30 January 2011

Guidelines for correspondence

Recently at an admin meeting I went over these guidelines with our team and wanted to share them with you.
  • When addressing correspondence you should ensure you have the correct date, name, title and full address.  It is worth the check to make sure this information is correct.  I have worked in many offices and it has never failed that some very strange spellings of my boss's name have appeared on a letter.  Do you think they are going to take those letters seriously?  I recall one letter where the year on the letter was 23000.  Talk about into the future!
  • You should have a salutation and closing.  I would suggest Dear Ms. Brown and end with Yours sincerely or Yours truly. 
  • If you are addressing dignitaries you should consult a protocol book or website to ensure you address it properly.  Here is a site the Canadian government put together, which gives proper addressing protocol for royalty, government dignitaries and other important people - Styles of Address
  • If there are attachments to the letter Enclosure(s) should be noted at the bottom of the correspondence.  It is acceptable to indicate what the enclosure is, but if you have put that in the letter, it is not necessary to note it again at the bottom.  You should also ensure you attach the enclosure before sending the letter.  Seems obvious, but keep it in the back of your mind to look for these types of things.  I put a yellow sticky on the letter when I bring it to by boss for signature with instructions on what I need to do next, i.e. enclosure attachments, make sure to send to whoever you want to be copied on the letter, scan and save it electronically, or whatever it is you have to do with it.
  • As a general rule letters should be sent to individuals and not to multiple recipients.  An exception would be if they are co-chairs or people of equal title that you are writing on the same topic or issue that you want their joint action or feedback.  Otherwise, if you just want them to be aware of the correspondence you would copy them on the letter with a c.c. at the bottom.  Alternatively, if you want to include someone on a letter, but do not want the recipient to know you are copying the other person(s), you would use a blind copy (b.c.c) and make sure to only to put it on the copy and not on the original.
  • If you are sending a letter by email, I prefer an orginal signature be on the letter and then scan it to send by email, but if you have an electronic signature you can insert it on electronic letterhead and then save it as a PDF.  You should always make sure you have permission when using someone's electronic signature and never send it in a Word document where someone could easily copy and paste the e-signature.
  • If you are sending a common notice such as an invitation by email to multiple recipients you should insert the email addresses in the b.c.c. section of the email and put your email address in the To section.  It is important to protect the privacy of the people you are sending to.  I once sent a personal email to a number of my friends and one person on the email distribution list took all those email addresses and started contacting them for a pyramid sales-type business.  You can see how that would not be a good thing to happen to your boss's business contacts.
  • As technical as we have become, I do not trust email 100% and usually follow up the emailed letter with a hard copy by regular mail.  This is not always necessary, but depending on the importance of the letter and how much you want to impress it upon the receiver, delivering it by regular mail is a good way to do that. 
  • You should save electronic letters just as you would hard copy letters --you need to keep a record of them too.  I have a folder that I call Correspondence and save letters in that folder by year.  That works for me, but you may need to make it more specific.  The goal is to be able to retrieve it easily if you need to find it later.
I hope these few tips will help.  Most are common sense, or maybe they are common sense to me because I have been doing it for so long, but since we don't know what we don't know, this might be helpful to someone so I thought I would share.


Anonymous said...

It's a very useful tip not to e-mail letters in Word that have your boss's signature, but to send as a PDF. However, PDFs can be altered, so when I am sending letters as PDF attachments, I always secure the document against changes but allow printing.

Patricia Robb said...

Yes, you are absolutely right, but as our IT person told me, nothing is completely safe when we send things electronically and if someone really wanted it they would get it. But I think we have to show due diligence that we did everything we could to protect it. The same as locking the door on your car to protect against theft. The insurance company would look more favourably on your claim if you had the doors locked. If you didn't they might give you a hard time about paying when you didn't even try to protect yourself.

Allison said...

Hello! Sorry to leave an unrelated comment, but I couldn't find any other way on the site to contact you. I'm wondering if you might be interested in a guest post. If so, please drop me an e-mail at:


Thanks, and happy Friday!

Leah Mullen said...

Thanks Patricia for these guidelines. At some point could you talk about spacing and tabs? I once had a boss who wanted me to put the person’s name under the address preceded by “Attn:” and also he always wanted to use “Re:” before the “Dear….”

For example:

Appliances R Us
123 Fourth Street
New York, NY 10007
Attn: John Smith

Re: Unpaid bills

Dear Mr. Smith:

Have you ever seen this format before?

Also in a letter do you indent at the beginning of each paragraph or no?