ferret out client and vendor relationships by seeing who emailed whom across a chain of forwarded messages, and such a security breach could get an individual fired.

If you do forward someone else's mail, check his or her signature carefully for disclaimers or privacy requests and delete any inappropriate information.

DO NOT send chain mail or mass forwards. This is incredibly unprofessional.

Mailing lists
Most email programs will accommodate shortcuts so that one email can be sent to several addresses at once, and many teams or workgroups will use this feature to facilitate their internal communication. Electronic discussion software is more often used to create permanent electronic discussions among larger groups of people.

E-discussions are used by many organizations to facilitate the quick and complete distribution of ideas, promote problem sloving among widely scattered members of the organization, and allow people with similar interests or concerns to network.

Employees included on the list can be kept informed about a wide variety of topics that pertain to their position or industry. Individuals who have questions can post them to the discussion, which might consist of hundreds or even thousands of people scattered all over the world. Those who have relevant information are obligated to answer the questions that others ask. Even though a message might be addressed to a specific person, all members of the discussion are expected to contribute.

Most e-discussions are archived, and the messages become part of the organizational knowledge base.

Because of the frequency and efficiency of use, email can often be seen as an informal communication tool. While informal language and format is acceptable when emailing friends and family, it is important to maintain a level of maturity when emailing within the work environment. Maintaining acceptable email etiquette creates a sense of professionalism that recipients will associate with your character. If your emails are unprofessional, people will assume you are as well. Here are a few basic rules of email etiquette:

    Emails should be as short as possible without losing clarity. Don't use three words when one will do.

    Always re-read your email before sending it. Punctuation, spelling, and capitalization mistakes look unprofessional and make the sender appear unintelligent.

    Email is not text messaging; make sure to spell out the entire word ("you" rather than "u" and "are" rather than "r", etc.) and use punctuation correctly ("I'm" instead of "im", etc.). Do not type in all lower case or all upper case.

    Use bulleted lists and shorter sentences, which are both helpful and appropriate for quick reading.

    Avoid elaborate fonts and bright colors in text. Stick with black or navy and simple, easy-to-read font styles. Don't assume that every reader can see the fancy tricks your own email might be able to perform.

    Avoid using all caps or exclamation points - this is known as "shouting" and will make your email seem angry or phony. Keep your email tone as neutral as possible to avoid the potential for assumptions on the part of the recipient. This is where most misunderstandings in email communication begin.

    Always use a salutation and signature. Although emails are meant to be efficient, these polite gestures help to avoid sounding rude and demanding.

    Don't create junk! Information overload is a real problem, and it is impolite to add to the clutter. Don't send routine acknowledgments or thank you's. Unless an email requires a response, it is not appropriate to send another email in return just to be sociable. End with "thanks in advance" when asking for information, if your personal style requires that level of politeness (Cohen, 2002).

    Be judicious when setting your auto reply feature. This can be a great way to let your correspondents know basic information without responding immediately, especially when you will be unavailable for a substantial period of time, but everyone does not need to know that you will be out of the office for a couple of hours.

A typical memo is a one-page, internal document used to present material on a single topic. Traditionally, printed memos were used for virtually all internal written communication, but have now been replaced by email. In general, professional emails adhere to the same format and style expectations of the memo.

Memos can be used for giving instructions, providing information, proposing new action or policies, or for summarizing a problem or decision issues. Memos are, by definition, internal documents. Their purpose is to communicate consistent information or instructions across multiple audiences within a company.

Perhaps most important, a memo is understood by everyone to be both official and permanent. A conversation or meeting has automatic status as policy, but a memo raises the communication to the level of official policy. Both the sender and the receiver of a memo are expected to keep a copy, and in many contexts it functions as an internal contract or agreement.

Office workers will often kid each other about a failure to know something obvious by asking, "Didn't you get the memo?"

Memo format

Memos are typically written on an internal letterhead that designates the document as a memo or memorandum. Sometimes, specific functions are designated such as Policy Memo or Claims Report.

The memo format is characterized by a standard heading that includes all the details about its origin, audience and subject. A quick glance is all it should take to know what the document is to be used for or where it ought to be filed (Yates & Orlikowski, 1992).

The heading is always found at the top of the memo, justified to the left, with tabs set so that the items line up in an easy-to-read straight line:

To:      John Jones, Purchasing
From: Sandra Smith, Accounting
cc:       Barney Black, Controller
Date:  September 17,2019
Re:      Sending invoice for construction clients

The first paragraph summarizes the gist of the whole memo: a reader ought to be able to scan just the header and the first paragraph and understand everything about the context and content of the messages.

The assumption is that a busy executive will read only the first paragraph, filing the memo in an appropriate place for later reference or action.

The next two or three paragraphs provide the details necessary to support or explain the main points in the same order they were previewed.

If large amounts of data are needed, the tables or graphs would typically be attached as enclosures. The typical memo fits on one page, although a longer memo is sometimes used for extensive policy or procedural instructions.

MemoSampleThis sample memo uses a MS Word template.

Accordion Sample Description

Businesslike style of a memo

Because they are internal, memos are less formal than letters and written in a direct, brief style. The information covered in a memo is provided in a succinct way, and can even be somewhat abrupt, as compared to the more formal letter style. The memo is an internal document, so readers are presumed to know quite a bit about the business under discussion.

When writing for an audience of colleagues, it is appropriate to be friendly, but never cute. Edit for wordiness and get directly to the point. Use language to communicate your ideas effectively and efficiently. A professional image depends on perfect spelling and grammar, although company jargon and casual expressions are acceptable in many contexts.

Record keeping

The file copy of a memo will often be used as the permanent record of the information it summarizes or the company policy being described. Both the sender and the receiver of a memo are often expected to keep a copy as well, and even after a project has ended, the relevant memos are generally kept with the documentation.

As a file document, the memo will potentially be read by audiences months or years later. Memos should always be written carefully, correctly and completely. Future audiences who are completely unaware of the situation might refer to the memo to find out what was known about a topic or how an event was handled, and complete details can become crucial.

Long memos

Sometimes a long narrative is necessary to accomplish the goal of the document, and multiple page memos are common in some industries. A memo that details all the resources and commitments that have been made on a major project, for example, or a memo summarizing the status of a complicated insurance claim, might be several pages long. Such a document is not meant to be read quickly by a reader, but is usually created to serve as a permanent and complete record of an event, transaction, or issue.

A long memo can be very long 20 to 30 pages or even longer but follows the same format as a standard memo, simply extending to as many pages as necessary. A company that uses the form regularly might have special formatting requirements, often requiring that specific sections be included to cover information that is called for every time.

Informal memos

Beyond the formal memos, which are typically created as a permanent record, a host of informal documents are used to keep information flowing through the organization. While the formats might vary considerably from company to company, a businesslike structure and style will still insure that they are perceived as business messages and used accordingly.

Notices, Bulletins and Procedures

Internal messages can be formatted in a variety of other ways, with information posted on bulletin boards, for example, or distributed with employee paychecks. Often these messages take the form of an abbreviated memo, or a company might have developed a particular format to designate specific types of procedures or instructions.

Regardless of the exact format, messages should be consistent so that readers quickly recognize their content or goals. When an accounting department consistently uses Arial font table on purple paper to indicate a change in accounting procedures, for example, workers begin to look for accounting procedures in an Arial font table on purple paper.They are more likely to ignore or misunderstand procedural changes that come as a memo on blue paper, or even judge the document to be "inappropriate" and its writer to be "unbusinesslike."

If changes in a format are necessary, make them slowly and subtly over time, or introduce a whole new document to replace the old one. Once a format has become familiar to readers, any changes will be seen as "mistakes" rather than improvements.

The business letter is an official communication that should be prepared with great care. Its appearance and content reflect directly on the reputation of the company, and as a signed document, a letter can be considered a contract.

Occasionally a letter is drafted for internal use, for example, to make a formal offer of a promotion or award, or to notify an employee that he or she is being terminated. Most letters are sent to people outside the company, however, and provide communication with clients, customers, and vendors.

This SampleLetter shows key elements of a business letter:

Paragraph format

The format shown here is a "block" style, which is the standard paragraph format for business letters. All the elements are lined up along an invisible line down the left side of the page. The text is single spaced, with no indent at the tops of the paragraphs.

Letterhead

The term "letterhead" refers to the preprinted company logo, address, phone number that appears at the top of a company's official stationery. A sheet of this stationery is often called a sheet of "letterhead" as well. Generally the paper is of very fine quality and more expensive than plain paper. Letterhead is designed to convey a positive image of the company. Because the letterhead includes the company's address, phone and often email, it is not necessary to include that information again in the body of the letter. Sometimes the writer will provide a direct phone number or personal email address if the action statement calls for direct communication.

Date

Write out the full, complete date the letter is mailed, or the date upon which any agreement being made becomes effective. Because the letter is a formal document, often used in contract situations, the date can be extremely important. The letter is usually dated the same day on which it is mailed, but whatever agreements are included in the letter are considered effective as of the date of the letter. Thus, a letter might be dated several days into the future to allow for delivery time. Generally, antedating a letter is considered unethical, if not fraudulent or illegal. The expectation is that anything put "in writing" was available for the reader on the date it was written, perhaps allowing for a couple of days in mailing time.

Inside address

Two spaces below the date are the full name and business address of the person to whom the letter is addressed. If several people are receiving the letter, all their names and addresses should appear. Don't confuse multiple addresses with those who receive courtesy copies of a letter addressed to someone else. Listing multiple addressees means that each one is receiving an "original" of the letter.

The address on the letter should be the same as the address on the envelope. As with the date, there can be legal consequences from inaccuracies. The address on the letter is presumed to be the one to which the letter is actually sent. If it is incomplete or inaccurate, a recipient can make the case that the letter was mailed to the incorrect address as well. Alternatively, the sender can demonstrate that a letter was mailed to a legal business address by showing that the complete, correct address appears on the letter itself.

Reference Line

This is an optional line but used widely in many industries, especially where contract or file numbers are used. Provide the specific job, responsibility, or request to which the letter relates.

Salutation

The formal greeting always starts with "Dear" followed by the person's title and last name, and ending with a colon. This requires finding out whether the recipient is properly addressed as Mr., Ms. or Dr. Attempts to avoid the issue (i.e. substituting the title with the person's first name, using impersonal phrases like "Dear Mr. or Ms. Smith" or "To Whom it May Concern", or eliminating the salutation entirely) indicate that the writer doesn't actually know the recipient of the letter at all, making the letter a "form" letter, which is a much less formal document. Pay particular attention to the correct salutations in letters addressed to individuals who hold legal, religious or political positions. People who have earned titles beyond Mr. or Ms. can be sensitive about their proper use.

Letter content

The specific content of the letter will be created to meet the needs of the situation, but the structure of any letter should meet certain expectations:

Context paragraph: The first paragraph of the letter will define the context, providing a clear statement of the letter's topic and purpose. Avoid starting a letter with legalistic or flowery language that doesn't explain what the letter is about. The bureaucratic, "Pursuant to your recent letter of request, we are hereby responding with the information you requested," for example, offers no information at all about the content or purpose of the letter. (In social letters or in letters written for businesspeople in European or Asian countries, it is appropriate to begin a letter with a question about the family or a comment about recent weather or world events.)

Content paragraphs : The typical letter uses one to three paragraphs to provide the information relevant to its purpose. Each paragraph should cover a single topic or point. In the case of a long letter that covers multiple pages, it is appropriate to break the information into sections with internal headers or bullets to provide clarity.

Action paragraph: The final paragraph of the letter provides a clear, straightforward statement of the action that will be taken by the writer, requested of the reader, or expected by a third party.

Closing

Two spaces below the final paragraph of the letter, a traditional closing line, generally "Sincerely" or "Respectfully," ends the letter. If the situation calls for a warmer tone, the closing might be "Cordially," "Best wishes," or "Regards."

Signature

A four-line space allows room for a written signature immediately below the closing, then the sender's full name is typed, with the full business title (sometimes with the department or division as well) on the next line. The signature on a business letter functions as a legal testimony that the contents of the letter are complete and accurate and signifies that the writer is taking responsibility for fulfilling any commitments being made. Thus, even when the sender and recipient know each other well, a full signature is used. When writing on behalf of a team or department, type the group's proper name immediately above a space for the written signature of the team's representative:

    Capture (1)

The original of the letter is always signed, and when legal issues are involved, care is taken that only that copy bears an original signature. Sign in dark blue or black ink, with blue preferred when the letterhead is not easily distinguished from a photocopy.

Courtesy copies

After the signature, the names of anyone else who is receiving a copy of the letter are provided after a lower-case "cc:" The person's title is often listed as well, especially if the recipient is not expected to know who he or she is.

Common decency demands that a letter's recipient be notified when others receive copies, although occasionally there is a good reason for a "blind" copy to be sent. For example, a customer service representative might write a letter of apology to a customer, sending a copy to the sales manager or the sales clerk involved. The customer can assume that the problem has been covered with those people, but does not need to have their names. There will be nothing typed on the original, but the copies will show "bcc: Judith Martin, sales manager; Ron Banks, salesman," and those recipients will know from the "b" that the customer was sent the letter without any notice of the copies.

The "cc" originally stood for "carbon copy," and many people will still refer to letter copies as "carbons" even though word processing long ago replaced carbon paper. Some companies use just a single "c" to denote "copy".

Enclosure

When anything is included in the envelope besides the letter itself, that fact is indicated two spaces below. This helps the reader notice that additional items are included and avoids the possibility that items will become separated. Typically, enclosures are not stapled directly to a formal business letter, although many recipients will secure the letter to any attachments (and sometimes to the envelope itself) as soon as the envelope is opened.

Type "Enclosure" or "encl" if only one item is included, or add the number of items in parentheses if more than one: "Enclosures (3)". If the enclosures have not been specifically named in the text of the letter, a short title or explanation should be provided: "Enclosure: Job Site Attendance Log." The reader should never be left to wonder what an attachment is or what it is to be used for.

Second page

The typical letter to a client or business associate should be kept to a single page, although contract letters, legal findings, and claim summaries can sometime run to many pages. When a second page is necessary, a special "second page" letterhead is used. This has an abbreviated address but is printed on the same kind of paper used for the regular letterhead. Unless a letter exceeds two pages, page numbers are generally not used.

Envelope

Business letters are folded into perfect thirds and mailed in a standard sized (#10) business envelope. Typically, the envelope is made from the same paper as the letterhead and has the company logo and address printed in the top left corner. The envelope is always addressed on a printer or typewriter; never send a business letter in a hand-addressed envelope.

Now and then, a special letter (an award letter, for example, that might be intended for framing) will be delivered to its recipient unfolded. Or, a letter might be included with a document in a larger envelope. If this is the case, the envelope will be addressed with a typed label. Companies that send oversized envelopes frequently will usually have labels preprinted with the company logo and return address.

The cover letter is used to introduce yourself to a potential employer, explaining why you are sending a resume or portfolio. If the writer is applying for a specific position, that is also explained, along with a summary of qualifications. A successful cover letter is businesslike, includes effective content, and is sent in a way that maximizes its impact.

The cover letter should carefully follow the format and style of a business letter. Any sloppiness will send the message that you are not a professional, and most recruiters will discard letters that have errors without even looking at the resume. Create a personal letterhead that establishes a professional identity, which will usually match or coordinate with the personal information portion of the resume. Print the letter on a good quality bond paper, but you do not need to match the resume paper.

The next step in creating a businesslike cover letter involves having a clear idea of your purpose. A rambling, unfocused personal essay is never businesslike, and the letter should clearly indicate whether you are responding to a job announcement, making an unsolicited contact with a company you'd like to work for, or sending a resume to someone who has been referred as a personal contact.

Have someone take a look at your letter. This is a chance for one final proofreading, and it provides you with a test audience that can check for businesslike style and tone. Then read your letter one more time to consider a few last tips in the section below.

Tips for creating a businesslike cover letter:

    Never use the phrase, "To Whom It May Concern." If you do not know the name of the hiring manager or employer, use the title (e.g. "Dear Hiring Manager," or "Dear Production Manager").

    Grab attention with your first sentence. Immediately tell the company what you can do for it, not what it can do for you.

    Make it your own. Don't try to be someone you aren't, and keep to the point you want to make.

    Show that you know something about the company and the industry. You have already done some research on the company or you wouldn't be writing the letter. Be sure to mention something specific so the reader knows you've done your homework.

    Use terms and phrases that are meaningful to the employer. As part of your company research, pay attention to the company mission, market strategy, or human resources philosophy. Use the company's favorite words to describe your top skills.

    Include your top selling points. Evaluate your best qualities and let the company know about them!

    Don't Overuse "I". Concentrate on how you can meet the employer's needs.

    Don't make spelling or typing errors. This letter is your one chance to demonstrate your ability to write and your willingness to pay attention to detail. Don't blow it.

    Use the same type of paper for your cover letter and your resume. A nicely designed document that projects a positive "personal brand" says good things about you before you've ever written a word.

    Sign the letter in blue ink. This makes it look official and does not blend in with the black ink on the rest of the page.

Response to an announced job

    When an employer has requested your resume or you are responding to a job description, your primary goal is to demonstrate the match between your qualifications and the requirements of the job. Be sure to read the job announcement carefully, and explain how you meet each of the requirements using the same vocabulary.

    You will also take time to highlight your own strengths and special qualifications. Before you begin writing cover letters, think carefully about your own skills and attributes. You will want to write about the top two or three skills that set you apart from others, and you should be able to provide some specific evidence of your qualifications. Gather up those details while you are preparing your resume.

    This situation calls for the "standard" four paragraph cover letter, discussed below.

Unsolicited contact with a company

    If you would like to pursue a career with a company, you might send your resume with a letter that explains why you think you'd be a good fit for the company. Because there has been no job announcement, you will need to be clear about your purpose. Are you looking for immediate work? Inquiring about potential internships in the future? Exploring career paths in the industry?

    Because you are not responding to an advertised list of job requirements, there might not be a second paragraph that responds to them. However, if you can develop a clear perception of what the company wants to see in a new employee, write a paragraph to explain how you are a perfect fit. You might collapse the normal second and third paragraphs into one, but you could also provide two paragraphs about your qualifications--one paragraph that explains your technical skills in that industry and another to describe your great personality, for instance.

    You'll still end with an action step in the final paragraph. If you want to set up an appointment, say that. If you'd like to get more information, ask for it. Don't just end with, "Have a nice day" and hope they'll call you. They won't.

Reference to a referral

    If you have been referred to a company through someone in your network, create a letter that clearly and specifically mentions the person who referred you. This will generally be in the first paragraph, ensuring that the reader knows right away that the letter comes with a personal reference.

    In the second and third content paragraphs, be specific as to why your referral thinks you would be a good match with the company. Your network contact might have described things about the company that you find attractive, and you should be explicit that these are reasons you are interested in applying for a position.

    Remember, your network contact is not merely providing you with a positive character reference. The more important goal is to identify a good match between a company and a potential employee. The more information your contact has provided, and the more you can say about how that information indicates a good fit, the more likely you are to get called for an interview.

    Finally, create an action step that allows everyone to save face. Don't assume that your contact's referral will guarantee an interview, and don't imply that you think this is the case. As with any cover letter, you will want to provide a proactive invitation to continue communication with the company (i.e. "I'd like to give you a call next week to see whether you will be offering internships over the summer.")

    Don't, however, suggest that your contact will remain involved in the process.

This is a marketing document, not a plea for a job. Focus on what the employer needs from an employee, not what you need in the way of salary or vacations. The letter should answer the hiring manager's key questions: Why are you writing to me, and why should I consider your candidacy? What qualifications or value do you have that will benefit me? What are you prepared to do to further sell yourself?

The content of the cover letter includes four topics: your goal, your qualifications for the job, your personal strengths, and an action step. In the standard cover letter, each of these topics is covered in a separate paragraph, and the letter does not exceed one page in length.

As with the resume, you will use the cover letter to present yourself in the most positive way possible. You must tell the truth, of course, but you should highlight the facts that are most relevant and most positive to the prospective employer. Each cover letter is written specifically for an employee; this is not a form letter.

Don't completely repeat your resume. The reader will turn to that for details if you've written a convincing overview of your qualifications. Instead, focus on things that make you stand out from the crowd of applicants applying for the position.

Standard four paragraph cover letter

Purpose Paragraph: The first paragraph of the cover letter should be specific about the writer's intent. Do you wish to be considered for a job? If so, indicate clearly the exact position for which you are applying. Refer to any job codes or use the exact title as it was listed in the advertisement. Be explicit that the resume is to be considered an application. It is also appropriate to mention where you learned about the position, especially if it was from a personal contact rather than a public announcement. Be equally clear if you are seeking information regarding a possible internship or trying to locate someone who can provide further information about career opportunities. A busy personnel department in a large corporation can have hundreds of job openings, as well as internships and temporary positions. Even in a smaller company, the letter that says its writer is merely "inquiring about career opportunities" is likely to be set aside until the work of filling immediate openings is completed.

Information Paragraph 1 : State exactly how you meet the posted job requirements. Respond specifically to each of the minimum requirements listed for the position. Even though the resume includes those same skills or qualifications, a hiring manager cannot be expected to hunt for them. The average recruiter spends only a few seconds reading a cover letter, and he or she is typically looking for the few specific items that were spelled out in the job announcement. A clear writer will use the same terminology and will try to mention them in the same order used in the job description. If a candidate does not have the exact skills requested, but is offering some alternative training or experience, that should be clear from this paragraph as well.

Information Paragraph 2: Explain how your background additionally qualifies you for this position with a short summary of your own special skills or characteristics. These are usually personality traits, special skills or background experiences that are not specifically requested in the job announcement or not expected of the average job applicant. A candidate will often use the same third paragraph in virtually every cover letter, as these will probably be positive traits that virtually any prospective employer would appreciate.

Action Paragraph: Clearly state your intended action or expectations in an action statement --the "who does what by when" in the next step of the job search process. Usually, the step following a resume submission is the responsibility of the prospective employer, and this paragraph will summarize the candidate's expectations with respect to a response. Sometimes, a candidate will be in a position to take action; he or she will be planning a trip to a city where the company has a plant, for instance, or is hoping to find a position by a certain deadline. It is possible that a candidate might want to make a follow up phone call to the employer or send additional materials or references. Any such actions should be indicated in the cover letter, and employers generally find such an "action orientation" to be desirable. Of course, the candidate must be very careful to do exactly as promised. Mention that your resume is enclosed and indicate your interest to meet with the employer. Give an idea of what your schedule is like so the recruiter can contact you. Make sure to provide a time that you expect to have been contacted in some way by, and provide your preferred method of contact. Be certain to provide that contact information as well.

The traditional way to send a cover letter and resume is through the U.S. mail. The letter and resume are folded into a business envelope, which can be purchased to match the resume paper. These days, it is not uncommon to send a resume electronically, although this would typically be done only when specifically asked by a contact or recruiter. When sent electronically, the cover letter becomes a cover email, and the resume is attached as a .pdf file. Don't attach a cover letter to an email as a document unless you are specifically asked to do so. The email itself is where you need to make that excellent first impression, and it should be a more concise version of the standard four part cover letter. Click here for a comparison of a cover letter and cover email.

A form letter is a common business tool that follows the format of a formal business letter exactly, differing only in that the same letter is sent to multiple recipients. Often, a writer will compose a standard letter that can be used repeatedly.

    An accounts payable clerk might create a letter to explain the company's check creation policies and schedules to a new contractor. By keeping the letter as a template, the clerk simply types the address and salutation and sends the same formal letter to each new vendor.

When the letter is too generic, a reader can be insulted by its seeming insincerity. The form letter begins to lose its status as a real business letter when it is sent to multiple anonymous recipients.

    A customer service department might need to notify thousands of customers about a manufacturing defect, or a sales person might want to send a letter introducing a new product to every potential client in his territory.

Some would argue that simply addressing the document to Dear Customer or Dear Sir or Madam, does not make it a letter (Sless, 1999), and it should be considered an announcement or advertisement. In fact, in one study, the recipients of such letters did not even notice when the greeting and signature lines were absent (Sless, 1999).

For routine, impersonal messages from company to employees or customers, the traditional memo or letter has been largely replaced by a more journalistic format, the newsletter. A newspaper-like columned format allows the writer to cover several topics, eliminating the need for a blizzard of memos or letters, and even allows the inclusion of photos, humor, or personal topics that might be considered inappropriate in the traditional memo.

Further, customers have learned to throw away advertising letters, and employees can be insulted by repeated memos, or by the impersonal nature of memos that are sent by an unseen upper management to all employees. A newsletter, on the other hand, looks like a newspaper, which no one expects to be personally addressed. Employees and customers alike are more likely to welcome and trust information that comes to them as a document.

Newsletters are typically produced with desktop publishing software, although a simple newsletter can be created with virtually any word processing program. Contributions to a newsletter will typically be provided to an editor, who will provide writers with the specific format required by the company.

Companies increasingly use email to communicate with customers, so even the formal letter has evolved to include an electronic version.

For security and contractual reasons, there will always be a place for the formal, printed letter of acceptance, demand or contract. At the same time, the speed of electronic transmission can make electronic delivery necessary.

  • Electronic letters require some adjustments to the usual letter format: The date and recipient's email address are provided in the header and not included again. Any cc: and bc: recipients are also listed in the header and not provided again at the bottom.

  • Some format elements do not change: A full internal address, including full name, title, company, and legal physical address, emphasizes the formal and potentially contractual nature of the letter. The formal salutation would remain, as would the full signature.

  • Formatting can be created in HTML so the letter appears with a corporate letterhead. The sender cannot control the technology settings used by the receiver, however, so if the if the “look” of the letter is important, the letter should go as a .pdf attachment to the email.

  • When circumstances requires a legal signature, various methods can be used. You might use a scanned signature, third party verification, or fax or mailed copies to supplement the electronic letter. The choice will depend on the legal requirements of the situation.

Any document used to gather, organize, or summarize business data is the report. Some basic rules apply to all reports, but a full, formal report includes several special sections.

Individuals often create reports for clients, teams or supervisors, which can also be called a summaries, briefs, or talking points. These short reports might also be created as an email or printed for distribution.

All reports should be created in block format, with single spaced paragraphs lined up along the left hand margin. Headings and bullets make the information easier for a reader to process. (Check out this example.) Short reports seldom exceed six pages, often taking just a couple of pages. Professional business writers aim for clear, complete, and concise. Say everything you need to say--just once.
The organization of any business document will follow the same structure, which you can review here. For a short report, you should expect that each point will require a single paragraph. When a point includes several details or examples, use bullet points to organize them as a list under a paragraph or overview. (Review paragraph structure in the same organization section.)

Companies create longer reports in a wide variety of formats, sometimes called white papers, summaries, or analyses. There are a number of parts in a full, formal business report. Sometimes a section might be omitted, or a particular situation will call for a special section or feature. Reports created for external audiences will sometimes be professionally bound and include high quality graphics or photos.

Reports should be created in block format, with single spaced paragraphs lined up along the left hand margin. Headers, bullets, typefaces, graphic design, illustrations, tables and graphs are all used to make information easier for a reader to process. The more important the report, the more effort and expense you will put into its design and production. A report given to a client, for instance, will often be professionally printed and bound, and those who create reports regularly will often use desktop publishing software to create a polished, highly professional look.

The report provides its contextualizing information in a series of introductory pages, while the information is provided in the main pages of the report. Depending on the purpose of the report, the action step might appear as a separate recommendation section, or the report might be providing only limited information within the scope of a larger set of actions.

Title page

A formal title page provides all the identifying information for the report, as well as a visual first impression and a protective covering. The information allows a reader to know who produced the document and when it was prepared, even if the report has been pulled out of a file sometime in the distant future.

    title of the report
    organization sponsoring the report, including sufficient address for contact
    intended recipients of the report
    date prepared, or in some cases the date actually published
    author of the report, including any title or organizational affiliation

The information on the title page should be spaced so that it is striking, pleasing to the eye and professional.This is not normally a place for cute illustrations, but there is often large, bold type that catches the eye. Additional graphic elements, such as lines or shading, can add to the overall polished, professional effect.

Sometimes a title page is printed on a heavy weight stock so that it forms a front cover. Often, this kind of a cover page gives just the title and author and perhaps some sort of illustration. Then a second complete title page is placed directly behind the cover. This format looks most like a published book and is generally used only for very large reports or those intended to be sold like books.

Letter of authorization

The letter of authorization documents the official permission or order to produce the report and often gives explicit instructions regarding the proper content and readership of the document. This might be literally a letter, but it can be any kind of authorizing document. This is an optional item, but it can be extremely important. Sometimes this letter functions as the payment authority for the research or analysis project; other times it provides the legal or organizational authority to release the report's information to the reader.

Letter of transmittal

Informal reports can look like a long memo or even a computer printout or the results of a database query, but whatever its purpose and form, a report must include basic information to insure that readers will know how to use its content:

    Who created the report, including the writer's name as well as his or her department or company.

    The date the report was produced.

    An identifying title, which will generally give some indication of the report's purpose or scope.

This letter is addressed to the primary reader of the report and is signed by the author, or in some cases by a representative of the publishing organization. The letter should specify the purpose of the report, identify all it's intended readers, and provide sufficient information so that anyone receiving a copy understands the report's function.

Especially if there is no letter of authorization, the transmittal letter explains who asked for the report and why. Even when there is a separate letter of authorization, the author of a report will generally explain his or her own understanding of the report's purpose and scope. The transmittal letter is not simply a summary of the report's contents, but exhibits organizational sensitivity, providing the political context that surrounds the report and functioning to tell the reader how to read the report by providing such information as the significance of the report to the reader or the organization, any difficulties that were encountered in creating the report (especially if the result is something different from what was authorized or expected), gratitude for help in researching or preparing the report, the necessity for follow-up or further investigation, and complete information for contacting the report's author, or anyone else who might need to provide additional information or clarification.

Table of contents

Everything after the title page should be listed in a table of contents. Transmittal and authorization letters might not actually have numbers on them, but they will be included in the count and all preliminary pages will be given a lower case Roman numeral as a page number. The body of the report itself begins with a page number and every main heading should be shown on the title page with the appropriate page number.

List of illustrations

When the report contains several visuals, a list is often provided as a convenience to the reader. This would be set up like a table of contents, with each figure, chart or graph titled or numbered and the corresponding page number provided.

List of tables

As with illustrations, a list can be provided if you include multiple tables in a report. If there are only a couple of tables along with other illustrations, the two lists might be combined as a list of figures.

Executive summary

Depending on the size and type of report, the executive summary briefly paraphrases all the information in the report or provides only the main points. In either case, the executive summary should never be more than one page long, even for a very lengthy report.

The purpose of the executive summary (sometimes called a synopsis or simply a summary) is to provide the busy reader with a quick, concise overview of the report. This is not a description of the report or an introduction, but a condensed and abbreviated version of the report's content. Usually, the executive summary will make no mention of appendices and does not include any citations, tables or illustrations. It can provide key statistics, however, when they support key findings or conclusions. It should be possible for a busy reader to understand the key information from this single page and to gain enough knowledge of the report's general content to make an informed decision regarding the need to read further.

In general, the business report follows the normal structure of all business messages: define the situation, give the facts and propose the action, although the specific subsections will be organized in a way that makes sense in the specific situation.

Context or problem statement

The first section of the report describes the reason the report is being written for its specific audience. Subsections might go into some detail regarding the background of an issue, the facts of the situation, key definitions or concepts, or the history of a problem. At a minimum, the first section of the report will explain the writer's purpose and an explanation of how the report is designed to meet that purpose.

In a formal report, this contextualizing information will also have been provided, at least in summary, in the transmittal letter and the executive summary as well. This allows multiple audiences of the report to understand it in a variety of contexts, but the body of the report will include the most complete and detailed version.

Background data

If a substantial amount of data is needed to bring a reader up to date with the history of a problem, the facts of the case, or the financial data needed to analyze the situation, it will generally be provided as a separate section. In a short or informal report, this material might be included as an appendix, rather than as a section in the report itself.

Informative and analytical sections

In general, the body of the report includes several major sections. Each is begun with a heading, and subdivided appropriately with sub-headings and sub-sub headings.

Headings are the titles found at the beginning of each section or subsection of the report. These should provide a short, clear description of the contents of the section and should be formatted so a reader can easily follow the outline of the report. Larger, bolder type is used for major sections, with smaller, plainer type used for subsections.

Most industries or professions will use a few specialized reports that will include specific sections. A business plan, a marketing plan, a financial analysis, or a staffing analysis can be recognized as unique types of reports because they contain specific kinds of content, usually arranged in a standard way.

In general, the sections will cover such topics as an explanation of the methods of analysis that are used to answer the question or determine a solution to the problem being addressed, as well as the justifications for using the method and any disclaimers about its adequacy. Obviously, major sections demonstrate the reasoning, evidence, and analysis that is performed, and the conclusions that may be drawn from the analysis. In some cases, sections will consist entirely of data or statistical tables and are separately labeled, although large numerical sections are often provided as appendices at the end of the report.

Action Step

If the report includes an action step, it will appear as one or more sections concerned with recommendation and implementation issues. Implementation may be discussed as a plan for action, with such information such as time lines, production schedules, cost projections, project budgets, or stakeholder interests.

Any recommendations would normally be summarized in the executive summary, but the recommendation section is sometimes placed at the beginning of the report as well. In cases where the report was authorized specifically to make a recommendation, this section might even replace the summary or introduction.

Following the main content of the report, a number of additional sections will generally be found.

Notes

If endnotes are used, they immediately follow the last page of text. Footnotes and endnotes are not common in business reports, although they are used regularly in certain financial and legal documents.

Works cited

Any sources cited in the body of the report should be listed here. Include books and articles as well as internet sources, personal interviews, correspondence, data sets, and any other sources of specific information that you have used. Entries can be formatted according to a standard bibliographic form, such as that of the American Psychological Association (APA) or the Modern Language Association (MLA), although many businesses adopt a format they find suitable for their own purposes.

Bibliography

A report will sometimes include a bibliography, either instead of or in addition to a list of works cited. Sometimes the two will be combined into a single works consulted list. A bibliography can be used to provide the reader with additional information or resources, or to provide comments on the usefulness or availability of information as an annotated bibliography.

Glossary

A glossary is an alphabetical listing of words appearing in the report that require definition. If there are only a few words that need to be defined, that should be done in the text or as endnotes. Usually a glossary will only be prepared if there are a large number of words to include. If a glossary is used, any words that are included should be highlighted in the text.

Appendices

Any extra documents, charts, samples, survey or research instruments, photographs, computer programs, disks, or transcripts that might be useful for the reader can be provided as appendices. Often, page protectors or divider tabs are used to keep appendices organized. Since appendices are generally something other than regular pages, they are usually not numbered, but are labeled instead, and the label is referenced in the text when the reader is directed to the information. Multiple appendices are usually labeled alphabetically (i.e. Appendix A, Appendix B, etc.) and listed separately in the table of contents.

Any kind of a request, sales pitch, recommendation, or design option could be considered a proposal. Regardless of how big or small the idea, a good proposal makes adoption more likely!

A proposal can be made orally in a meeting, a one-on-one conversation, or as a formal, software enhanced presentation. Written proposals might be presented in a memo, a formal report, or an email. For that matter, a proposal could be delivered on a DVD, as an instant message or with a tweet!

Sometimes a supervisor or client will ask that a proposal be presented in a particular format. Check the Request for Proposal (RFP) for details. If there is no formal RFP, it's often up to the person making the proposal to decide which medium will be most effective.

Regardless of the communication method, effective proposals provide the right content in a clear, and well-organized way. Construct the proposal in three sections:

Make your main point clearly and quickly. The first part of a proposal will be a relatively brief summary of the action being proposed. The exact format will depend on the document being used. An email proposal might summarize the point in a single sentence, while a formal report provides a full page executive summary.

Often, a proposal format is selected because of the amount of detail that it can provide. If the audience needs little detail, a shorter document such as a memo or email will be appropriate. A complete marketing plan or policy analysis might be proposed in a report of several hundred pages.

Often, a proposal is designed to solve a problem, and the reasons are straightforward:

  • Describe the situation or context that demands action. That is, explain what the problem is and why it is important that it be solved.

  • Explain your justification for the proposed solution. This might include an evaluation of several options, and often you will include a careful explanation of why this solution is expected to solve the problem.

    Sometimes, you will be proposing a great new idea, but there is not an obvious problem that needs to be solved. Here, your reasons should be framed as benefits.

  • Describe the specific outcomes that can be expected from adopting the proposal. In sales proposals, these are often referred to as the "features" of the product or service.

  • Describe how these outcomes are valuable to the audience, organization, or customer. Listing the "benefits" that a customer can expect is a normal sales technique.

  • Sometimes, the proposal is being made to a third party. For instance, a service rep might propose that her organization adopt a policy that benefits customers. Be careful to include the benefits to the actual audience hearing the proposal. The organization might need to be reminded that happy customers are more likely to purchase products!

    For each reason, provide a complete analysis, logical arguments, and evidence to supports any claims. A proposal is only as good as the proof you provide.

    A complete proposal provides the specific steps and resources that will be required to make it reality. It is not enough to request action without showing that it will be both effective and possible.

    • Provides details about exactly when, how, and by whom the proposal would be carried out.

    • A complex proposal might include an extensive plan of action including activity calendars, staff responsibilities, internal and external resources required, and a fully developed budget.

    • Sometimes full details are not available, but the audience must be convinced that sufficient resources are likely to be available.

The broad scope of digital media in includes a company's static website, interactive online commerce features, professional blogs and networking sites, and both corporate and personal social media activities.
Companies are increasingly using email to initiate and respond to customer communication, so the business letter is evolving to include an electronic version. For security and contractual reasons, there will always be a place for the formal, printed letter of acceptance, demand or contract. At the same time, the availability of email and web-based chat has led companies to use email for a variety of external communications.

Email letters require some adjustments to the usual letter format:

  • Date: The date and email address are already provided in the header and is not included again.
  • Internal address: On the other hand, an internal address that specifies the full name and title of the recipient is one way to emphasize that the email has been individually written, and is not a “spam”[1] that has been sent to thousands of anonymous customers.
  • Salutation: A formal salutation line does not appear as part of the memo-styled email header, so that is typically used as the beginning of the email letter. Follow the same salutation rules with respect to proper names, titles and honorifics that you would for a printed letter.
  • Signature: An electronic signature is typically typed, although it is possible to scan a signature and insert it in an electronic email. It is also possible to include an image of the company’s logo or full letterhead in an email. While these features can create a document that fits more closely into the traditional letter genre, the current level of technology does not guarantee that every recipient will be able to see the signature as it was intended. If the “look” of the letter is important, it might be more effective to send it as an attachment to a short email that simply directs the recipient to open the attached letter.
  • CC: Courtesy and blind courtesy copies are also indicated as part of the address header, and they should be used with the same attention to privacy and disclosure issues.

Although they began largely as vehicles for personal or political expression, businesses quickly adopted blogs as knowledge sharing and customer relationship tools. Microsoft, for instance, sponsors over 800 blogs, where software developers can post the “inside dope” on upcoming products—along with diaries of life in the office and cultural trivia (Conlin & Park, 2004 p.102). Within just a few years, their effective use is considered a crucial communication tool to gather new ideas, advertise, and gather competitive information (Baker, 2005).

A blog allows U.S. interns at Chinese automaker FAW to keep in touch with their friends and families, and provides a way for other students to become familiar and comfortable with the idea of going oversees themselves (Kellenberger, Jensen, Severson, & Kunwook, 2005). Teams can use blogs to cut down on email and centralize information, and marketers are still learning how much mileage they might get out of the technology.

Companies that use or encourage blogs as part of a marketing strategy have begun to codify some rules but they amount to using basic common sense (Baker, 2005). There’s only one rule at Microsoft, and it’s an unwritten one: “don’t be stupid” (Conlin & Park, 2004). The employee who publishes a blog—either on a personal computer or at the company’s—is a representative of the company. Divulging secrets, making untrue claims, or trying to embarrass the boss are just as likely to get a person fired in the blogosphere as they are at the company Christmas party or in a customer’s office.

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