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Do You Use Correct Vocabulary in Business Letters?

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 14 Jul 2012 | comments*Discuss
Business Letter Writing Vocabulary Words

The type of vocabulary used in a business letter helps to set the tone of the letter. This means that the vocabulary must be correct for the purpose of the letter, the information contained in the letter and the recipient of the letter. Business letters which do not include such carefully selected vocabulary run the risk of failure.

To help you analyse the vocabulary you use in your business letters we have put together the following questionnaire. Answer each question, then count up your "yes" answers. Match this total to the explanations at the end to determine if you use correct vocabulary in business letters.

How is Your Vocabulary?

1. Do you write with your recipient in mind at all times?
2. Do you avoid generic form letters when writing business letters?
3. Do you replace vague words with more specific words when writing?
4. Do you use a thesaurus when you write business letters?
5. Do you replace sections of passive voice with the active voice?
6. Do you read your letters aloud to get a feel for the flow of your words?
7. Do you consider your recipient before writing with industry jargon?
8. Do you edit out words or phrases that have no meaning?
9. Do you replace weak phrases with one strong word?
10. Do you avoid slang terms in your business letters?
11. Do you employ positive phrases to deliver bad news?
12. Do you use a style guide to help you write business letters?


Yes to 0 - 4
If you answered “yes” to between zero and four questions then you most likely do not use correct vocabulary in business letters. The next time you have a letter to write, outline your purpose. Why are you sending the letter? What do you want the recipient to know? How do you want the recipient to feel after reading your letter? Who is the recipient? When you have answers to these questions, draft your letter using basic vocabulary. Which words have you overused? Are there stronger words available to make a better point? A thesaurus will be a very handy tool as you learn to look at words and make better substitutions. Don’t be afraid to use it!

Yes to 5 - 8
If you answered “yes” to between five and eight questions then you may use correct vocabulary in business letters. It is likely you understand obvious differences when writing, for example that you can use industry jargon in a letter to a co-worker but would want to avoid that in a letter to the local football team you sponsor, yet otherwise don’t invest too much energy in your vocabulary choices. In your next 10 or 20 letters hunt down vague words in your writing (“great” “nice” “working hard”) and replace them with words or phrases that have more specificity (“delicious” “beautifully cut” “booked 24 new clients this month”). Then re-read your letters and replace verbs in the passive voice with stronger verbs in the active voice (“Your needs will be taken care of” replaced with “We will take care of all of your stationery needs”). These small changes will have a big impact on your business letters!

Yes to 9 or more
If you answered “yes” to nine or more questions then you most likely use correct vocabulary in your business letters. You likely understand how important it is to keep your recipient in mind at all times when writing business letters, and know basic points of grammar such as why using the active voice is important and why it is better to edit out words or phrases that contribute no real meaning. If you don’t do so already, use a company or external style guide to help you with your business letters or consider putting one together yourself. Review the answers to which you answered “no” and focusing on these issues when writing future business letters. No doubt your writing success will become even greater!

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