By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
This is Part 2 of a 3 part series on this issue.
I continue with my tips for preparing good, professional correspondence:
5. Use titles or honorifics. In the “business address” of your correspondence, always use the complete name of the person to whom you are writing (if known) together with that person’s honorific or professional title (e.g., Mr., Ms., Dr., Nurse, Prof., Dean, etc.). This shows both respect and professionalism.
6. Always use the complete mailing address, including title, of the person to whom you are sending it. In the business address of your correspondence include not only the person’s name and honorifics, but title or position and division within the institution or organization to which you are sending it. In the case of large organizations, you should include the building and suite or room numbers and any internal routing codes, designations, “mail stops” or other organizational routing codes, that the agency or business you are writing requires to route its mail internally. Large organizations, especially government agencies, all have large mail rooms which sort and route all mail the organization receives from any source. Correct internal routing codes will help ensure that your correspondence gets to the correct person or official in a timely manner.
7. Always use a salutation. This is self-explanatory, but see below.
8. Type your correspondence or have it typed for you. Do not send handwritten letters in formal or professional matters. Do not write on the other person’s correspondence or documents and send it back. Prepare and send a professional looking letter or e-mail, even if you must pay someone to type it for you (and if you are sending an e-mail, I know you can type a little bit yourself, anyway). To do otherwise is to show laziness, disrespect and unprofessionalism.
9. Always use a type font in your correspondence (including e-mails) of at least 12 points (10 characters per inch). Do not use a small, difficult to read type fonts, for example, the size of the type font that most e-mail software defaults to. Smaller type fonts than 12 points become difficult to read, especially if scanned/rescanned, faxed/refaxed or copied/recopied. Change the default font in your e-mail software or computer word processing software, if necessary. You can do this, regardless of how difficult it may seem at first; I know you can do it, because I can do it. Make your professional correspondence easier to read, not more difficult to read.
10. In your “salutation,” always use the person’s last name with a title or honorific. It is customary to use the term “Dear” in a salutation in formal writing, so this is permitted. But you may leave it out. For example, “Dear Secretary Jones:” or “Secretary Jones:” or “Dear Dr. Johnson:” is correct. Never refer to the person by that person’s first name in any type of formal correspondence or correspondence that anyone else might read. Never say: “Dear Sue:” or “Sharon:”. Even if you know these people well enough to call them by their first names, don’t do it in this situation; it’s unprofessional and may be interpreted as “talking down” to the person.
11. Always end your “salutation” with a colon, not a comma. A comma is only used in informal communications to those you know well or socially, such as a letter to your mother or a note to your girlfriend. Unless this is your mother or your girlfriend to whom you are writing, use a colon. For example, “Dear Secretary Jones,” or “Dear Sue,” is incorrect. “Dear Secretary Jones:” or “Ms. Smith:” is correct.
12. Never use unprofessional looking type fonts for your communications. Stay away from script type fonts, italics or novelty type fonts. These are notoriously more difficult to read and look unprofessional. You are not publishing a flyer for a high school bake sale. Times New Roman, CG Times and similar type fonts are more professional looking and easier for a person to read. Use Courier or Letter Gothic type fonts if necessary.
13. Keep the correspondence to which you are responding unmarked. One reason to not write on or mark up the other person’s documents or correspondence is that you may need them as evidence in a court of law or a hearing some day. Nothing looks less professional than a document you are trying to use as evidence when a different person has made handwritten marks all over it. The impression is similar to one in which a child with a box of crayons has gotten to it. You don’t want this or need this. Show respect and self-control. Keep the other side’s documents pristine. They will look much better that way as your “Exhibit 1” in the court hearing.
14. The contents of the body of your correspondence should be easy to read and easy to understand. To this end, be sure to use short sentences and short paragraphs. Each paragraph should convey one idea. Use headers and section titles, if necessary, to organize your correspondence, especially if it is lengthy. Remember, headings within your letter that help to organize it are like street signs in a busy city. They will really help any subsequent reader (and this may be a judge or jury) to navigate his or her way through your letter.
15. Be sure to skip a line between each paragraph and, preferably, indent the first line of each paragraph. [Note: Some writers will tell you not to indent the first line of each paragraph in professional correspondence. However, I feel that this makes the correspondence more difficult to read, so I encourage indenting or tabbing in on the first line of each paragraph.] This makes it easier on the reader and more likely that your ideas will not get lost in a crowd of words.
16. Use a good concise, descriptive reference line or subject line (often called the “re:” line). Make it a very brief summary. State what the content of your letter is about. State if you are responding to a letter or document that you received from the “addressee” (the person to whom you are addressing your correspondence) of your letter.
17. Include the recipient’s routing information. If the intended receiver of your letter or correspondence (the “addressee”) included reference numbers, file numbers, account numbers, case name and numbers, a policy number, a routing number, or other similar information on its letter to you, repeat these back in the reference line of your correspondence. This will help make sure that your correspondence gets routed to the correct file and recipient more timely. This is especially crucial in large organizations and government agencies.
18. Keep your paragraphs short and to the point. Nothing turns readers off as much as a single lengthy paragraph written from margin to margin taking up the whole page. I suppose some people may have never been taught what paragraphs are. However, I am willing to bet that most were.
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About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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