This section is from the book "Applications of Psychology to the Problems of Personal and Business Efficiency", by Warren Hilton. Also available from Amazon: Psychology and Achievement - Applied Psychology 12 Volume Set.
THE world of work moves at high pressure. Consequently the element of greatest importance in business language is economy.
Short-cuts, slang, abbreviations for technical phrases, all pass current as good business English and all evidence the demand for swift conveyance of thought.
The purpose of all business language is to convince the intellect and win the heart.
Consequently, good business language adapts itself where possible to the social customs and the degree of culture, refinement and intelligence of the person addressed. It talks to him in his own terms, and it is sometimes most effective when it is most replete with slang and symbolism.
When it comes to business correspondence eliminate such useless phrases as "We beg to inform you," "We beg to advise," "In regard to same," etc.
There are hundreds of such stock phrases that not only do not get you anywhere, but actually weaken the force of what you have to say. The ideal letter is the one that most nearly represents the writer, and no man uses this sort of stilted jargon in conversation.
Every such phrase adds to the formality of a letter and detracts from its personal quality.
Charles R. Wiers, chief correspondent of the Larkin Company, is quoted in "Caxton" as giving the following suggestions, the phrases in italics being taken from actual business letters, and that which follows being the revision by Mr. Wiers:
"We would say. We would state. If you have something to say, just say it. Beating around the bush takes all the ginger out of a real message. Enclosed herewith. 'Herewith' means the same as 'Enclosed,' hence a repetition of no meaning. We have investigated our books and find, etc. Of course, you have investigated, or else you could not reach an accurate conclusion. It is always best to state a thing definitely, instead of weakening it by one or more preliminaries that do not mean anything. We shall be glad to receive your further patronage. Patronage can hardly be called a commercial term, and at the best it is too big for a business letter. Use the word 'favors' in preference to patronage, as it is simpler and means more. Allow us to explain. Permit us to advise you. Will you pardon us if we venture to call your attention to, etc. If such expressions are proper, then it is somewhat absurd to request permission and state the explanation in the same letter. It would be more in order to write one letter and ask your customer if you dare to explain something to him, following it with the explanation after you have received hi9 permission. The good correspondent goes ahead and does his explaining with the knowledge that the other man is busy, therefore wants his explanations and everything else delivered to him by the shortest route possible.
"We have your favor of the 24th, contents of which have been carefully noted. Probably there is nothing so often repeated to no advantage in business letters as this nonsense about 'contents have been carefully noted.' Nobody can explain the reason for it. All we know is that it has been an heirloom among business letters, and as a result we have continued to use it without any thought as to its meaning. The omission of it will improve the beginning of a letter, and incidentally help one to be watchful over the remainder. We have now balanced your account and will consider the transaction closed. We have balanced your account. The transaction is closed. One or the other of these expressions would cover your point. Not necessary to use both at the same time. We are entering an order for the ------ and it will be shipped, charges prepaid. Your ------ will be shipped, charges prepaid. We wish to explain our terms. Just go ahead and explain them. Never mind the preliminaries. An early answer will be greatly appreciated, as we wish to adjust this matter to your, satisfaction, also sending the missing goods without additional expense to you. As we wish to adjust this matter satisfactorily, an early answer will be appreciated. So we may balance your account in full, and close our records of this transaction. So we may balance your account.
"Our records here in Buffalo show. Our records show. Arrangements have now been made. No point to any of this. The job of a correspondent is to tell a customer just what has been done in the fewest words possible. Preliminaries foreign to the real point are simply a waste of time and money. We are entering your order and will send you postpaid. We will send postpaid. Upon receipt of this letter we trust you will, etc. 'Upon receipt of this letter' is unnecessary, because the customer couldn't do much, if anything, until he knew what you wanted. At the present time we cannot locate. At present we cannot locate."
No business man talks to his customers and associates in the way the average business man writes to them. And yet a letter is merely a talk, and should be as fluent, free and to the point as if writer and reader were face to face.
To be a successful business correspondent, one must know men's minds. The object of a letter is to influence conduct, and to do this well you must be able to get the other man's viewpoint and read your letter with his eyes.
When you dictate a letter picture your correspondent as sitting before you while you talk to him. If you do this, you will never say to him, I beg to advise you."
Form a mental picture of the man you are writing to. Study his letter to you with a view to estimating his education, his opinions, his financial condition. Sometimes a word or phrase, the arrangement of the headings, or the capitalization will help you to see the man behind the letter. Sometimes you have to go to outside sources of information. But you may absolutely depend upon it that unless you do visualize the man you are writing to you cannot write to him with any great effectiveness.