Characteristics of Effective Correspondence

Certain characteristics of effective correspondence are common to letters, emails, memorandums and reports.  As you write, you must pay careful attention to each of the elements.

effective correspondence

  • Complete

Correspondence is complete when it gives the reader all the information he or she needs to accomplish the results the writer intended.  To help achieve completeness, ask the “w” questions:

  • Why is the correspondence being written?
  • What is the goal of the correspondence? What do I hope to accomplish?
  • What information is needed before writing the correspondence?
  • Who needs to receive the correspondence?
  • What information needs to be included in the correspondence?
Ineffective Effective
Your recent order will be mailed soon. Your order of 15 November will be mailed on 21 November.
The seminar will be on 3 November. The letter writing seminar will be held in the Green Room at 14h00, 3 November.
The planning meeting was cancelled. The planning meeting scheduled for 3 November at 14h00 has been cancelled due to a conflict with the letter writing seminar scheduled at the same time.  The planning meeting has been rescheduled for 15 November in the Executive Conference Room.
  • Clear

After reading a message, the reader should be able to determine (without a doubt) the purpose of the correspondence.  Clear messages reflect clear thinking.  Each sentence should have one thought and each paragraph one purpose.  Business correspondence is not the place to impress a person with your vocabulary – your aim is to get your purpose across in a simple, concise manner.  If a short, easily understood word is available, use it.  Your words should express rather than impress!

  • Accurate

Check your information carefully.  If you are quoting prices, be certain you have the correct price list.  If you are presenting dates, confirm them.

When writing, keep your biases out of the correspondence as much as possible. Your task is to write objectively.  Do not slant the information or overstate its significance.  Deal with the facts simply and accurately.

  • Prompt

Prompt answers to messages say to readers that the writer cares about them.  Conversely, late messages tell the reader that the writer is indifferent to the needs of the readers or that the writer is grossly inefficient.

The basic promptness rule is:

  • Reply to the email on the same day as receipt
  • Reply to memorandum within one day
  • Reply to letters within three to five days
  • Respond to reports within the timeline established by the cover letter or memorandum
  • Concise

Conciseness is writing means expressing the necessary information in as few words as possible.  Say what you need to say without cluttering your communication with irrelevant information or needless words.

Checklist for conciseness:

  • Are my sentences short?
  • Are my paragraphs short?
  • Have I used simple, easy to understand words?
  • Have I used bullets or numbered lists whenever possible?
  • Have I avoided unnecessary repetition?
  • Have I eliminated excessive information?
  • Have I avoided clichés? (Phrases that have become overused e.g. what goes around comes around)
  • Courteousness

Use good human relations skills as you write.  Treat the reader with respect.  Demonstrate that you care about the reader as you write.  When talking with people face-to-face, courtesy and consideration are necessary in order to develop and maintain goodwill.  The same or perhaps even greater concern must be evident in written correspondence since only the written word conveys the message – a smile or friendly gesture cannot be observed.

Courtesy also means being considerate.   If a person is asking you something, respond.  If you are unable to give a positive response, explain why.  Explanations let other people know you are sincere.

  • Positive

People hear the word ‘yes’ easier than the word ‘no’.  You will not always be able to say yes to someone or something.  If you use a positive tone when saying no, the reader will respond in a more favourable manner.  You set a positive tone by the words you choose and by the way you use them.  Some words and phrases possess positive qualities, whereas others possess negative qualities.


Do you want to take your writing skills to the next level – don’t forget about our Professional Designation Masterclass happening in Cape Town, 10-14 September 2018 – click here to get more information now

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