Professional Correspondence

17 Professional Correspondence

A lot of your time as a professional will be spent communicating through letters, memos, emails, and text messages. Some of these forms of communication are probably more familiar to you than others; however, as a professional, you must understand how and when to use each format and why. Your employer will expect you to communicate effectively and build positive relationships with co-workers, clients, and the public.

To decide which format to use, consider the size and importance of your audience, your purpose for writing, and the complexity of the information being communicated.

For all correspondence, you should include four basic points of protocol information:

  • The date the document was written
  • A subject line that provides a summary or sense of purpose for the document
  • The name(s) of the author(s), including their relevant job title(s)
  • The name(s) of the recipient(s), including their relevant job title(s)

As always, before you write, consider your audience’s needs and your purpose. Provide a brief introduction stating the purpose of the document, the reason for creating the document, the reason the reader is receiving the document, and the content that will follow.

Many employers will have standard templates that are used for letters and memos in their organization. If your employer has such a template, you’ll follow that in-house style. However, there are generally accepted formatting and style trends for letters and memos that need to be followed. Some variation is acceptable, but remember that your reader should be able to quickly determine what they’re looking at when they receive a file. The more time they spend thinking about the formatting of your document, the worse. (As an analogy, consider how much time you think about the quality of plumbing in your home. Generally, it only comes to mind when there’s a problem. The reader should experience the benefit of good formatting, just as you experience the benefit of good plumbing, which is without thinking about it.)

Types of messages

Correspondence can serve many purposes. Here are a few reasons you may have to write these documents in your professional career. We will also provide some tips for each one.

Making a request

Whenever you make a request, whether in a memo or letter, remember to consider the tone of your words (see the Seven “C”s in Chapter 4 for more on this).

When you send a request, in all likelihood, this is a request your reader doesn’t particularly want to receive. You need to make the document accessible, engaging, and persuasive (more on that later) to catch the reader’s attention and interest and, hopefully, to motivate them to make a favourable decision and take the desired action. (A.I.D.A. is a time-honoured persuasive structure commonly used in professional sales.)

Be concise and specific about what you expect your reader to do and provide the necessary information so that the reader can successfully fulfill your request.

Thank-you messages

Thank-you letters may feel like an old-fashioned way to communicate, but a well-written thank you letter can establish your credibility and professionalism. A hand written thank-you letter is always most appropriate, but a business thank-you letter may be printed on stationery or even sent by email for less significant expressions of gratitude.

A thank-you letter does not need to be long, but it should communicate your sincere appreciation to the reader and follow this advice:

  • Be specific about what you are thanking the reader for. Avoid clichés and stock phrases.
  • Include some details about why you are thankful and how you benefited from the reader’s actions.
  • End with a sincere compliment and repeat the thank-you.

“Good news” messages

Obviously, preparing a good news message (such as a message of congratulations, acknowledgement, and acceptance) is easier than preparing a negative message. However, care should be taken in all correspondence to maintain your credibility as a professional.

  • Be specific about the achievement or award.
  • Be sincere in your congratulations.
  • Avoid using language that might sound patronizing or insincere.
  • Connect the message to a higher mission or value that connects the writer and the reader.

“Bad news” messages

In the course of your professional career, you are going to need to write negative messages (such as messages of complaint or refusal) for a variety of reasons. Tone is very important here; comments should be made using neutral language and should be as specific as possible. The in the chapter about positive writing provides useful guidance here.

A thoughtful writer will remember that the message will likely have negative consequences for the audience and, although it may be appropriate to begin with a buffer sentence to establish rapport, get to the main point as quickly as possible. Keep your audience’s needs in mind; your audience will need to clearly understand your decision and your reasons for making such a decision.

Be clear and straightforward in your message, but also remember that this is a relationship you want to protect. Be courteous and considerate of your audience’s feelings. Protect your reader’s feelings with fact-based, non-judgmental, emotionally-neutral language.

Transmittal letters

When you send a report or some other document (such as a resumé) to an external audience, send it with a cover letter (or sometimes a cover memo for an internal document) that briefly explains the purpose of the enclosed document and a brief summary. This book has later chapters that deal with cover letters for job applications and also for reports.


This chapter was adapted from Effective Professional Communication: A Rhetorical Approach by Rebekah Bennetch, Corey Owen, and Zachary Keesey, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Bennetch, Owen, and Keesey adapted their chapter from “Technical Writing Essentials” by Suzan Last (on BCcampus). It is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.




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Professional Writing Today Copyright © 2022 by Sam Schechter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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