The rules have changed in the world of business communication. In the past, letters from companies – large or small – adopted a formal, serious tone. Peppered with terms like “herewith”, “therein” and “aforementioned”, these letters often started with the officious sentence: “I refer to your recent correspondence dated 25 November”.
However, times have changed. These days, a letter that’s written in a tone that’s too formal can be interpreted as rude or pretentious. Nevertheless, people still insist on writing this way because they think that business letters need to sound “official” in order to be taken seriously.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim of a business letter/email should not be to sound serious and formal. The aim should always be to convey information clearly and concisely. In business, you should always write in a style that’s accessible and understandable.
There are some old-fashioned business phrases that should be retired forever. Do you use any of these? If so, it might be time to say goodbye!
“Attached for your perusal”
Ban this dinosaur. Unless your aim is to sound behind the times, there are far friendlier ways to convey the same meaning. Simply write: “Please find attached the annual report you asked for” or “Attached are the resumés for you to review so you can shortlist the candidates”.
“I refer to your correspondence”
This old-fashioned doozy was the default opening to most business letters about 20 years ago. However, some of us just can’t let it go. This phrase was typically followed by the date of the correspondence in question. For example: “I refer to your correspondence dated 12 October”.
Understandably, the date is important because it indicates that the letter is being written in response to a certain query. However, the phrase is as old as the hills and should be retired in favour of friendlier, more modern alternatives like: “Thank you for your email dated 12 October” or “Thanks for your enquiry dated 12 October about our new widgets …”
“With regards to your query about …”
This phrase is clumsy. It was often used to address specific points in a letter or email such as “With regards to your query about the annual general meeting, the date is on 20 December …”
However, it can be easily replaced. “You asked about the date of the annual general meeting. This is on 20 December …”
“With regards to” has often been considered an awkward expression. It should have been phased out with the horse and buggy!
Oh my goodness. I ask you: where else is it going to be enclosed? The word “herein” is redundant. Simply write: “Enclosed is the brochure on …” or “Please find enclosed the brochure on …”
Using the word “herein” makes you either sound pompous or like you’re from another era. Ban it.
“Please send a signed copy of the agreement back to the writer”
Since when have you felt the need to refer to yourself in the third person? In this day and age, a sentence like this simply seems like you’re trying too hard to sound grandiose.
Again, this harks back to the days of yore when companies wanted desperately to sound like big faceless organisations. Most companies have now done an about-face and want to sound more personal, rather than aloof. If you are writing the letter, then simply say: “Please send the signed copy of the agreement back to me”.
“The purpose of this correspondence is to inform you …”
This is a wordy opening to a letter or email that simply doesn’t need to be there. Of course, you sometimes do want to establish the purpose of a letter or email. But there is no need to waste time, words and space spelling it out.
Let’s say that the purpose of your communication is to inform people about changes in the interest rate on a home loan. A perfectly acceptable sentence would be: “We would like to inform you about the new interest rate on your home loan.” The tone is friendlier and still conveys the purpose of the letter in no uncertain terms.
So, are some of these old-fashioned phrases still in your repertoire? If so, ask yourself why you’re clinging to them. Maybe the time has come to take a fresh, modern approach to your business correspondence.
Valerie Khoo is the managing director of the Sydney Writers’ Centre in Milsons Point, Sydney. As one of Australia’s leading centres for writing training, the centre runs short courses to help people get published and write with confidence.