OPSA is a SAQA recognised professional body for all administrative professionals in South Africa

Introduction to Business Correspondence

As an office professional your job demands that you compose correspondence.  When you begin working for an organisation, you may compose draft copies or correspondence.  As you learn your position and needs of the company, you may send out correspondence under your own signature or write final copies for your employer to sign. Being a competent and careful writer is important to your success.

The office professional produces four basic types of written messages – email, memorandums, reports and letters.

Correspondence

(a)  Email Correspondence

Throughout the world billions of emails are sent each day not only in the workplace but also at homes, schools and universities.  Initially emails were an informal way of sending messages between friends and a quick and convenient way to send messages to others in the workplace.  As time has moved on, email has become a vital communication tool in the workplace and when composing an email, the same care should be taken as if writing a formal business document.  Many business transactions take place over email.

Email has a number of advantages:

  • Compose and send messages to destinations all over the world in a matter of minutes
  • Send messages at the convenience of the sender that can be read at the convenience of the recipient
  • Save messages as permanent records of business activity
  • Provide quick answers for questions
  • Transfer files from one organisation to another or within organisations as an email attachment
  • Communicate nationally or worldwide at a minimum cost
  • Make appointments quickly and efficiently

Although there are many advantages, there are also the disadvantages:

  • Email is not always the best medium for answering complicated questions
  • Security problems can result if an organisation transfers sensitive information via email
  • Communication misunderstandings can occur if clear and precise language is not used
  • International communication can be misunderstood due to language differences

When composing an email, always remember the following:

  • Use a subject line – it is important to always complete the subject line with an appropriate subject heading. Often office professionals are busy and have numerous emails to check on.  If they can see from the subject heading what the email is about, it would be easier for them to action.  Often email is forwarded with only the “FW:” in the subject line.  Emails like this can be ignored and seem insignificant when going through many emails.  A subject line is also useful a when you want to get a short message across quickly e.g. Tom called, please call him back on …  The reader immediately sees the action he needs to carry out when downloading email.  Much safer than leaving that piece of paper on the desk that can get lost.
  • Keep the message short – make sure your message is brief and to the point. Ensure that you read it carefully before sending it off to ensure that the receiver of the email will understand the message correctly.  Never write an email when you are in a hurry or in a bad mood – your tone of the message will be felt by the receiver.
  • Use standard spelling and capitalisation
  • Use standard typeface – avoid using fonts that make the document look fancy but difficult to read. Use a professional font that is clear and crisp – the best two fonts to use would be Calibri or Arial.
  • Proofread carefully – check your document before sending it out that there is no grammar or spelling errors. There is nothing more unprofessional than receiving an email with no proper punctuation.

(b)    Memorandums

Although email has pretty much taken over memorandums in most workplaces, there is sometimes still a need for a memorandum.  A memorandum can be used when the correspondence is relatively lengthy (longer than one-half of an A4 page) or when a signed document is needed.  It can also be used for short reports.

(c)   Letters

Letters are a more formal way of communication than emails and memorandums.  They are still the preferred method of communication when writing to current and prospective clients and customers.  Letters provide formal documentation that you and your client may want for future reference.

(d)   Reports

Reports may be formal (table of contents, body, appendices and references) or informal (two to three pages) in nature.

 

A large part of writing effectively is determining the readers’ needs, gathering the appropriate information, drafting, editing and preparing the final product, so next week we will be looking into your improving your organisational skills.

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