Business Correspondence, from Fire Insurance Lectures delivered before the
Insurance Institute of Hartford, Inc. season of 1916
Formerly a large and well-known book-store in Chicago had painted on its window shades, which were always decorously pulled down on Sundays, the following text: ”Words are the only things that live forever.” Sometimes it seems as though this text had especial reference to those occasional letters which tactlessly written or stupidly expressed steal quietly out from the home office of an insurance company and lead indefinitely thereafter harmful and malevolent lives in the minds of their receivers.
Now, let us consider some of the more obvious qualifications of good business correspondence. In their order of merit and importance it seems to me these most essential characteristics could be listed as follows:
4. Form, i.e., proper use of the English Language
Of these the first is naturally of by far the greatest importance, even though it is true that a letter may be very clear and at the same time very objectionable. But clearness we must have at any cost. A good many things are involved in this matter of clearness. In the first place, clear thinking is necessary for clarity in writing. If you do not have a definite understanding of a proposition in your own mind you can hardly hope to give a correct idea of it to another. Indeed, I am inclined to believe that lack of clearness proceeds more often from a correspondent’s muddiness of thought than from any other one cause, although another factor, namely: ignorance of and lack of training in the meaning and use of words, prevents many intelligent men from writing good letters.