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Style Guide on Official Writing

Official Languages Division
Civil Service Bureau
October 2003

© Copyright reserved – reproduction by permission only

Foreword
This style handbook was commissioned by the former Official Languages Agency and
produced by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology College of Lifelong
Learning. It is based on the needs of Official Languages Officers as determined through
personal interviews, a grade-wide survey and the analyses of samples of written
documents produced by officers from all ranks working in various government bureaux
and departments.
It covers the basics of layout and style for various types of correspondence, and
especially highlights the need for contemporary forms of clear, concise expression. Each
chapter contains tips as well as examples of faulty writing and model alternatives. Advice
on language use is drawn from samples of documents produced by Government
departments, and therefore should be relevant to the daily needs of working officers.
As language officers we take great pride in our services to the various departments of the
Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. We translate, draft and
edit a wide range of documents that reflect the priorities of the departments which we
serve and the needs of our various readers. Nevertheless, every document we produce
should aim for consistently high standards of clarity and effectiveness.
English business correspondence has greatly changed in recent years. It offers many
choices and defies simple rules. This guide is not intended as a rule book and does not
cover detailed questions about grammar and mechanics. It should rather serve as a basis
for writing decisions that will improve the clarity and consistency of communications
coming out of your office or department.
Many colleagues and departments contributed suggestions and points of views to earlier
drafts of this guide. Our thanks to them, especially to the Director of Administration and
the Director of Civil Service Training and Development Institute for their patience and
time in helping to make this a relevant and practical reference.

Official Languages Division
Civil Service Bureau
October 2003

2

Table of Contents

Chapter One: The Layout of Correspondence
1.1
1.2
1.3
1.4
1.5
1.6

Layout Styles 1
Punctuation for Salutations and Addresses 2
Dates 4
Avoiding Jargon and Unnecessary Words 5
Talk to the Reader 6
Tips on Layout and Style 7

1.7 – 1.10

Examples of Letter Styles

Chapter Two: Forms of Address
2.1
2.2
2.3
2.4
2.5
2.6
2.7
2.8
2.9

1

8

12

Introduction 12
Government, Legislators and Civil Service 12
Judiciary 13
Clergy 14
HKSAR Honours 15
Consular and Professional Titles 16
Foreign Honours and Titles 16
Addressing More than One Person 17
Complimentary Closes – US and British Differences

Chapter Three: Categories of Correspondence

18

20

3.1

Notices and Letters Providing Information

3.1.1
3.1.2
3.1.3

Public Notices – Tips on Layout and Style 20
Letters Providing Information 21
Press Statements – Tips on Layout and Style 21

3.1.4 – 3.1.10

20

Examples of Faulty Letters and Model Alternatives

22

i

3.2

Letters Requesting Information or Demanding Action

3.2.1
3.2.2
3.2.3
3.2.4
3.2.15

Requesting a Favour – Tips on Layout 32
Persuading Letters – An Exception 32
Letters Demanding Action – Tips on Layout 33
Invitations – Tips on Layout 33
Language Use – Switching Personal Pronouns 43

3.2.5 – 3.2.14

Examples of Faulty Letters and Model Alternatives

3.3

Letters of Acknowledgement

3.3.1
3.3.2
3.3.3
3.3.4

Letters of Thanks, Congratulations and Acceptance 44
Letters of Apology – Tips on Layout and Style 45
Sending Condolences – Tips on Layout and Style 46
Avoiding Overly Emphatic Language 47

3.3.5 – 3.3.15

34

44

Examples of Faulty Letters and Model Alternatives

3.4

Declining Letters and Letters Conveying Bad News

3.4.1
3.4.2

General Tips on Layout 62
Declining Invitations – Tips on Layout

3.4.3 – 3.4.7

31

48

62

62

Examples of Faulty Letters and Model Alternatives

63

Chapter Four: Ceremonial Writing 67
4.1
4.2
4.3
4.4 – 4.8

Introduction 67
Language Use 67
Tips on Layout and Style

68

Examples of Faulty Ceremonial Writing and Model Alternatives

69

Chapter Five: Speech Openings 73
5.1
5.2
5.3

Opening Styles 73
Humour 74
Tips on Style 75

5.4

Extracts of Speeches with Suggested Alternatives

76
ii

Chapter Six: Memoranda, Circulars and Email 79
6.1
6.3
6.5
6.6

Memoranda – Tips on Layout and Style 79
Circulars – Tips on Layout and Style 82
Email – Tips on Layout and Style 85
Email Abbreviations 86

6.2
6.4

A Sample Memo 81
A Sample Circular 84

Chapter Seven: Minutes 87
7.1
7.2
7.5
7.7

Reported Speech 87
Tips on Layout 88
Reporting Verbs 89
Be Concise 90

7.3 – 7.4
Sample Minutes and Report 88
7.6
Table of Alternatives to ‘Say’ 90

Chapter Eight: More Succinct Writing 92
8.1
8.2 – 8.7

Common Errors in Translations

94

Examples of Common Errors and Model Alternatives

94

Appendix – The Language of Appraisals 100
Useful Verbs (Positive and Negative)
Common Appraisal Phrases 102

100

Index 104

iii

Chapter One: The Layout of Correspondence

1.1 Layout Styles

There are four main styles for the layout of letters:

The indented style is the established form for Government letters. The first line of
each paragraph is indented. The date, complimentary close and signature are
either aligned to the right or start at the centre and move to the right. The writer’s
name and designation are usually positioned symmetrically beneath the
complimentary close. The subject line is centred. If no letterhead is used, the
sender’s address may be positioned either above the reader’s address on the left or
opposite the reader’s address on the right. All other text begins at the left margin.

The straightforward block style aligns the address, the date, the reference, the
subject heading, the salutation, the body and the complimentary close to the left.
The sender’s address is positioned on the left, above the reader’s address.
Sometimes the sender’s address forms part of the letterhead, spanning the top
length of the page.
The block style is a popular business style.

The modified block style differs from the block style in three respects: (1) The
sender’s address and the date are aligned to the right, (alternatively, the date starts
at the centre and moves to the right); (2) The subject line, if there is one, is
centred; (3) The complimentary close starts at the centre of the page and moves to
the right.
The reader’s address should remain on the left. Moving both addresses to the
right tends to upset the balance of the letter.

The simplified style is the same as the block style but it dispenses with the
salutation and complimentary close. This is a fast and easy format, ideal for
standard letters to several recipients.

1

1.2 Punctuation for Salutations and Addresses

Ending Your Salutation
Use a comma to end your salutation. This is the general rule in Britain and it applies to all
correspondence. In the United States, a colon is widely used for business letters while a
comma is reserved for personal letters. An alternative for business letters in both
countries is not to punctuate at all.

Dear Mr Jones,
Dear Mr Jones:
Dear Mr Jones

(UK all and US informal)
(US formal)
(UK/US business)

Remember to be consistent. If you decide not to punctuate your salutation, don’t
punctuate your complimentary close. The consistency rule applies to punctuation
throughout your letter. In the absence of specific rules, keep your punctuation pattern the
same.

Punctuating Abbreviated Titles
The trend in the UK is not to punctuate the initials of persons’ names and common titles
such as Mr AJ Smith, Mrs BC Brown, Ms D Lee. Professional titles such as Dr., Prof.,
Rev. are usually punctuated and so are foreign titles such as: M. (Monsieur), Mme.
(Madame). Remember that Miss is not an abbreviation so it should not be punctuated.
In the United States, punctuating all titles is still the norm, and as professional or
honorary titles following a name are punctuated. In the UK, the same rule applies, e.g.
Ph.D. However, there is a growing tendency not to punctuate familiar titles that are also
capitalised:
Degrees: MA, BA, MBA, MBE

Punctuating Familiar Abbreviations
Familiar abbreviations that contain the first and last letters of a word do not need
punctuation:
Rd (Road), St (Street), Bldg (Building), St (Saint), Blvd (Boulevard), Ave (Avenue)
But ‘Crescent’ and ‘Incorporated’ are punctuated: ‘Cres.’, ‘Inc.’

2

An exception is ‘Limited’ which tends to be punctuated (‘Ltd.’) unless it is capitalised.
In both the United States and the UK, punctuation is often not used for capitalised
abbreviations of companies or organisations: USA, UK, ABC Ltd., DLF Inc. However, if
the company name spells a real word then it is probably wise to punctuate in order to
avoid confusion: C.A.T. Ltd.

Style Tips
¾ Many people dislike following a full stop with a comma ‘Ltd.,’ as this can look
messy. It is common practice to omit the last full stop in an abbreviation if it is
followed by a comma or full stop.
¾ In the body of a letter, you should spell out the full name of the company in
brackets after the abbreviation if it is not well-known:
ABC Ltd. (Associated Biscuit Company Limited)
Obviously abbreviation is unnecessary if you only refer to the company once in the letter.

Latin Abbreviations
The usual practice is to punctuate Latin abbreviations, unless the abbreviation is followed
by a full stop. Often these are placed in italics, although this is not a rule.

e.g.
i.e.
viz.
et al.

for example
in other words
namely
and other people

cf.
v.
etc.

compare
consult
and so on

Latin abbreviations should be avoided in a letter. Writing ‘for example’ looks much nicer
on a page than ‘e.g.’. Generally, these abbreviations should only be used in footnotes.
Postscripts (P.S.) should also be avoided. If your letter is drafted correctly, all relevant
information should be contained in the body.

3

Other Abbreviations

Without punctuation
yr (year) / cm (centimetre) / mm (millimetre) /
oz (ounce) / ft (foot) / lb (pound) / m (metre) /
kg (kilogramme)

With punctuation
in. (inch) / no. (number) / a.d. (anno Domini) /
b.c. (before Christ)

Either
a.m. / am p.m. / pm PS / P.S. cc / c.c.

Measurements
For measurements, use abbreviations only if they follow numbers and not words:
Three inches or 3 in.
You should always have a space between the number and the abbreviation: 8 ft.
1.3 Dates

Spell out the month fully and position the day either before or after it. In the UK, it is still
common practice to write ‘th’ after the day. A comma is only required if the day comes
before the year.
January 20, 2003 (US/UK) 20th January 2003 (UK)

20 January 2003 (UK/US)

4

1.4 Avoiding Jargon and Unnecessary Words

Your letter will be clearer if you keep the language simple. If presented with the choice,
always opt for the shorter, more common word.

Avoid
The proposal of this project has been appendixed herewith for your
consideration
Thank you for your invitation inviting me to the annual dinner.
At this point in time…
We have made a decision…
Enclosed herewith…

Due to the fact that…
With regard to…
We have given due consideration to the fact that…
In the event that…
Aforementioned
Above-mentioned

Replace with
Please refer to the attached project proposal…
Thank you for your invitation to the annual dinner…
Now…
We have decided…
Enclosed…
Because/ Due to…
Regarding…
We have considered…
If…
Often you don’t need ‘aforementioned’ or ‘above-mentioned’ at all.

5

1.5 Talk to the Reader

Use language that talks directly to the reader. Avoid making grand statements about your
department’s plans or policy. This can appear pompous and may alienate the reader. In
the example below, compare the ‘we’ statements in Sample One and the ‘you’ references
in Sample Two.

Sample One

Dear Mr Wong,

The Fire Safety Council has been planning to produce a booklet on fire
safety for primary school children. We see this meaningful project as an
opportunity to serve the community and I would like, on behalf of the
Hong Kong Fire Service, to invite you to join us in a partnership to
produce the booklet.

Sample Two

Dear Mr Wong,

I am writing to ask whether you would be interested in helping us
produce a booklet on fire safety for primary school children.

Your experience in this field makes you an obvious partner and
we would appreciate your input in this important community project.

6

1.6 Tips on Layout and Style

¾ If the letter is long, allow an inch for your left and right margins. If the letter is
short, make your margins bigger and start the body of your letter further down the
page. For short letters, it is a good idea to double or triple space your lines.
¾ A letter looks more balanced if the paragraphs are about the same size. A recipient
is more likely to read your letter if the paragraphs are short. As a general rule,
they should be no more than six lines long.
¾ Your sentences should be short. Long sentences are always capable of being
reduced or split into two. A sentence of about 20 words is easier to digest.
¾ If your paragraph is complicated, or you need to refer to a list of items or tasks, it
is a good idea to use bullet points.
¾ If you need to quote anything longer than one line, you are advised to indent it on
a separate line and create one line of space above and below it.
¾ Get to the point in the first two lines. An exception to this applies when you have
to convey bad news or persuade someone. In these situations, it may be more
effective to build up your case, or ‘prepare the ground’, before getting to the point.
¾ Each paragraph should contain one main point, presented at the beginning of the
paragraph rather than at the end.
¾ Always be courteous. Never order anyone to do something. Use ‘please’ and
‘thank you’ wherever possible.

7

1.7 Letter Styles – Indented Style

LETTERHEAD WITH ADDRESS

13 January 2003
Mr Joseph Barnes
15 Tai Ting Rd
Anon Town
New Territories

Dear Mr Barnes,
2003 Quality Building Management Competition
I would like to ask your permission to use your company logo on
our promotional posters for this year’s Quality Building Competition.
We plan to hold the competition on Tuesday 3 July to promote
effective building management among local companies. This is the
first time the event has been staged in Anon Town.
As the winner of last year’s Clean Buildings Award, your
company is well-known for its environmental efforts. Lending your
name to the competition would certainly help to boost its profile as
well as generate some good publicity.
Please let me know if you are interested. I can be contacted by
phone on 21234567.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Wong
Chairman of the Housing Committee,
Anon District Council

8

1.8 Letter Styles – Block Style

LETTERHEAD WITH ADDRESS

13 January 2003
Mr Joseph Barnes
15 Tai Ting Rd
Anon Town
New Territories

Dear Mr Barnes,
2003 Quality Building Management Competition
I would like to ask your permission to use your company logo on our
promotional posters for this year’s Quality Building Competition.
We plan to hold the competition on Tuesday 3 July to promote
effective building management among local companies. This is the
first time the event has been staged in Anon Town.
As the winner of last year’s Clean Buildings Award, your company is
well-known for its environmental efforts. Lending your name to the
competition would certainly help to boost its profile as well as
generate some good publicity.
Please let me know if you are interested. I can be contacted by phone
on 21234567.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Wong
Chairman of the Housing Committee,
Anon District Council

9

1.9 Letter Styles – Modified Block Style

LETTERHEAD WITH ADDRESS

13 January 2003

Mr Joseph Barnes
15 Tai Ting Rd
Anon Town
New Territories

Dear Mr Barnes,
2003 Quality Building Management Competition
I would like to ask your permission to use your company logo on our
promotional posters for this year’s Quality Building Competition.
We plan to hold the competition on Tuesday 3 July to promote
effective building management among local companies. This is the
first time the event has been staged in Anon Town.
As the winner of last year’s Clean Buildings Award, your company is
well-known for its environmental efforts. Lending your name to the
competition would certainly help to boost its profile as well as
generate some good publicity.
Please let me know if you are interested. I can be contacted by phone
on 21234567.
Yours sincerely,

Michael Wong
Chairman of the Housing Committee,
Anon District Council

10

1.10 Letter

Styles – Simplified Style

LETTERHEAD WITH ADDRESS

13 January 2003

Attention: All Property Developers

2003 Quality Building Management Competition
I would like to ask your permission to use your company logo on our
promotional posters for this year’s Quality Building Competition.
We plan to hold the competition on Tuesday 3 July to promote
effective building management among local companies. It will be the
first event ever staged in Anon Town.
Lending your name to the competition would certainly help to boost
its profile as well as generate some good publicity. Please let me
know if you are interested. I can be contacted by phone on 21234567.

Michael Wong
Chairman of the Housing Committee
Anon District Council

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Chapter Two: Forms of Address

2.1 Introduction

This chapter reviews the correct forms of address of those in Government, the civil
service, the judiciary, the professions, the diplomatic corps, the clergy and those with
honorific titles.
This is by no means a definite list and further particulars can be found in The Government
of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Staff List; The Government of the Hong
Kong Special Administrative Region Civil and Miscellaneous Lists; the Central Cyber
Government Office’s Precedence List; Whitaker’s Almanac and Who’s Who.

2.2 GOVERNMENT / LEGISLATORS / CIVIL SERVICE

Post

Salutation

Address

The Chief Executive

Sir/Madam

The Honourable NAME

The Chief Secretary for
Administration

Sir/Madam

The Honourable NAME

Sir/Madam

The Honourable NAME
The Honourable Sir/Dame
NAME
Dr. the Honourable NAME
Prof. the Honourable NAME

Executive and Legislative
Council Members1

All other members in this
category

Dear Sir/Madam
Dear Mr etc. + surname
Dear Sir, Lady + first name
Dear Dr. etc. + surname

Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms
OR
Replace with academic (Prof.)
professional (Dr.) or foreign
honorific titles (Sir, Lady,
Dame)

1

Complimentary close for all Executive and Legislative Councillors:
‘I am Sir/Madam,
Yours faithfully’

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2.3 THE JUDICIARY

Post

Salutation

Address
Official:
The Honourable the Chief
Justice of Hong Kong.
Semi-official:
The Honourable Mr Justice
NAME, Chief Justice

The Chief Justice of the Court of
Final Appeal2

Sir/Madam

Permanent/Non-Permanent Judge
of the Court of Final Appeal

Sir/Madam

Chief Judge of the High Court

Sir/Madam

The Honourable Mr/Mrs/Madam
Justice NAME, Chief Judge,
High Court

High Court Judge

Sir/Madam

The Honourable Mr/Mrs/Madam
Justice NAME, High Court

District Court Judge3

Sir/Madam

His/Her Honour Judge NAME

Magistrate4

Dear Sir/Madam

Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms

The Honourable Mr Justice
NAME, Permanent/NonPermanent Judge, Court of
Final Appeal.
The Honourable Madam Justice
NAME
The Honourable Mrs Justice
NAME

Note
Certain non-permanent judges of the Court of Final Appeal hold honorific titles such as
‘Sir’ or ‘Lord’ and for those who have sat on Britain’s Privy Council, ‘The Right
Honourable’. However, while sitting on the Court of Final Appeal they should be
referred to in the normal way: ‘The Honourable Mr Justice…’

2

Address in Court for all judges above District Court level: My Lord, My Lady, Your Lordship/Ladyship
Address in Court for District Court Judges: Your Honour
4
Address in Court for Magistrates: Sir/Madam
3

13

2.4 THE CLERGY

Post
Anglican Archbishop of Hong
Kong5

Salutation
Dear Archbishop
Your Grace
Most Reverend Sir

Catholic Bishop of Hong Kong

Your Excellency
Dear Bishop NAME

Address
The Most Reverend NAME,
Archbishop and Primate of
Hong Kong
The Most Reverend the Bishop of
the Roman Catholic Church in
Hong Kong
The Most Reverend NAME (less
formal)

Dean of St John’s Cathedral

Dear Dean

The Very Reverend the Dean, St
John’s Cathedral

The Pope

Your Holiness
Most Holy Father

His Holiness Pope NAME

Cardinal

Your Eminence

His Eminence Cardinal NAME,
Archbishop of PLACE NAME

Archbishop

Your Excellency
Your Grace

The Most Reverend NAME,
Archbishop of PLACE NAME

Bishop (Catholic)

Dear Bishop NAME
Your Excellency

The Most Reverend NAME,
Bishop of PLACE NAME
The Most Reverend NAME

Bishop (Protestant)

Dear Bishop NAME

The Right Reverend NAME,
Bishop of PLACE NAME

Catholic Priest

Dear Father NAME
Dear Reverend Father

The Reverend Father NAME

Anglican Priest

Dear Reverend NAME

The Reverend NAME

Nun

Dear Sister
Dear Sister NAME

Sister NAME

Rabbi

Dear Sir
Reverend Sir
Dear Rabbi NAME

Buddhist Monk/Nun

Dear Venerable NAME

Rabbi NAME
The Reverend NAME
Ven. NAME
Venerable Sik NAME
Venerable NAME

5

Complimentary close for Pope, Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops: ‘I am, Sir/Madam, Yours faithfully’. All
others: ‘Yours faithfully’.

14

2.5 HONG KONG SAR HONOURS

When writing to those awarded honours under the HKSAR’s official honours system,
you should use the initials of the award after their names. Recipients of Hong Kong’s
highest award, the Grand Bauhinia Medal, may use the title ‘The Honourable’ before
their name.

Awarded Honour

Salutation

Address

The Grand Bauhinia Medal

Dear Sir/Madam

The Honourable NAME, GBM

The Gold Bauhinia Star

Dear Sir/Madam

Mr/Mrs etc. NAME, GBS

The Silver Bauhinia Star

Dear Sir/Madam

Mr/Mrs etc. NAME, SBS

The Bronze Bauhinia Star

Dear Sir/Madam

Mr/Mrs etc. NAME, BBS

The Medal of Honour

Dear Sir/Madam

Mr/Mrs etc. NAME, MH

Medal for Bravery (Gold)

Dear Sir/Madam

Mr/Mrs etc. NAME, MBG

Medal for Bravery (Silver)

Dear Sir/Madam

Mr/Mrs etc. NAME, MBS

Medal for Bravery (Bronze)

Dear Sir/Madam

Mr/Mrs etc. NAME, MBB

15

2.6 CONSULAR AND PROFESSIONAL TITLES

Post

Salutation

Address

Foreign Consul-General6

Dear Sir/Madam
Dear Mr/Mrs etc.

NAME, Esq.
Consul-General of COUNTRY,
Hong Kong.

Ambassador and High
Commissioner6

Your Excellency,
Sir/Madam
Dear Ambassador/High
Commissioner

His/Her Excellency TITLE (e.g.
Sir) NAME, Ambassador/High
Commissioner of COUNTRY

Physician

Dear Dr. NAME
Dear Doctor

Dr. NAME

Prof. / Professor

Dear Professor NAME

Professor/ Prof. NAME

College Dean

Dear Dean NAME

Dear Dean NAME

Academic Doctorate

Dear Dr. NAME

Dr. NAME

Dentist

Dear Dr. NAME

Dr. NAME (Qualification Initials)

Surgeon

Dear Dr. NAME

Dr. NAME (Qualification Initials)

Veterinary Surgeon

Dear Dr. NAME

Dr. NAME (Qualification Initials)

2.7 FOREIGN HONOURS AND TITLES

Post

Salutation

Address

Duke/Duchess

Dear Duke/Duchess

The Duke/Duchess of PLACE

Earl/Countess

Dear Lord/Lady PLACE NAME

The Earl/Countess of PLACE

Dame

Dear Dame FIRST NAME

Dame FULL NAME

Baron/Baroness

Dear Lord/Lady NAME
Dear Baron/Baroness NAME

The Baron/Baroness NAME of
PLACE

Knight

Dear Sir/Dear Sir FIRST NAME

Sir FULL NAME

Wife of Knight

Dear Lady NAME

Lady NAME

6

Complimentary close: ‘I avail myself of the opportunity to renew to you, Sir/Madam, the assurance of my
highest consideration’ or ‘I take the opportunity of renewing to you Sir/Madam, the assurance of my
highest consideration’.

16

2.8 Addressing More than One Person

Plurals
The plurals of Mr, Mrs and Dr. are Messrs, Mmes and Drs. respectively.
Address:

Drs. J. Smith and J. Jones

For salutations to a group of people, you are advised to find the noun that identifies them
as a group. For example: Dear Doctors, Dear Occupants, Dear Tenants, Dear
Association Members, Dear Staff, Dear Guests, Dear Visitors, Dear All.
Alternatively, you can address the group collectively and then use the singular, generic
salutation: Dear Sir/Madam.
Address:

The Occupants of Hilton Towers

Salutation:

Dear Sir/Madam,

For a group of men, Dear Gentlemen or Dear Sirs are equally acceptable.
There are no reliable ways to address a group of women. Dear Ladies is acceptable for
special female-only events or social functions. It would not, however, be appropriate to
address a group of people at work, who just happened to be female, as Dear Ladies
because drawing unnecessary attention to gender may be regarded by some as mildly
offensive. In these situations, it would be better to write: Dear Staff or Dear Colleagues.

Couples
If you need to address a married couple, then you can either write:
Mr and Mrs David Howard or
Mr David and Mrs Jean Howard
If either spouse has a title, then use the title first:
Dr. Jean and Mr David Howard
Your salutation should be:
Dear Doctor and Mr Howard

17

If couples have different surnames:
Mr David Howard and Ms Jean Smith
Your salutation should be:
Dear Mr Howard and Ms Smith, or Dear Mr David Howard and Ms Jean Smith,
It is still conventional to put the husband’s name first. When addressing two individuals,
or an unmarried couple, living at the same address, you should order the names
alphabetically.

Gender Unknown
If you are unsure of the names of those you wish to address, To Whom It May Concern
followed by Dear Sir/Madam would be appropriate.
If the reader’s gender is unclear, don’t guess. Write out their full name or use their initials
and surname, omitting the gender specific title.
Address: A.B. Mahoney. Salutation: Dear A.B. Mahoney, or Dear Dr. Mahoney.

2.9 Complimentary Closes – US and British Differences

In Britain, the general rule is fairly simple. If the person’s name is used in the salutation,
close with ‘Yours sincerely’. If the name is not used (e.g. Dear Sir), then close with
‘Yours faithfully’.
In the United States, ‘Yours faithfully’ is rarely used. Typical American closes include:

American Closes
Business:

Social:

Sincerely, Sincerely yours
Respectfully, Respectfully yours
Regards, Kind regards
Cordially
Yours truly

Best wishes
Faithfully
Very truly yours
Love

18

In the UK, ‘Sincerely’, ‘Yours truly’ and ‘Cordially’ are rarely used. More common
closes are:

British Closes
Business:

Social:

Yours sincerely
Yours faithfully
Regards
Kind regards

Best wishes
All the best
Love
Lots of love
Warm regards

In both British and American styles, complimentary closes end with a comma not a full
stop. In all cases, only the first letter of the first word is capitalised.

19

Chapter Three: Categories of Correspondence
This chapter deals with the structure and style of different types of letters and public
notices. Most of them belong to one of four main categories:
Notices and Letters Providing Information
Letters Requesting Information or Demanding Action
Letters of Acknowledgement
Declining Letters and Letters Conveying Bad News

3.1

Notices and Letters Providing Information

This category covers everything from press releases and public notices to routine
correspondence. The style should be concise, straightforward and not overly descriptive.
In most cases, the tone should be fairly neutral. That said, press releases can be more
descriptive and upbeat and declining letters more understanding in tone.
3.1.1 Public Notices – Tips on Layout and Style

Public notices should be easy to read and kept to one page, with all the important
information at the top. A quick glance at the first few lines should give readers the gist of
the message.

Use a bold, underlined heading to indicate the subject.
Explain the purpose of the notice and give a brief outline in the first paragraph.
Give further details in the following paragraphs, in order of importance/interest.
Offer the reader contact details to enquire or receive further information.
Say something meaningful at the end. Readers remember what they read last so
use this opportunity to remind or to emphasise.

20

3.1.2 Letters Providing Information

These are similar in layout to public notices but written in the form of letters. For large
audiences, it is advisable to use a simplified block format. If your letter responds to
queries or suggestions, you should acknowledge this at the beginning.
3.1.3 Press Statements – Tips on Layout and Style

The opening paragraph of a press statement needs to contain your basic message.
Additional information follows in order of importance. Background information, history
and references are presented last. The tone is neutral and the first person singular is
avoided.
If your language is concise, simple and to the point, an editor is less likely to re-work
your opening paragraphs. Putting background information at the end allows the editor to
cut less important material from the bottom up. Long, complicated sentences and flowery
language should be avoided.
Always ask: ‘How can I make this interesting to my audience?’ Consider what will make
them want to read what you have written.

A press release can be written on headed notepaper or plain A4.
If longer than one page, write ‘MORE’ on the bottom right hand corner of the
page.
Write ‘END’ OR ‘ENDS’ clearly at the end of the press release.
Use double spacing to make it easier to edit.
Write ‘PRESS RELEASE’ and centre it at the top of the page.
Above the headline and on the left, indicate the release date with the following
words: ‘FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE’ / ‘FOR RELEASE AFTER DATE’.

21

3.1.4 A Faulty Public Notice
‘Great joy’ sounds too
emotional for a public
notice. ‘Happiness’ or
‘delight’ are more
measured words.
It is not obvious
from the first
paragraph what this
notice is about. Is it
the opening of the
bridge or its redesign?
The three sentences
in the opening
paragraph are
disjointed.

OLYMPIC BRIDGE

Beijing’s successful bidding to host the Olympic Games

It should contain a
single idea along
with a brief
outline.
Details about the
HHD City Project
should be
explained later.

Instead: ‘…was
received with great
enthusiasm by the
people of Hong Kong.’

2008 brought great joy to the people. The Anon District
Office, in response to the Hygienic, Healthy and Dynamic
City project of the district, happened to be planning to

The opening
paragraph is too
long.

‘To the people’ sounds
like a propaganda line.

Language Use:

renovate this footbridge. So the students of St Peter’s

(1) ‘Successful bid’

School prepared a unique design to beautify the bridge,

(2) ‘To beautify’ is a
little vague. Instead:
‘a new design to
improve/enhance the
look of the bridge…’

with Olympic Games as the theme.

The concerted effort of Home Affairs Department and
Highways Department finally makes the Olympic Bridge
a reality in June 2002.

(3) ‘was planning to
renovate’
(4) It’s always ‘the’
department.
(5) ‘Concerted
efforts’ – usually
plural.
(6) Tense: ‘finally
made this a reality in
June 2002.’

22

3.1.5 An Alternative Public Notice
The main point is contained in the first paragraph. Details of those involved in the project
are introduced later. The paragraphs are shorter.

OLYMPIC BRIDGE

To celebrate Beijing’s successful bid to host the 2008 Olympic
Games, the students of St Peter’s School have redesigned the
(NAME) footbridge with an Olympics theme.

The Anon District Council, which had been planning to renovate
the footbridge as part of the district’s Hygienic, Healthy and
Dynamic City Project, invited students from St Peter’s School to
prepare a unique Olympic design for the bridge.

The combined efforts of the students, the Home Affairs
Department and the Highways Department finally made this new
Olympic Bridge a reality in June 2002.

23

3.1.6 A Faulty Letter Providing Information

The first
paragraph is
too long and
difficult to
read. It does
not grab
attention or
‘sell’ the
competition
effectively.

Avoid
repeating the
whole name.
Either: ‘the
Competition’
or ‘the
competition’.

Dear Sir/Madam,

Catering Industry Safety Award Scheme (2002/2003)
Safety Slogan Competition
The Anon Department will hold a Safety Slogan Competition in
conjunction with the Occupations Safety and Health Council, the
Occupational Deafness Compensation Board, the Hong Kong
Restaurant and Eating House Merchants General Association, the
Eating establishment Employees General Union, the Hong Kong
Hotels Association, the Association of Restaurant Managers and the
Food and Beverage Management and Professional Staff Association
from 2nd July 2002 to 20th July 2002. The purpose of the competition
is to reduce the number of work accidents by raising the safety and
health awareness of catering workers and their families, employees
at large, as well as the general public.

Use bullet
points to list
the
organisations
and do not put
them in the
first
paragraph.
Remember to
capitalise
‘The’ if it
forms part of
the name of an
organisation.

The Safety Slogan Competition is only a prelude to this year’s
Catering Industry Safety Award Scheme. As in previous years, there
are other competitions organised for the Award Scheme, including
the Safety and Health Assessment on catering establishments. The
details of these competitions and their enrolment procedures will be
announced later.
To enhance the occupational safety and health of the catering
industry, we need the support of your catering establishment.
A poster and an entry form for the Safety Slogan Competition are
enclosed. I sincerely hope that your establishment will participate
actively in the contest.
Should you have any enquiry on the Competition, please feel
free to contact Mr Chan (telephone no.)
With best wishes!
Yours faithfully,

24

Language Use
‘Raise awareness among workers, their families and employees at large’. This is
technically correct but ‘at large’ also means ‘on the loose’ and is often used to
refer to people or animals who escape captivity! ‘Employees in general’ is safer.
Avoid repeating names in full. The Safety Slogan Competition only needs to be
stated in full at the beginning.
Always put people first. If you are addressing a company or organisation, refer to
them directly. Instead of: ‘We need the support of your catering establishment’, it
is more personal and direct to say: ‘We need your support’.
Follow ‘any’ with the plural: any suggestions, any enquiries, any ideas, any
remarks, any complaints.

25

3.1.7 An Alternative Notice (Simplified Style)
There are no salutations or complimentary closes. An attention line is added. Bullet
points are used to make long paragraphs easier to read.

LETTERHEAD WITH ADDRESS

DATE
Attention: All Caterers and Restaurant Owners
Catering Industry Safety Award Scheme (2002/2003)
Safety Slogan Competition

We would like to invite you to participate in a Safety Slogan Competition that will run
from 2 July 2002 to 20 July 2002, as a prelude to this year’s Catering Industry Safety
Award Scheme.
The aim of the competition is to reduce the number of work related accidents by
enhancing health and safety awareness among workers, their families and the wider
community.
The event is being organised by the Anon Department together with:






The Safety Council
The Occupational Compensation Board
The Merchants General Association
The Employees General Union
The Hotels Association
The Association of Managers
The Management and Professional Staff Association

As in previous years, there will be other Award Scheme competitions including the
Safety and Health Assessment on catering establishments. Details of these competitions
and their enrolment procedures will be announced later.
A poster and an entry form for this competition are enclosed. If you have any enquiries,
or would like further information, please contact Mr Chan (telephone no).
I sincerely hope that you will all participate in this important, awareness-raising contest.

NAME
DESIGNATION
DEPARTMENT

26

3.1.8 A More Personal Style
To create a more personal style, this example uses a salutation, a complimentary close,
and the personal pronoun ‘I’. It also ends on a more personal appeal.

LETTERHEAD WITH ADDRESS
DATE

Dear Caterers and Restaurant Owners,

Catering Industry Safety Award Scheme (2002/2003)
Safety Slogan Competition

I would like to invite you to participate in a Safety Slogan Competition that will run from
2 July 2002 to 20 July 2002, as a prelude to this year’s Catering Industry Safety Award Scheme.
The aim of the competition is to reduce the number of work related accidents by
enhancing health and safety awareness among workers, their families and the wider community.
The event is being organised by the Anon Department together with:






The Safety Council
The Occupational Compensation Board
The Merchants General Association
The Employees General Union
The Hotels Association
The Association of Managers
The Management and Professional Staff Association

As in previous years, there will be other Award Scheme competitions including the Safety
and Health Assessment on catering establishments. Details of these competitions and their
enrolment procedures will be announced later.
A poster and an entry form for this competition are enclosed. If you would like to find out
more, please don’t hesitate to contact Mr Wong (telephone no.)
The success of this competition really depends on the willingness of everyone to get
involved, so I do hope that you will participate in this important, awareness-raising event.
Yours faithfully,
NAME
DESIGNATION
DEPARTMENT

27

3.1.9 A Faulty Press Statement

Include a
heading, title,
release date
and ‘END’
(at the end of
the
statement).

It is unlikely that
readers will be
particularly
interested in who
organised the
event. Do not put
this at the
beginning.

(Press Statement)
To celebrate the meaningful moment of the 5th
Anniversary of the Unification, the ‘Anon District
Celebration for the 5th Anniversary of the Unification
Carnival’ co-organised by the Anon District
Celebration for the 5th Anniversary of Unification
Committee and the Anon District Office will be held at
the Main Atrium of the Anon Town Plaza on 30 June
2002 (Sunday).
A Flag Raising Ceremony cum Opening Ceremony is
scheduled for 10 am that day and will be followed by a
variety of onstage performances, which include
marching band performance, lion and dragon dances,
symphonic band performance, Chinese orchestra
performance, Chinese dances, Oriental dances, Western
dances, modern dances, Para Para, Jazz dances, choir,
Chinese operatic songs, popular band performances.
Game booths will be set up from 2 pm to 4 pm, while
performance and free instruction on group dance will be
arranged at the same time. All members of the public
are welcome to the Celebration Carnival.
Admissions for all the above programmes are free.
Game booth tickets are available at ADDRESS. For
enquiries, please call NUMBER.

This list is too
long and
difficult to
read.
‘Performance’
is repeated too
often.
Avoid
capitalising.
Highlighting
too many
words can
reduce the
impact of your
message.

The fact that
the event is
free is very
important.
This should
be mentioned
further up.

28

Language Use
‘To celebrate the meaningful moment of the Anniversary’. Unnecessary and
unusual word use. Suggestions: ‘To celebrate the anniversary’, ‘To celebrate the
significance of the anniversary’, ‘To celebrate the important anniversary’.
A common convention for letters is to write out numbers if they are ten or below.
For example: ‘The fifth anniversary’. It looks nicer. Exceptions include titles and
headlines or a number forming part of a name: ‘The 5th Anniversary Committee’.
Avoid capitalising words excessively. It reduces the impact of the words you need
to highlight. A ‘flag raising ceremony’, ‘Fifth anniversary of the unification’ do
not need to be in capitals.
Avoid words like ‘cum’ in letters. It is not very contemporary, especially in a
press release.
‘The event is scheduled for 10 am’ is shorthand for ‘scheduled to begin at 10 am’.
Missing verb: ‘All members of the public are welcome to the celebration.’
Instead: ‘All members of the public are welcome to join in (or another verb) the
celebration.’ Alternatively: ‘All members of the public are welcome.’
‘Admissions for all the programmes are free.’ Admission is singular. The
preposition which follows is: ‘to’ not ‘for’. The correct version is: ‘Admission to
all programmes is free.’

29

3.1.10

An Alternative Press Statement

This press statement puts the most important information in the first paragraph. It
describes the event, indicates the date and location and informs you that it is free. It is
also relatively short.

PRESS STATEMENT

DATE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

FREE CARNIVAL TO CELEBRATE
TH

THE 5

ANNIVERSARY OF THE REUNIFICATION

A free carnival to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the reunification will be held at the main
atrium of the Anon Town Plaza on Sunday, 30 June 2002. Events include a flag-raising
opening ceremony along with a variety of multicultural musical and dance performances.

The Opening Ceremony begins at 10 am and is followed by a series of colourful events from
marching bands, lion dances and Chinese operatic songs to pop shows, orchestral
performances and a host of oriental and western dances from jazz to Para Para.

For those interested in dancing, free group dance instruction will be provided from 2 pm to
4 pm and game booths will open at the same time.
The carnival is jointly organised by the Anon District Celebration for the 5th Anniversary of
Unification Committee and the Anon District Office. For further information or enquiries,
please call NUMBER. Admission to all programmes is free and everyone is welcome.

Game booth tickets can be obtained in advance at ADDRESS.

END

30

3.2 Letters Requesting Information or Demanding Action
This section deals with letters requesting information or demanding action. The request
itself should be made in the first paragraph. The reasons should be set out in the
following paragraphs. At the end, you may wish to restate your request for emphasis.
Apart from routine requests, never assume that the reader will comply by ending with
‘Thank you’ or ‘Thanking you in advance’.

A routine request for information or action:
Be direct but courteous. Even routine letters require ‘please’.
Put your request in the first paragraph.
Explain the reason. If it is urgent, explain why. This is more likely to motivate the
reader to act.
It is acceptable to thank in advance.

More unusual or complicated requests:
State your request courteously.
Explain your reasons. If they are complicated, set out the details in numbered
paragraphs or bullet points.
Restate your request. If necessary, explain why the reader’s help is important.
End with a suitable close:
I look forward to hearing from you
Your cooperation would be greatly appreciated
We look forward to receiving your reply
We would be grateful if you would reply by DATE
We hope you will be able to help
We would appreciate receiving your reply as soon as possible

31

3.2.1 Requesting a Favour – Tips on Layout

Use the reader’s name wherever possible (avoid Dear Sir/Madam).
Adopt a personal, friendly tone.
State your request.
Explain your reasons and how the reader’s help is important.
If required, add a compliment or suggest that the favour will be returned (if true).
Use courteous language throughout: ‘We would appreciate’ etc.
Do not apologise for asking. It puts a negative spin on your request.
Do not assume that the reader will oblige by saying ‘thanks’. Instead try
something like:
‘Your help would be very much appreciated’
‘We hope to hear from you soon’
‘Do let us know if you are able to help’
‘Any help would be genuinely appreciated’

3.2.2 Persuading Letters – An Exception

There are occasions when stating a request in the first paragraph is simply too direct. This
applies to difficult or sensitive situations, where persuasion is important.
In these cases, it may be wiser to build up arguments first and then make the request.
This approach works best if it takes the reader by surprise. If the reader already expects
the request, a long preamble may prove counter-productive.

32

3.2.3

Letters Demanding Action – Tips on Layout

These letters are usually sent after earlier requests have failed. The tone is firm, direct but
always polite. Usually they begin with a reference to earlier correspondence. Reminder
letters do not belong in this category. They follow the normal layout for letters requesting
information.
Express your concern (refer to previous requests if applicable).
State the action that needs to be taken. Use bullet points for clarity.
Explain the consequences if they fail to comply (if applicable).
Provide any information to help the reader comply more easily.
Restate your demand politely.
Thank the reader for his cooperation, if appropriate.

3.2.4 Invitations – Tips on Layout

The layout and style of invitations are similar to those of letters of request. The tone is
personal and friendly. It is important that the reader senses a genuine desire for
acceptance.

State your request at the top.
Give further information.
Give contact details and practical information where appropriate.
Restate your request.
Express your desire for the reader to accept in your close.
‘We hope to hear from you soon’
‘Please confirm that you can attend’
‘We hope to see you there’
‘Your cooperation will be appreciated’
Be complimentary and courteous throughout.

33

3.2.5 A Faulty Request for Information

Overall
structure:

Civil Service Reform
Proposed Civil Service Provident Fund (CSPF)
Scheme

Put the request
closer to the
top.
Details about
the proposal
should be set
out in
following
paragraphs.

‘Grateful’.
This is a
shorthand
style that is
inconsistent
with the rest
of the letter.

Sentence
structure:
‘who will not
be given…’
refers more
clearly back
to those staff.

With a view to providing a more flexible retirement
scheme comparable with best practice in the private sector in
Hong Kong that would better meet the needs of the present and
future Civil Service appointment system, a consultancy study on
the civil service retirement benefits system (for new recruits on
permanent terms of appointment) has been carried out. The Anon
Bureau has issued an Executive Summary which sets out the
consultants’ findings and their recommendations on the design
options of the proposed CSPF scheme, and a Consultation
Document on the proposed Scheme.
I forward herewith a set of the Consultative Document and
Executive Summary for your reference. Grateful if you would let
me have your views on the proposals, particularly on their
attractiveness and usefulness in staff recruitment and retention, on
or before 31 March 2001. Please note that the proposed Scheme
will not apply to staff appointed before June 2000 and they will
not be given an option to transfer from the existing pension
schemes to the proposed Scheme.

Subject
headings should
be kept to one
line wherever
possible.
All of the
heading should
either be
underlined or
set in bold.

The paragraphs
and sentences
are too long.
Each paragraph
should only
contain one
main point.

This is your
request. It
should be at the
top of the letter
and restated
towards the end.

Language Use
Avoid capitalising words excessively. It reduces the impact of the words you need
to highlight. While ‘Anon Bureau’ should be capitalised. The generic ‘civil
service’ does not require capitalisation.
‘Herewith’ ‘Forthwith’ ‘Hereto’ etc. This is old-fashioned, turgid language. Its
use in letters should be avoided. However, it is still widely used in legal and more
formal correspondence.

34

3.2.6 An Alternative Request Letter

Proposed Civil Service Provident Fund (CSPF) Scheme

A consultancy study on the retirement benefits system for new recruits on permanent
terms has been carried out. The Anon Bureau has issued an Executive Summary and a
Consultation Document on the proposed reforms. I would appreciate your comments on the
proposals, especially your views of their likely effect on staff recruitment and retention.
The study proposes a more flexible retirement scheme to meet the needs of the present
and future civil service appointment system, comparable with the best practice in the private
sector.
The attached Executive Summary sets out the consultants’ findings and their
recommendations on the design options for the proposed CSPF scheme, along with a
Consultation Document.
Please note that staff appointed before June 2000 are not eligible to join or transfer to
the proposed scheme.
I would be grateful for your comments on these important proposals before March 31,
2001.

3.2.7 A Sample Routine Request

Dear Mr Wong,
Attached are three articles for next month’s newsletter. I’d be
grateful if you would print and prepare several hard copies of these for
next week’s meeting.
Thanks again.

35

3.2.8 A Faulty Request for a Favour
This letter is quite well written but the layout is faulty. On the subject of style, the writer
needs to address the reader more directly and personally.

Dear Mr Callaghan,

As this is the fifth anniversary of the founding of the HKSAR and
the 50th anniversary of our newsletter, we are going to publish a
supplement to mark these two special occasions. The supplement will
feature the achievements of the HKSAR in the past five years. We are
going to invite department heads to talk about their personal feelings
on the 5th Anniversary of the SAR and their future plans of work. To
facilitate our publication of the supplement in June, we should be most
grateful if you can find time in your busy schedule to meet us for an
interview. Your early reply will be much appreciated.

Language Use
‘Talk about your future plans of work’. This is not incorrect but it is more
common to say: ‘your future plans at work’ or ‘your plans for the future at work’.
‘Talk about your personal feelings’. This is not incorrect but it is more common
to talk about ‘your personal thoughts or views’. Only if the subject is genuinely
personal (e.g. relationships) does one normally speak of ‘feelings’. ‘Feelings’ are
always personal.
‘We should be grateful’. This is correct but ‘We would be grateful’ is more
contemporary.

36

3.2.9 An Alternative Request for a Favour
The request is made in the first paragraph. The tone is quite personal. The writer is
clearly ‘talking’ to the reader. It is likely that the reader will respond more positively to
this direct approach.

Dear Mr IP,

We would like to request an interview with you to mark the fifth
anniversary of the HKSAR. We hope to ask what the occasion means to
you personally and discuss your department’s plans for the future.

As the event coincides with the 50th anniversary of our newsletter,
we plan to publish a special supplement, featuring the achievements of
Hong Kong over the past five years. We are inviting all heads of
departments to share their personal views on the occasion.

I hope you will be able to find the time in your busy schedule to
meet us. Your early reply would be greatly appreciated.

Yours sincerely,

37

3.2.10 A Faulty Demand Letter
Structure:
Style:
Brackets are
not necessary.
Instead: ‘the
total quantity
of 1,653
bags…’

The demand
should be restated at the
end.

Dear Sir,

Contract Ref. Supply of Cotton Swabs

I refer to your letter dated 10 January 2002 and would like to
‘i.e.’ is not
necessary here
and should be
avoided.
Instead write it
out fully: ‘that
is to say’ or
‘that is’.

inform you that your proposal to compensate only 6% of the total
defective quantity (1,653 bags) instead of total replacement is not
acceptable by both our end-users, i.e. the Anon Hospital and the
Anon Department.

Abided by the spirit of Contract, the supplier has the

Correction:
‘...instead of
its total
replacement,
is not
acceptable to
our endusers, the
Hospital
Authority…’

obligation to deliver quality products in accordance with the
specification. It is not the responsibility of our end-users to
conduct the kind of quality check mentioned in your letter. This
will create unnecessary workload to hospital and clinic staff and is

Style:

totally unacceptable.

It is more
common to say:
‘compensation’
or financial
compensation’

Corrections:
(1) ‘Abiding
by…’
(2) ‘contract’

Since this case has been dragged on for a considerable time,
I should be grateful if you would further liaise with the
manufacturer for a 100% replacement or monetary compensation
as soon as possible. The latest defective quantity is attached for

(3) ‘create an
unnecessary
workload’
(4) ‘...clinical
staff’
(5) ‘has been
dragging
on...’

your necessary action.

In case of enquiry, please contact the undersigned on
telephone no. 3333.

I look forward to receiving your early reply before
11 July 2002.

38

Language Use

‘I should be grateful’. This is correct but ‘I would be grateful’ is more
contemporary.
Avoid unnecessary introductions such as ‘I am writing this letter to…’
In letters demanding action, when making a criticism try to use the passive voice.
It makes your comment less direct and easier for the reader to accept. Instead of:
‘You did not deliver the goods on time.’ It would be better to say: ‘The goods were
not delivered on time.’
‘Abiding by the spirit of the contract’. Remember, there are both implied and
express terms in a contract. Implied terms are unwritten terms, incorporated into a
contract by legislation or by legal precedent. If you know you are referring to
implied terms, you can simply say: ‘According to the contract…’ or ‘under the
contract’. This is obviously stronger than saying ‘Abiding by the spirit of the
contract’ which you should save for situations that definitely fall outside the
contract.
‘In case of enquiry’. This is impersonal. Other options: ‘If you have any queries /
Should you have any questions / For any questions, please… / Please contact us if
you have any questions regarding…’.
Avoid referring to ‘the undersigned’ in a letter, especially when you are inviting
someone to contact your department. It is unnecessarily impersonal. If the contact
person’s name is known, you should use it.
‘I look forward to your early reply before DATE.’ Avoid combining two
requests – an early reply and a deadline date. Alternatives: ‘I look forward to your
early reply.’ ‘I look forward to your reply before DATE.’ ‘I look forward to your
prompt reply before DATE.’

39

3.2.11 An Alternative Demand Letter
The demands are set out in bullet points to make them clearer. The action required is
restated politely in the final paragraph. There is an appeal to the reader’s good nature
coupled with the veiled threat of legal action.

Contract Ref. Supply of Cotton Swabs
Thank you for your letter of 10 January 2002. I am concerned about your
proposal to compensate only 6% of the 1,653 bags of defective cotton swabs. The
considered view of both the Anon Hospital and the Anon Department is that only a
total replacement of all the defective goods would be acceptable.
Under the contract, you are obliged to deliver products of a certain quality,
according to contractually agreed specifications. It is not the responsibility of endusers to conduct quality checks of the kind mentioned in your letter. The extra burden
on busy hospital and clinical staff would be unacceptable.
Since this case has dragged on for a considerable time, I would be grateful if you
would make arrangements with the manufacturer to provide either:

A 100% replacement of the defective goods

Full compensation in lieu of a full replacement

I am returning the latest defective product for your inspection. Should you have
any questions about this, or if you require further clarification about our requirements
or your contractual obligations, please contact Mr Chan on extension 3333.
As hospital staff and their patients depend on these goods, we would appreciate
your prompt action. We are reluctant to take this matter further and look forward to
receiving your reply before 11 July 2002.
Thank you for your cooperation.

40

3.2.12 A Sample Demand Letter

WARNING TO REMOVE STRUCTURES AT LOT 50

I refer to my letter dated October 9, 2001 requiring you to demolish
and remove any structures erected at Tenancy Lot No.50 before January
9, 2002. A recent inspection by my staff has revealed this has not been
done.
I am now asking you again to demolish and remove any structures
within your property, at your own expense, within one month from the
date of this letter.
I would like to remind you that, according to Special Condition 25
of your tenancy agreement, failure to carry out these works satisfactorily
will entitle the department to:

Carry out the reinstatement works on your behalf

Require that you pay to the Government the costs of such works

To avoid this expense, you are strongly advised to comply with
these instructions fully within one month from the date of this letter.
Should you have any questions, please contact Ms Tam on 21234567.

41

3.2.13 A Sample Warning Notice (Demand)

Attention: All Authorised Sellers of Poison
An Important Reminder
In recent months there have been a number of high profile cases involving the illegal
sale and possession of certain prescription drugs.

The Pharmacy Association takes a very serious view of these offences and is concerned
about the effect this may have on the reputation of the industry as a whole.

We would therefore like to remind all authorised sellers to redouble their efforts to
abide by the code of practice for Authorised Sellers of Poisons and strictly adhere to the
provisions of the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance. Copies of the code and relevant provisions are
enclosed.

Any seller convicted of contravening the Ordinance or the Code of Practice may be
required to appear before a disciplinary tribunal and have their license to sell such poisons
revoked.

If you have any queries about these regulations, please contact Mr Wong on 21234567.

NAME
POSITION

42

3.2.14 A Sample Invitation

Date
Dear

I would like to invite you to be a guest speaker at the Fire Safety
Council’s conference in November.
Your knowledge of publicity campaigns for school children is second to
none and I have no doubt our members would be very interested to hear
about the 2004 campaign.
The event will be held at: The Conference Hall, China Hotel Centre at
3 pm on Thursday, 14 November 2003. There will be 15 speakers in total.
Attached is a list of provisional speakers, many of whom I am sure you
already know.
We would be honoured if you could join us. Please let me know if you
are interested.
CLOSE

3.2.15 Language Use – Switching Personal Pronouns

It is acceptable to switch personal pronouns from ‘I’ to ‘We’ (or vice versa) in a letter
when there is a factual justification for doing so. In the example above, it is a good idea
to start the letter with ‘I would like to invite…’ because it makes the invitation more
personal. However, to switch pronouns by saying ‘We would be honoured’ is justified
because it is factually more accurate, and indeed more flattering, than ‘I would be
honoured’. As a general rule, you should be consistent in the use of personal pronouns
unless you have a reason to switch.

43

3.3

Letters of Acknowledgement

Letters of acknowledgement cover a wide range of categories from expressions of thanks
and congratulations to condolences and apologies.
A common problem with letters in this category is the use of overly descriptive language.
Using emphatic adjectives and adverbs to boost the impact of your message often has the
ironic effect of making it sound less sincere. The use of overly emphatic language is
considered in section 3.3.4.

3.3.1 Letters of Thanks, Congratulations and Acceptance

These letters must sound sincere. Avoid flattery but never shy away from a genuine
compliment. You should begin with an expression of thanks or congratulations, then:
Explain your reasons. Be complimentary and enthusiastic (where appropriate).
End with a final compliment, warm wishes for the future, or look forward to a
future meeting or event.
Never say ‘once again, thank you’ or repeat a compliment as this reduces the
impact of your message.
Always keep the tone personal and informal.
You should acknowledge the event promptly. It is pointless to send a message of
thanks several months after the event. Any positive message is countered by your
obvious failure to acknowledge earlier.

Letters of acceptance follow the same format but the ending usually points to a future
event or meeting e.g. ‘I look forward to seeing you there.’ If the invitation is routine,
your reply can be brief and your reasons do not need to be detailed: ‘It sounds like an
excellent idea. I look forward to seeing you there.’

44

3.3.2 Letters of Apology – Tips on Layout and Style

Typical apology letters at work relate to administrative errors, delays and complaints
against staff. If you have to write an apology, it is normally because a mistake has been
made. There is little point in trying to defend the action in an apology letter. This defeats
the object. Instead, apologise sincerely and explain the reasons for the error.
State your apology at the beginning. Don’t exaggerate or understate.
Explain the reasons for the mistake. Keep it short.
Explain what is being done to prevent it from happening again.
End your letter on a positive note, such as an assurance of better service in the
future. You may repeat the apology but try to use different words.
Some Apology Lines:
Please accept our apology
We are sorry for the inconvenience we have caused you

Thank you for your patience and understanding
We are sorry for making this mistake
We genuinely regret this oversight
If the complaint is not justified but you want to placate the reader:
I am sorry to hear that you were disappointed
I am sorry that you felt let down
I understand / appreciate your concerns
I appreciate that this is taking a long time but
Thank you for your patience / being so understanding

45

3.3.3 Sending Condolences – Tips on Layout and Style

It is always hard to write a condolence letter and what you write really depends on your
relationship with the grieving family. If you know the family well, you may:
Express your shock and sadness at the news.
Explain briefly the impression the person made on you.
Refer to something that you miss about the deceased: ‘I will miss her charm and
generosity.’
Never try to cheer up the grieving person or refer to other matters in an attempt to
distract them from their grief.
If you’re unsure about saying something, don’t say it.
Keep it short.

In cases where you don’t know the family well, be brief and honest.

Suggested Lines:
Our thoughts are with you at this sad time
We were deeply shocked and saddened to hear the news (personal)
I am so sorry to hear the news / about your loss / tragic loss
We are truly sorry to hear about your father
May I express my deep sympathy to you and your family
Some people, particularly Americans, find words like ‘death’ or ‘deceased’ a little strong.
‘Your loss’ or ‘your sorrow’ are acceptable alternatives.

Suggested Endings:
Our thoughts are with you
We will miss him/her (personal)
Our prayers are with you (personal)
With sympathy / deepest sympathy
Yours sincerely

46

3.3.4 Avoiding Overly Emphatic Language

A common stylistic problem, particularly with letters of acknowledgement, is the use of
overly emphatic language. If a sentence is loaded with descriptive language it can reduce
the impact of your message by sounding exaggerated. To avoid this, always ask yourself
whether you really mean what you are writing, and whether it is necessary.

‘I was extremely delighted to see your clients helping the less fortunate lives….’
‘Our units will treasure any insights you have on the rapid development of the Pearl
Delta region…’
‘I am writing to thank you for your new book, Skies, published by your esteemed
company…’

‘Delighted’ already means
‘very pleased’. By adding
‘extremely’ the sentence
becomes too emphatic.
Acceptable examples in order
of strength:



‘I was pleased / so
pleased / very / most
pleased.’
‘I was happy / so happy /
very happy.’
‘I was delighted / so
delighted / absolutely
delighted’
‘I was thrilled’: this is
fine for personal letters,
since it expresses strong
emotion.
‘I was overjoyed’: this is
very strong. Only use
such an expression if you
are genuinely
overwhelmed with
happiness!

Avoid ‘most happy’, ‘most
delighted’. These are not
contemporary expressions.

The things you ‘treasure’ are
precious and personal. They are
normally associated with happy
memories, special gifts. You
would normally not use this word
in a business context.
‘Our units would appreciate any
views / perspectives / insights you
have’ is appropriate here.

‘Esteemed’ is used to
describe people of
impeccable character or
associated with highly
reputable organisations.
This is old-fashioned,
formal English and is not
used much today. It would
rarely be used to describe a
company.

Other phrases include:



‘Our units would very much /
particularly appreciate’
‘Our units would value any
insights’
‘We particularly value your
opinion and would appreciate
any insights’
‘Our units greatly respect
your views and would
appreciate any insights’

In this case, it would be
best to avoid using an
adjective altogether. It
distracts the reader from
the focus of the letter,
which is to express
gratitude for the book.
If you want to use an
adjective however, these
words are more suitable:



‘highly regarded’
‘renowned’
‘respected’
‘reputed’

47

3.3.5 A Faulty Letter of Thanks

Avoid ‘mission
statements’.
Overall:
Use fewer words;
make each
sentence more
concise and direct.
Example:
‘We were all
greatly
encouraged by
your kind words
about our
services.’

Dear Ms. Wong,
Thank you for your letter of 11 March. It is
very gratifying to hear your favourable comments

This paragraph is
too inward
looking. Use ‘you’
language and talk
to the reader.

on our work at Old Market. Your recognition of the
services provided at the Market is really a great
encouragement to all of us in the department.
It is one of the department’s missions to
provide quality services for people from all walks
of life. To strive for excellence, we have always
attached importance to the feedback of our
customers. Your compliment, undoubtedly, shows

Language:
‘undoubtedly,
shows us that our
efforts on
providing
customer-oriented
services have
borne fruit’

us that our efforts on providing customer-oriented
services have borne fruit.
Avoid: ‘once
again’
It reduces the
impact of your
message and
sounds like you
have nothing
else to add.

I have conveyed your appreciation to our staff
working at the Market. Once again, thank you for
your support to our department.

The language is
too convoluted.
The tone is selfimportant. Also,
the use of the
present perfect
suggests a
completed job.
Be more modest:

Yours sincerely,

‘shows our
continuing efforts
to provide a good
service are being
recognised /
valued.’

48

3.3.6 An Alternative Letter of Thanks
This letter is much shorter. It is more modest and talks directly to the reader. The reader
is more likely to form the view that the department is receptive to comments from the
public: ‘I hope we continue to provide a service that meets your expectations.’

Dear Ms Wong,
Thank you very much for your kind words about our work at Old
Market.
We rely on comments from the public, be they good or bad, to
improve the range and quality of the services we provide.

It is a

pleasure, though, to receive such generous compliments.
I have conveyed your message to the staff working at the Market
and they were delighted. I hope we continue to provide a service that
meets your expectations.

Yours sincerely,

49

3.3.7 Sample Letter of Thanks (Goodwill Overseas)

Dear Ms Laurie,

What a lovely surprise! Thank you so much for the gift and
your kind words.

It was a pleasure to invite the Challenge America team. Your
sheer professionalism and sense of fun were inspiring. The local
teams certainly enjoyed the whole experience. Let’s hope we
continue to strengthen the bonds between the Hong Kong and
American teams.

I look forward to seeing you again on our next project to
promote information technology in education.

With warm regards,

50

3.3.8 More Letters of Thanks and Model Suggestions

Extract One
Thank you very much for your letter of 2002 inviting me to take part at
the above Opening Ceremony to be held 2002. I am delighted to accept your
kind invitation. I look forward to seeing the fruits of your programmes.

Language Use
Give the full date when referring to a letter. In a letter of thanks, it is not
necessary to mention the date at all.
Correct preposition: ‘Take part in’. ‘Above’ should be avoided.
Only remind the reader when it will be held if it is necessary. If the event is
already described in the subject heading, this is unnecessary.
‘The fruits of your programmes.’ The usual phrase is: ‘fruits of your work’ or
‘fruits of your labour’. Other associations sound a little odd.

An Alternative

Thank you very much for inviting me to take part in the Opening
Ceremony. I am delighted to accept and I look forward to seeing the result of
all your hard work. I’m sure it will be a spectacle.

51

Extract Two

Thank you for your generous donation towards the Lucky Draw Annual
Dinner. It is indeed a pity that you could not join us, but your enormous support is
deeply appreciated. To express our sincere gratitude towards your continuing
support and guidance, the Staff Club would like to present you a souvenir, which is
enclosed herewith for your retention.

Language Use
This is a good start but the letter is ruined by the ending: ‘which is enclosed
herewith for your retention’. This turgid language should be avoided in a
letter of thanks.
Correct prepositions: ‘gratitude for your support’, ‘to present you with…’.
An Alternative
To express our heartfelt thanks for your continuing support and guidance,
the Staff Club would like to present you with this souvenir.
OR
The Staff Club would like to present you with this souvenir as a token of our
heartfelt thanks for your continuing support and guidance.

52

Extract Three
I am writing to thank you for sending me the new book Free Seas…
The book, co-written by Dr X and Dr Y, gives a comprehensive
account of the history and development of the shipping industry in Hong
Kong, as well as a critical analysis of the pros and cons of opening up the
seas. It is undoubtedly a useful reference book for interested parties in the
industry. I have read it with interest and am impressed by the deep insight of
the authors.
Language Use
This is a well-meaning letter but the reader may suspect the writer does not
like the book. Why? It appears to lack sincerity. The tone is impersonal and
the language is packed with facts that seem to demonstrate a knowledge of,
rather than genuine interest in, the book.
‘Undoubtedly’ underlines the impersonal style. Use ‘I’ to personalise your
comments: ‘I think it will make an excellent reference book…’ or ‘I have no
doubt it will be a useful book…’

An Alternative

Thank you very much for sending me your new book, Free Seas. It was
a pleasure to read.
I thought your chapter on the history of Hong Kong’s shipping industry
was superb. I was impressed with the authors’ analysis of the pros and cons
of opening up the waterways. I think this will make an excellent reference
book for those in the industry.

53

Extract Four

Thank you for your letter of 17 May 2002 inviting me to attend the
inauguration ceremony of the above programme. I am glad to accept the
invitation and Miss Chan, acting as District Officer while I’m on leave,
will attend the ceremony on my behalf.

Language Use
The first line should be condensed to: ‘Thank you for inviting me to the
inauguration ceremony.’
If you have been invited to an event, never refer to it as ‘the above’.
The writer should apologise for being unable to attend in person.

An Alternative

Thank you for inviting me to the NAME inauguration ceremony.
I’m sorry to say that I will be away at the time but Miss Chan, our acting
District Officer, would be delighted to attend on my behalf.

54

3.3.9 A Faulty Letter of Congratulations
In letters of congratulations, acknowledge the event, say something meaningful about it,
keep it short and genuine, end with a lasting thought and do not overload your writing
with adjectives and adverbs. Finally, only congratulate once – either at the beginning or
the end.
Phrases used for formal congratulations:

This is correct but
stylistically too formal if
addressed to an
individual or to someone
you know.
Congratulating directly
is usually more effective
and sounds more
genuine.
Direct, less formal
expressions:
‘Congratulations to all
of you who passed…’
‘Congratulations on
your promotion…’
‘Well done on your
superb performance…’
‘Hearty
congratulations…’
‘Let me congratulate you
on…’
‘My heartfelt
congratulations…’

Avoid repeating
words such as
‘congratulations’
and ‘well done’
for the simple
reason that using
the same word
twice reduces the
impact of your
message.




‘It is my pleasure to congratulate…’
‘I am delighted to congratulate…’
‘I would like to congratulate…’
‘Let me offer my sincere
congratulations to…’

Avoid using emphatic
adjectives and adverbs
to increase the
emotional impact of
your statement (e.g.
‘great pleasure’ or
‘extremely pleased’).
These expressions tend
to exaggerate the
message and make it
sound less sincere.

5 January 2003
‘Wish a success…’ is
incorrect. You ‘wish
success’ or you can
‘wish every success’.

Dear Mr Callaghan,
It is my great pleasure to congratulate the
ABC Association on the publication of Review.
I sincerely wish this new quarterly
periodical

a

success

in

It is more personal to
wish people rather
than objects success: ‘I
wish you every success
with your new
magazine.’

promoting

communication within the industry.
Once again, congratulations.

John Chan

It is probably best not
to use ‘sincerely wish’
in this context. It
sounds more hopeful
than confident.
Hopeful:
‘I sincerely wish you
the best of luck in your
exams.’
Confident:
‘Best of luck in your
exams. I’m sure you
will do very well.’

55

3.3.10 Alternative Letters of Congratulations

Dear Mr Callaghan,
Congratulations to everyone at the ABC Association
on the successful launch of Review.
I was very impressed with the first edition and I have
no doubt it will generate a greater sense of community
within the industry.
Yours sincerely,

Dear Mr Callaghan,
I read the first edition of your new magazine Review
and I was very impressed.
I have no doubt it will be well received in the
industry. Congratulations to everyone involved at the ABC
Association.
Yours sincerely,

56

3.3.11 Sample Retirement Letters

On your retirement from the Staff Retraining Board, I would like
to thank you most warmly for your invaluable service to the Board over
the past ten years.
Under your steer, the Board has expanded its services and found
new ways to meet the needs of the changing labour markets.
None of these accomplishments could have been achieved without
you.
I greatly appreciate the huge amount of time and effort you have
devoted to your work and I look forward to collaborating with you again
on future projects.

As you will be retiring shortly, I want to express my sincere
thanks for the commitment you have shown us over the past two years.
We will all miss your helpfulness and pleasant company.
May I take this opportunity to extend to you and your family my
best wishes for the future.

57

3.3.12 A Faulty Letter of Apology
Scenario: A man claims that a woman refused to vacate a computer at a public library
after the allocated time expired. He also claims that when he approached the staff to raise
the issue, his grievance was met with indifference. This is a response to his written
complaint.

Overall this
letter is too
long.
The sentences
should be
shorter and
more direct.

Complaint about Computer Use at Public Library

Thank you for your letter dated February 22, 2003 concerning

Don’t refer to
a complaint
as the
‘captioned
subject’.

the captioned subject.

We have completed the investigation of your incident on

This letter
should begin
with an
apology.

February 3, 2003. As regards the abuse of use of the personal
computer by the public, we have consulted our headquarters for the
Grammar:
‘In the long-run
we will further
investigate with
the
Headquarters in
enhancing the
control
measures.’

district-wide policy. In order to encourage more people to use the
service and avoid abuses, all PCs already have a built-in ‘automatic
shut down function’ so that they will shut down after prolonged use
of an hour. In spite of the above, we will post up warning messages
around the area and our staff will strengthen control of the use of
the PCs. In the long-run we will further investigate with the
Headquarters in enhancing the control measures.

Instead:
‘We will
investigate with
headquarters
ways to enhance
the control
measures...’

Considering the unpleasant experience caused to you by the

If possible
you should
give an
explanation
for the
problem first
and then
explain what
further action
will be taken.
The
paragraphs
are too long.

above incident we believe that there must be room for
improvement on the service provided by our front-line staff. In this
regard, we have improved communication with our counter staff on
customer handling skills and arranged more training. We apologise
for the inconvenience caused by this incident.

Thank you again for your valuable suggestions. If you have
any queries, please feel free to contact me.

58

3.3.13 An Alternative Letter of Apology
In this sample, the apology is given at the beginning. The language is sympathetic and
talks directly to the reader. Notice that the paragraphs are short, clear and simple.

Complaint about Computer Use at Public Library

Please accept my apologies for your unpleasant experience at
the X Public Library on February 3, 2003.
We have carried out an investigation and take the view that the
measures to control the fair use of library computers should be
improved.
We were also disappointed to hear that you found the attitude
of staff unhelpful. We take this matter seriously and have arranged
further training of our front-line staff to improve customer support.
All our PCs have a built-in shut down function that is
supposed to close the computer automatically if used for more than
an hour. In your case it appears this function was not working
properly. To prevent this from happening again, we have posted
warning messages around the area and instructed staff to enforce
the system more rigorously.
I hope this goes some way to meet your concerns and that you
experience much better service on your next visit.

59

3.3.14 A Sample Response to a Request
This is a sample of a response to a request that involves an expression of sympathy and/or
apology for third party actions.

Dear

Thank you for your letter expressing concern about the
obstructed footpath at Anon.

This matter was first drawn to our attention last month when
several villagers complained of the nuisance. We responded very
quickly issuing three warnings to the alleged offender to clear the
obstruction. When it became apparent that this person was ignoring
our requests, we served him with a summons on August 3, 2003.

Meanwhile, as the legal process takes some time, I have
instructed one of our clearance teams to remove the obstruction
before the end of next week.

We are sorry for the inconvenience this has caused you. Let
me assure you that we take a serious view of the illegal obstruction
of public rights of way and we do our best to act promptly.

Should you have further questions, please call me on
21234567.

Yours sincerely,

60

3.3.15 Sample Condolence Letters to Colleagues
Here are some suggestions for condolence letters to colleagues or associates.

I am so sorry to hear the tragic news.
May I express my deepest sympathy to you and
your family in this difficult time.
My thoughts are with you.

I was very saddened to hear about your sudden
loss. My thoughts are with you and your family.
With deepest sympathies,

May I express my heartfelt sympathy on learning of
your mother’s death.
I appreciate what a tremendous loss this must be to
you and your family.
Yours sincerely,

61

3.4

Declining Letters and Letters Conveying Bad News

This category deals with those situations where you have to say ‘no’. The first step is to
decide whether to be direct or indirect. A direct approach means you decline in the first
paragraph and then explain your reasons:
‘Thank you for your letter. After careful consideration I regret to inform you that…’
‘We have carefully considered your proposal…’
‘I’m sorry to say that we are unable to…’
An indirect approach means you explain first and then refuse. The end result is the same
but the indirect approach is more tactful and should be used in situations where
sensitivity is required. This approach is also used in more formal letters where reasons
need to be set out fully before a conclusion is drawn (see section 3.4.4 An Alternative
Declining Letter). This section concentrates on the indirect approach.
3.4.1 General Tips on Layout

Thank the person for the letter (or other communication).
Give an overview of the situation, explaining the relevant pros and cons.
Show that you have considered the actual proposal carefully. If you agree with
anything that the reader has said, make sure you say it here.
Now state your refusal. You may also wish to apologise here (if appropriate).
End your letter on an encouraging note.

3.4.2 Declining Invitations – Tips on Layout

When declining an invitation, keep it brief, be grateful and have a reasonable excuse.
Remember: A lengthy explanation can sometimes sound like a guilt-ridden excuse.
Thank the reader or say something nice about the occasion: ‘What a wonderful
idea / It sounds like a superb evening / Your offer is very tempting indeed’.
Give your explanation.
Say sorry, if required.
End on a positive note.

62

3.4.3 A Faulty Declining Letter

Overall, the
arguments need to
be structured in a
way that links the
points.
Use connecting
language such as:
However,
in fact,
firstly,
secondly,
thirdly,
due to,
as a result of,
therefore,
because of this

Thank you for your letter concerning the above.

According to our records only some of the area on which
you claim to have cultivated land for over 20 years was

Structure:

previously private land. The area on which our clearance

‘In view of
the above, I
would like to
advise you...’

action took place on May 23, 2002 has always been unleased
Government land.

The former private land area were Lots 10 and 11.
However all these lots were surrendered to the Government in
1997. Prior to this, they changed hands a few times in the past
30 years but were never registered in your name.

This is stated
before the
policy so the
reader does
not know
why being on
‘unleased
land’ is
significant.

In view of the above, I would like to advise you that the
The writer
should give
the policy
outline in the
first
paragraph
and discuss
the details of
the case
afterwards.

entire area on which you have been cultivating is unleased
Government land. Under existing policy, ex gratia allowances
for crops are payable to cultivators who are cleared from
leased Government land or private land resumed for a public
purpose. As your case does not fall with such categories, no
ex-gratia allowances are therefore payable.

Yours sincerely

The ending is
very abrupt.
The last line
should not
contain the
rejection.
It should be
couched in
sympathetic
language.

63

3.4.4 An Alternative Declining Letter
In this letter, the policy is stated at the top, followed by a clear demonstration that the
writer has considered all the facts. The actual refusal comes close to the end. It is
accompanied by further information and an offer of help.

Thank you for your letter of June 14, 2002.
Under existing policy, ex gratia allowances are only payable to those
whose crops were cleared from private land or land leased to them by the
Government.
The area that you claim to have cultivated covers two areas, formerly
private land, namely Lots 10 and 11, and Government land. The formerly
private land was surrendered to the Government in 1997 and has not been leased
since it was acquired. The original Government land has never been leased.
According to our records, the clearance action of May 23, 2002 only took
place on the original Government land. As the allowance only applies to those
cultivating on leased Government land or private land, I regret to inform you
that you will not be eligible for an ex gratia payment as your crops were cleared
from un-leased land.
For your information, we also checked the ownership of Lots 10 and 11,
the private land that was surrendered to the Government in 1997. Unfortunately,
we could find no record of it ever being registered in your name.
I appreciate this is a complicated area. If you have any further questions
or would like to receive literature on the allowance system for cultivators, please
contact our office on 21234567. We would be happy to assist.

64

3.4.5 Sample: A More Formal Declining Letter
Setting out the reader’s side of the argument at the beginning helps to demonstrate that a
decision has been made fairly based upon all the material facts.

Rent Arrears – Wo Ping Estate

I refer to your letter of February 2003 in which you explained your
difficulties in settling the rental arrears of $25,000, the outstanding
management fees of $4,300 and the late payment penalty of $1,500.
I understand your reasons are as follows:

You were overseas from July 2001 to August 2002 and you
believed the rent was being paid by your brother in your
absence.

You only became aware of the arrears in September 2002
when you returned to Hong Kong.

Since your return, you have been unemployed and
experiencing serious financial problems.

Having carefully considered your case, I regret to say that we are
unable to accept your request to waive the outstanding amount. Although
sympathetic, as a matter of policy we do not offer discounts or waivers for
rental arrears, fees or fines.
However, we would be prepared to allow you to repay the
outstanding sum by instalments over an agreed period. If this is acceptable,
please contact our office as soon as you receive this letter to arrange an
appointment so that we can discuss the terms of repayment.

Yours sincerely,

65

3.4.6 Sample: Declining an Invitation

Thank you very much for inviting me as guest of honour to your
Annual Fellowship Dinner. Unfortunately, I will be away on business for
the whole of April, so sadly I will be unable to attend.
It was very kind of you to think of me though and I do hope you
have a wonderful evening.
With kind regards,

3.4.7 Sample: Decision Pending

Dear Mr Chan,
Thank you for your letter of January 8, 2003.
The Director of the Anon Department is carefully considering your request to
hire the Civic Centre for a non-governmental conference.
I hope you understand that, due to the number of different factors involved,
your application may require some extra consideration and this may take time.
We appreciate your patience and expect to give you an answer within the next
ten days.
Yours sincerely,

66

Chapter Four: Ceremonial Writing

4.1 Introduction

The layout and writing style of a formal invitation or announcement largely depend on
personal preference. However, it should look professional and pleasing to the eye. A
good design suggests that the event you are announcing will be good too.
It is important, therefore, to stand back and view the script almost as a piece of art. Does
it look right? Is it symmetrical? Are the lines spaced properly? Is there too much room at
the top or bottom of the document?
You cannot separate content from layout because your choice of words will change the
way the script looks. ‘Requests the pleasure of the company of NAME’ reads well but
may not fit onto one line. Instead you might try the shorter: ‘Requests the pleasure of
your company.’

General Advice
¾ Decide on the content.
¾ Experiment with layouts.
¾ If you like a layout but the words don’t fit comfortably, try changing the words.
¾ If you cannot change the words, then try another layout.

4.2 Language Use

¾ Use the full name of the host, including titles and post-nominals (e.g. JP).
¾ Use the full name of the guest, including titles and post-nominals (e.g. JP).
‘Requests the pleasure of the company of
Mr. Paul Cheung Man Fai, JP’
¾ For Chinese names, if the invitee uses an English name, position it in front of the
Chinese surname.

67

¾ The convention is to write out titles in full e.g. Doctor, Professor, The
Honourable. The only abbreviated exceptions are Mr / Mrs.
¾ Using a full-stop after an abbreviated title or post-nominal letters is optional. It
depends on how it looks. Lots of full-stops can look messy and take up space.
‘Mr. Smith, J.P.’ or ‘Mr Smith, JP’. Remember to be consistent throughout.
¾ The convention is to write the date and time of the event fully in words. This
applies in particular to formal or important invitations such as weddings or large
ceremonies. For less formal invitations, public announcements and plaques, this
convention is often ignored.
¾ If an announcement includes an address, i.e. ‘is pleased to announce its Grand
Opening at 15 Longacre Rise’, it is acceptable to use figures in the address.
¾ R.S.V.P. is French for ‘please reply’. It requests the reader to indicate whether he
or she is able to attend. Alternatively ‘Regrets Only’ means only those who cannot
attend should get in touch.

4.3 Tips on Layout and Style

¾ The wording should be centred. Avoid single line spacing. Create larger spaces to
separate sections if necessary. Use different font sizes for emphasis.
¾ For invitations, dress code information is positioned in the bottom right of the
card. R.S.V.P. or Regrets Only, with an accompanying phone number, is
positioned in the bottom left. Normally, these details are kept well away from the
main body of text.
¾ Your choice of font is really a matter of personal taste. For weddings, the
convention is to use a ‘hand-written’ font.
¾ Connectives and prepositions (on, in, at, from etc.) that begin a new line should
not be capitalised. The first letter of names, places, organisations, titles of events,
certificates and awards should be capitalised.
¾ If you want a name or title to stand out, put the prepositions that accompany it on
the previous line or on their own separate line.
¾ Always have symmetry in mind. Pyramid shapes, where the text is too heavy at
the top or bottom should be avoided.

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4.4 A Faulty Plaque

Only include a
very short
introduction at
the beginning.

To promote environmental protection, greening consciousness
Background
information
should be
separated from
the ceremonial
message.

as well as development of tourism
the Green Garden was built under our
‘Green Name and Plant More Flowers’ project

‘Environmental
protection and
greening
consciousness’
feels repetitive.
Just say:
‘environmental
awareness’

and
a wide variety of bauhinia were planted in the Name View Point on
funds donated by a number of people and organisations
The Green Garden

Are these
people
committee
members,
donors or
authors of the
message?

was officially opened by

The tone should
be formal and in
the third person.
Never use ‘our’
or ‘we’.

Ms Jenny NAME, JP, Director of Anon
On 13 June 2001

Dr NAME, Chairman
To be clearer,
their names
should be
positioned next
to information
that relates to
their work.

Mrs NAME, Vice-Chairman
Organising Committee on ‘Green Name and Plant More Flowers’
Anon District Community Development Fund

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4.5 An Alternative Plaque
This plaque correctly highlights the name of the garden and clearly indicates its purpose
at the beginning. Details about donations and organisations are placed at the end, using a
smaller font. It is now clear that the names at the bottom of the plaque refer to committee
members.

To promote environmental awareness

The Green Garden
was officially opened by
Ms Jenny NAME, JP, Director of Anon
on the 13th of July 2001

The Green Garden was built by the
‘Green Name and Plant More Flowers’ Project
to promote environmental protection and to encourage tourism
The ‘Green Name and Plant More Flowers’ Committee would like to thank
all those who donated funds to the project. A wide variety of bauhinia were
planted in the Name View Point through their generosity.

Dr NAME, Chairman
Mrs NAME, Vice-Chairman
Organising Committee on ‘Green Name and Plant More Flowers’
Anon District Community Development Fund

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4.6 A Sample Plaque

This Plaque was unveiled by
Mr. NAME, J.P.

to commemorate the opening of the

Multi Media Learning Centre
at Anon Institute
on the 5th of September 2002

4.7 A Sample Formal Invitation

The Ballet Performance Committee
requests the pleasure of your company
at the

Ballet Extravaganza
to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the founding of the
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
to be held in the
Piazza of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre on
Saturday the eighth of June at seven o’clock in the evening

R.S.V.P.

Black Tie

21234567

71

4.8 A Sample Certificate

The Anon Department
of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

Outstanding Volunteer Awards
in the
Protection of the Environment Programme

Certificate of Appreciation

Presented to

___________________________

in recognition of his dedication and outstanding achievement

_____________
Commissioner
Date

72

Chapter Five: Speech Openings
‘Few sinners are saved after the first twenty minutes of a sermon.’
Mark Twain

The most important part of any speech is the opening. This is your grace period. No
matter how controversial the subject, the audience usually keeps an open mind and
reserves judgement. This is your chance to grab their attention, engage their interest and,
if necessary, win them over.
The most important thing to remember is that the opening should be written last.
Everything else – your objective, main points and conclusion come first. Once you have a
clear idea of the content, tone and style of your speech, go back and write the opening.
The opening sets the tone of your speech. If it is entertaining, you may want to start with
an amusing anecdote or one-liner. If it is serious or thought-provoking, perhaps a
rhetorical question would work best.

5.1 Opening Styles

This is determined by the content and tone of your speech. Speechwriters should adopt an
opening that best suits the speaker’s personality and delivery. You could begin with:

An Anecdote. These narratives must be relevant, short and interesting. They also
need to be simple and must serve to illustrate your main point.

A Quotation. You should try this if the quote neatly encapsulates your main point.
A quote helps to focus the audience’s attention on the theme. They work best
when they are attributable to a well-known person. Avoid long, obscure or
irrelevant quotes. Clichés (over-used quotes such as ‘If a job’s worth doing, it’s
worth doing well.’) should always be avoided.

Visualisation. This is when you ask the audience to visualise a scenario. ‘Imagine
if you’re sitting at home after a long day’s work and the fire alarm in your
apartment block goes off....’ Asking the audience to imagine a situation involves
them directly in your talk. Presenting them with simple, visual situations
encourages them to think more about what you are saying.

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A Rhetorical Question. This is a well-known and highly effective way to engage
an audience. It gets them to think about the question and, by extension, the point
you will be making. A rhetorical question works well if it is surprising or
controversial. ‘Which would you prefer? A country with lots of laws, enforced
occasionally, or one with much fewer laws, rigorously enforced?’

An Opening Statement. Starting with a strong statement is another popular
technique. It is similar to a rhetorical question in that it gets the audience to think
about an issue. The statement should be short, bold and may be controversial.
‘The golden days of the property market will never return.’ You do not have to
agree with the statement and may qualify it after a suitable pause: ‘This is what
many people believe.’

Similes and Metaphors. You can also start by comparing your main point to a
strong visual image. This helps the audience visualise what you are saying. As
imagery is more memorable than words, it is more likely that they will remember
your point too. Also, the more unusual the comparison, the more interesting or
amusing it is likely to be: ‘A speech is like a wheel, the longer the spoke, the
greater the tire.’ (Anon)

5.2 Humour

‘Before I speak, I have something important to say.’
Groucho Marx

If used properly, humour can work very well in an opening. Getting the audience to
laugh creates an instant bond. It must come across naturally and easily. For
speechwriters, injecting humour is sometimes risky because its success has as much
to do with delivery as content.
Generally speaking, always prepare a humorous anecdote carefully. Keep the humour
simple and make sure it relates to your topic. It should never be cruel or likely to
offend a particular group (regardless of whether they are present). Never wait for a
laugh, if the punch-line doesn’t work, just carry on. Amusing anecdotes from your
own experience work best. Actual jokes should be avoided.

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5.3 Tips on Style

¾ Write your opening last. Go through your speech and think of the best way to
deliver an attention-grabbing start.
¾ Make sure it connects with the rest of your speech. It should not feel detached.
¾ Never apologise for your speech or for not being a good speaker. This will only
draw the audience’s attention to something that they may not have noticed.
¾ Do not start your speech by saying ‘thank you’ or ‘first of all, I’d just like to say
what a great honour it is’. This is boring for many listeners and should be
avoided wherever possible. Obviously, there are occasions where diplomacy
requires introductory thanks. In those situations, try to keep it brief. There will be
plenty of room in the speech to express gratitude or to praise the host. Ideally you
should avoid a preamble and go straight to an interesting comment, anecdote or
rhetorical question.
¾ Avoid jokes but tell amusing, real-life stories from personal experience.
¾ Never assume that your audience will be interested in what you are going to say.
¾ If you’re going to quote someone, make sure it is someone well-known.

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5.4 Extracts of Speeches with Suggested Alternatives

The following extracts contain the opening lines of original speeches.

A Talk to Young People about Leadership
First of all, I would like to thank the Association for inviting me to
today’s Youth Forum. This is the first time I have attended a function of
this kind, that is, to have a dialogue with youngsters. Since the objective
of this forum is to discuss how young people could face up to the
challenges of the times and adhere to their own beliefs, I am not going to
talk about security but would rather share with you my views on the
question of values…

What follows is a good speech about the importance of personal values in a competitive,
materialistic society. But the opening itself is rather vague; the topic of the speech is not
clear. Also, the speaker does not appear to talk directly to the audience who happen to be
a group of young people. Instead she refers to them in the third person: ‘a dialogue with
youngsters’, ‘to discuss how young people’.
An Alternative Opening

How can you, the leaders of tomorrow, face up to the challenges
that lie ahead? Conventional wisdom says by working hard, finding a
good job and earning a living. But I firmly believe these aspirations
mean nothing unless we have ideals and personal values. Without
these, our society may be rich but it will never be great.

76

A Safety Quiz Award Ceremony Speech
Today, I am much honoured to be invited to attend the prizegiving ceremony of the Inter-Company Safety Quiz 2001.
Hong Kong’s occupational safety performance is a matter of
public concern and the Government also takes the high accident rate
seriously. However we are delighted to see that our safety
performance is gradually improving and that the number of work
injuries is steadily declining.

This is a perfectly good speech but it follows a predictable format. There is little
connection between the note of thanks at the beginning and the rest of the speech. For a
relatively informal occasion, the tone is also a little serious. On an idiomatic point, ‘much
honoured’ sounds a little awkward. It is more common to say: ‘honoured’, ‘delighted’,
‘very pleased’ or ‘greatly honoured’.
An Alternative Opening

I am delighted to be here today and to see so many companies
involved in this year’s Safety Quiz. It’s an interesting fact that for every
year that this quiz has been running, the number of work related injuries
has steadily declined. So is there a connection? Well, in a way there is –
and it’s nothing strange or supernatural I assure you. There is a growing
sense of responsibility and awareness on safety issues at work, now more
than ever before. And it is a tribute to all responsible companies here
today that these figures have fallen again this year, by a further four per
cent. We should not slacken our efforts however. The accident rate is still
far too high…

77

A Message of Congratulations to a Choir Association

Children are simple and full of life. Their unaffected voices
simply make delightful music sweetest to our ears. Proper education
and training would enhance their knowledge and ability in
appreciation of music, and enable them to explore the delight of music.
Choral training also helps cultivate a team spirit among music lovers.

The Hong Kong Choir Association has been playing an active
role in the promotion of children choral activities and music
education…

This speech calls out for an anecdote. People love personal stories about children, so this
is a good opportunity to use one to help you connect with the audience. .
There are a few grammatical and stylistic problems with this opening. Be careful about
calling people ‘simple’, it can also mean foolish or stupid. ‘Innocent’ is a better
alternative. Avoid following ‘simple’ with ‘simply’, they sound too similar to be on the
same line. The expression: ‘Music to my ears’ usually refers to an enjoyable sound, other
than music: ‘The sound of the waves is music to my ears.’ Avoid using this phrase when
referring to music itself. Finally, ‘sweetest’ is in the wrong position, it needs to come
before the noun, i.e. ‘sweetest music’. Its use here is redundant in any event. Alternative:
‘Their unaffected voices are a joy to hear.’
An Alternative Opening
When my four-year-old daughter sings, it’s normally a little out
of tune. But every time I listen, it fills me with joy. Nothing sounds
more delightful than a child’s voice singing. I know that in time, as she
grows, so will her understanding and appreciation of music. But to
help children develop their talents, proper education and professional
training is essential. The Hong Kong Choir Association has been
playing a crucial role in this regard, promoting children’s choral
activities and music education throughout the region...

78

Chapter Six: Memoranda, Circulars and Email
This chapter examines the layout of correspondence between Government departments.
For important requests, memoranda or ‘memos’ are the standard medium of
correspondence. Circulars are, in effect, notices that provide information to a wider
audience, usually across several departments. Emails are reserved for minor requests and
everyday notifications.

6.1 Memoranda – Tips on Layout and Style

Memos are written just like any other piece of correspondence. They must be
grammatically correct, properly structured and courteous. Each paragraph should contain
only one main point. If the paragraph is complicated, bullet points are advised.
As memos are internal documents, in-house expressions (‘jargon’) are perfectly
acceptable. You don’t need to set out in detail any obvious information that is widely
understood. However, the writer should be cautious when making this assessment.
The tone of a memo varies depending on the subject and to whom it is being sent.
Normally it is less formal and more direct than an external letter.
General Circular No.8/97 issued by the Director of Administration sets out some
requirements for the layout of memos. They are incorporated into the following points:

¾ Memos are typed on specially headed notepaper that contains a printed form at
the top of the page. Additional pages are typed on plain paper.

MEMO
From
________________________
To __________________________
Ref.
______in________________
(Attn. : _______________________)
Tel. No. ________________________
Your Ref. _____in______________
Fax No. ________________________
dated _________________________
Email
________________________
Fax No. _______________________
Date
________________________
Total Pages ____________________

79

¾ If the memo is addressed to several departments, the names of those departments
are written on the printed form. Alternatively ‘Distribution’ is written on the
printed form and the relevant departments are listed in the bottom left-hand corner.
¾ There is an inner margin of at least 30mm.
¾ Paragraphs are numbered chronologically, apart from the first paragraph, which
by convention is simply indented. The first line of each paragraph is indented.
¾ Any enclosures attached to the memo may be indicated by a broken or straight
line (----- /
) in the margin next to the appropriate line of text.
¾ The name of the author should be typed in brackets beneath the signature. Chinese
surnames should be typed in capitals. A female officer should also indicate her
title (Miss CHAN May-lai).
¾ When memos are copied to other departments, they are always addressed to the
head of department. An attention line in brackets is used to direct the letter to the
responsible subject officer, if he or she is known. Sometimes the officer’s
designation is given as well as his or her name. The copy notation is placed in the
bottom left-hand corner with the heading ‘c.c.’
¾ By convention, the signature and printed name of the author starts at the bottom
centre of the page and moves to the right.

80

6.2 A Sample Memo
MEMO
From ANON DISTRICT OFFICER
To
Distribution_________
Ref.
in
(Attn. : _____________________)
Tel. No.
21234567
Your Ref.
in_____________
Fax No.
21234567
dated _____________________
Email _______________________
Fax No. ____________________
Date
9 July 2002
Total Pages _____one_________

Talk on ‘Fire Prevention in the Home’

The Anon District Fire Safety Committee is organising this talk on
Thursday, August 3, 2002, from 7:30pm to 9:30pm, at:
The Cultural Activities Hall
NAME Civic Centre
Clear Road
2.
The Committee would like to invite your representatives to give a talk on
fire safety precautions in the home.
3.
Representatives from each department will be allocated 30 minutes each
for their talk and there will also be a Q&A session at the end.
4.
For those interested, I would be grateful if you would reply by 20 July.
Should you have any questions in the meantime, please contact Ms. Chan on 21234567.
Thank you.

(Miss CHAN May-lai)
for Anon District Officer
Distribution
DC, NAME Department
AD, NAME Department
c.c.
Director of NAME Department, (Attn: Mr NAME, DESIGNATION)
Commissioner for NAME Department

81

6.3 Circulars – Tips on Layout and Style

Many of the rules relating to memos also apply to circulars. They are set out in numbered
paragraphs. The content must be grammatically correct, courteous and concise. However,
as circulars speak to a wider audience, internal jargon should be avoided. The tone also
tends to be more formal than that of memos.
There is no printed form for circulars. Plain A4 or headed notepaper containing the
departmental address is used instead.
¾ Put the address or name of the department in the top right corner.
¾ Put the reference number in the top left corner, in bold.
¾ Put the date beneath the address in the top right corner.
¾ The title of the circular comes next. It is centred and set in bold with a larger font
than the rest of the text. It should state its departmental origin, reference number
and year:

Departmental Circular No. 123/2003
Transport Bureau Circular No. 21/2003
Departmental General Circular No. 3/2001
¾ Under the title comes the subject heading. The font size is smaller and the heading
is underlined and/or set in bold and kept on one line where possible.
¾ You do not need to indicate the intended recipients. However, some circulars
contain ‘To: All Staff’ beneath the reference number. Alternatively, a category of
intended recipients can be placed under the subject heading, in brackets and italics,
according to the following civil service scaling system:
Scale A - to be brought to the attention of all staff;
Scale B - to be brought to the attention of a particular group or groups
of officers because of matters such as conditions of service,
salaries and entitlements, rules and regulations applicable to
them as individuals;
Scale C - to be brought to the attention of officers who, because of the
functions of their posts, are required to take action on, or to be
informed of, the circular;

82

Scale D - to be brought to the attention of officers who keep a copy of a
particular set of Government Regulations and those who,
because of the functions of their posts, are required to take
action on, or to be informed of, the circular.
¾ Apart from the first paragraph, all other paragraphs are numbered. Each paragraph
should be indented and contain a main point. If the paragraph is detailed, bullet
points or lettered, indented paragraphs may be used.
¾ You may group together several paragraphs under sub-headings set in bold.
¾ The signature layout is the same as in memos. A distribution list can be typed on
the bottom left of the page and a c.c. list is placed underneath.

83

6.4 A Sample Circular

Ref: 1/11/12 AB

DEPARTMENT NAME
AND/OR ADDRESS
Date

Departmental General Circular No. 10/2002
New Transport Service Arrangements

This circular updates the transport service arrangements for staff on duty. It
supersedes Departmental General Circular No.12/2001 which is now invalid.
Cost Saving Measures
2.
Greater economy must be achieved in the provision of Government
transport. The use of public transport should be regarded as the normal means of travel.
This extends to all modes of public transport and does not include taxis.
3.
Staff who use public transport in the course of their duties will be
reimbursed on application to the Anon Bureau. All claims should be supported by
receipts.
Use of Departmental Vehicles
4.
Officers in charge are responsible for the day-to-day operation and
deployment of departmental vehicles. The Departmental Transport Manager’s job is to
oversee the management of the departmental fleet and co-ordinate vehicle acquisition.
CONTINUES IN NUMBERED PARAGRAPHS UNTIL THE END. THERE ARE
NO PAGE NUMBERS.

(David LAI Pak-yang)
for Head of Department
Distribution list
c.c.

84

6.5 Email – Tips on Layout and Style

Emails are more informal than traditional letters but that does not mean you can forget
about grammar, punctuation or even good manners. At work, you should approach
writing an email as you would a letter.
As a general rule, write whole sentences, capitalise letters and punctuate properly.
Traditional salutations and closings are not required, although it would never be wrong to
write ‘Dear John’ or ‘Yours sincerely’.
Emails should be brief, concise and accurate. Poor spelling and clumsy grammar look
unprofessional. Remember to use your online spell-checker.
¾ Do not cover several subjects in one message. It makes your message less focused
and the reader may only reply to some, but not all, of your queries.
¾ Try to fit your message on one screen.
¾ Keep your paragraphs very short. Scrolling through a long paragraph can be
annoying.
¾ The normal salutation for emails is simply the person’s name, i.e.: ‘John’. A
friendlier alternative is: ‘Hi John’. If you are sending an email to a stranger, use
the traditional salutation: ‘Dear Mr Saunders’.
¾ Write your name at the end of the message. Your email ‘signature’ should be
underneath. This is your full name, email address, position and telephone number.
¾ Always include a subject and make sure you write it in the subject box. You
should keep the heading short, otherwise it could be truncated.
¾ Some formatting options such as italics, boldface and underlining cannot be used
in email. Alternatively, you can set off titles and emphasise words and phrases by
means of asterisks, underscores or slashes:
‘Please *confirm* whether you can attend.’
‘the title of the booklet is _Style Guide on Official Writing_’
‘Remember to use the /spell-checker/ before sending out the message!’

¾ Never capitalise whole words. This is the email equivalent of shouting.
¾ If you are replying to a message and you want to comment on a particular point
the sender has made, you should quote the relevant part of their message in your
reply:

85

>Please confirm whether you can attend
Yes, I’ll be there. Thanks.
¾ If you are sending a long URL, using brackets (< >) will ensure that it arrives in
one piece: <http://abc.abc.uk/123456789/response=1234567>.
¾ Use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ as you would in a letter.

6.6 Email Abbreviations

Abbreviations should be avoided unless you are sure they will be understood by the
recipient. Here is a list of some more common abbreviations:
atm
b/c
b4
bfn
bol
bttp
btw
c/o
dl
hand
fyi
gtg
gl
iae
imo
pcb
pls
pov
pto
re
sit
tks
ul

At the moment
Because
Before
Bye for now
Best of luck
Back to the point
By the way
Care of
Download
Have a nice day
For your information
Got to go
Good luck
In any event
In my opinion
Please call back
Please
Point of view
Please turn over
Regarding
Stay in touch
Thanks
Upload

86

Chapter Seven: Minutes
There are many ways to record what was said during a meeting. Some records are
prepared verbatim; others are condensed into short summaries. In most cases, however,
minutes are presented as a summary of reported speech.
7.1 Reported Speech

This means you attribute all the words to those who said them without quoting directly.
For example: ‘I need to discuss this issue with my staff’ becomes:
‘David said that he needed to discuss the issue with his staff’.
Minutes are designed to tell you what happened rather than what was said, so not every
word needs to be recorded. Normally it is sufficient to report only the main arguments
and conclusions on a given point. But what you do attribute to a speaker should be
reported accurately.
The first thing you have to do is convert your tenses. When describing what happened at
the meeting, the present tense becomes the simple past tense. ‘I disagree’ becomes ‘John
disagreed’ or ‘John said that he disagreed’.
When describing an event that happened before the meeting, you should use the past
perfect tense:
‘He came here yesterday and we spoke for a long time’, becomes:
‘David said John had come to the office the day before and they had spoken for a
long time’.
Notice how ‘yesterday’ becomes ‘the day before’. Remember to convert pronouns (we >
they) and words relating to time and place, for instance: today > on that day; tomorrow >
the next day; here > there; this > that; now > then.
Questions are converted by using the verb ask and adding ‘if’ or ‘whether’:
‘Can you all attend the ceremony tomorrow?’
‘The Chairman asked if they could all attend the ceremony the next day’.

87

7.2 Tips on Layout

Formats for minutes vary as each organisation tends to develop its own style. However,
most minutes will at least contain:








The name of the organisation
The type of meeting
The date and location
The name of the presiding officer
A record of attendees or absentees or both
A reference to the minutes of a previous meeting
An account of all major motions, points of order, appeals and all major decisions
The names of those making any of the points above
A schedule for the next meeting and an adjournment time
7.3 Sample Template
Name Department
Name Committee
Minutes of NAME held at TIME, DATE, LOCATION

1. Present

(Sometimes, in larger meetings, only an absent heading is used)

xxxxxxxx
2. Absent with Apologies
xxxxxxxx
3. Opening Remarks

(Chairman’s introduction – optional)

xxxxxxxx
4. Confirmation of the Minutes of DATE

(Approving the previous minutes)

xxxxxxxx
5. Agenda

(Optional)

xxxxxxxx
6. MATTERS ARISING

(Main text. Use sub-headings and separately numbered paragraphs here)

i. Sub-heading One

(All main points, decisions or conclusions should be reported)

xxxxxxxxxxx
ii. Sub-heading Two

7. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
8. ADJOURNMENT

(Time of end of meeting)

88

7.4 Sample – Summary Report

Meeting of Anon District Council on 10 March 2003
Proposal to Pedestrianise Fuk Wing Street in Tai Po

Summary Report

The Highways Department submitted a paper on the design of the proposed
scheme. Councillors approved the proposal unanimously and suggested
several ways to preserve its traditional features. They included redesigning
market stalls and painting the facades of buildings on both sides of the street.
They hoped that all the relevant departments would work together to study the
proposal and provide feedback before the end of July 2003.

7.5 Reporting Verbs

Instead of using ‘said’ repeatedly when reporting spoken words, you should try to use
other verbs that convey the mood of the speaker more accurately. For example:
‘The Chairman said that they should be cautious’ becomes:
‘The Chairman urged them to be cautious’ or ‘The Chairman urged caution’.
Remember that some reporting verbs require an object after the verb, such as:
informed them / persuaded him / urged them / reminded her

89

7.6 Some Alternatives to ‘Say’
Add
Admit
Agree
Ask
Argue
Assure
Announce
Believe
Calculate
Claim
Clarify
Consider
Comment

Confirm
Confer
Criticise
Deny
Describe
Disagree
Explore
Indicate
Inform
Insist
Maintain
Mention
Object

Point out
Propose
Promise
Praise
Recommend
Remind
Relay
Reveal
Report
Request
State
Suggest
Welcome

7.7 Be Concise

After you write your minutes, review them to see if you can make your sentences more
succinct. Take a look at these examples:

1.

‘A member opined that some staff members have taken prolonged sick leave
which had created additional workload to their colleagues, who were
required to provide coverage for them.’

2.

‘Councillors put forward a number of suggestions….’

The following sentences are better because they are more concise and idiomatic:

1.

‘One member said that prolonged sick leave taken by some staff members
created additional work for their colleagues, who had to provide cover.’

2.

‘Councillors suggested….’

‘Opined’ is not contemporary usage. It is more modern to say ‘suggested’, ‘believed’,
‘indicated’, or ‘took the view that’. ‘Workload to’: this is grammatically incorrect –
the correct preposition is ‘for’.

90

Use the active voice. It reads better and is normally shorter:
‘It was proposed’ > ‘They proposed…’
¾ Cut down on unnecessary words in expressions:
‘Due to the fact that no agreement was reached, it was decided that the meeting
should be adjourned until the next day.’ >
‘As no agreement was reached, they adjourned the meeting until the next day.’
¾ Avoid repeat or redundant words:
‘take into consideration’ > ‘consider’
‘each and every one’ > ‘each’
‘to avoid confusion and misunderstanding’ > ‘to avoid confusion’
‘until such time as’ > ‘until’
‘a full and complete picture’ > ‘a complete picture’ or, if the adjective is not
necessary, simply ‘a picture’
¾ Avoid lengthy introductions and delete ‘that’ if it does not affect the clarity or
meaning of your sentence:
‘He said that to all intents and purposes, the regulations had changed.’ >
‘He said the regulations had changed.’
‘He said that it was important to recognise that change was inevitable.’ >
‘He asserted that change was inevitable.’
¾ Keep your sentences short for clarity. Turn a long sentence into two:
‘Councillors agreed that, to avoid confusion and misunderstanding, a concrete
timetable should be drawn up by them for the re-development of the existing
housing estates.’
‘Councillors agreed to draw up a timetable to re-develop the existing housing
estates. They believed this would avoid any confusion.’

91

Chapter Eight: More Succinct Writing
It is one thing to translate a document into English and quite another to write it in a more
succinct and less literal style. Here are some suggestions to help you do this:

Use fewer words
Discard redundant words and phrases i.e. repeat or unnecessary words. Think of
one word that best describes what you want to say and use it:
The authentic real-life experience
The authentic experience
‘Nominalisations’ are nouns that are made from verbs. They are wordy and make
your writing less punchy. Replace them with action verbs wherever possible:
Reach an agreement = agree
Conduct an investigation into = investigate
Take into consideration = consider
Arrive at a decision = decide
Redundant words and phrases:
At a later date = later
Current trend = trend
Mutual cooperation = cooperation
End result = result

Vary the length of your sentences
Generally shorter sentences work better than longer ones because they are clearer.
However, to create an interesting pace, you should have a mixture of long and
short sentences. Long sentences are often tiring to read. Too many short sentences
can make your paragraph feel disjointed.

Avoid overly-emphatic language
This is a common problem for local, non-native speakers of English. Packing a
sentence with too many descriptive words makes it sound exaggerated and by
extension, less credible. One carefully chosen word can hold more weight than
several superlatives.

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For livelier writing, use the active form and personal pronouns
Satisfaction of these requirements must be achieved in order for a decision
to be reached by the board.
The applicant must satisfy these requirements before we can decide.
It was a most wonderful restaurant and none of us could resist the
temptation of the delicacies.
It was a wonderful restaurant. We could hardly resist the delicacies.

To emphasise a point keep your sentence short
If you want to highlight a point, cut out unnecessary words and introductory
comments in your sentence:
How can we deal with the problems we are facing?
How can we deal with these problems?
As we all know, hot days in the desert are followed by cold nights.
In the desert, cold nights follow hot days.
As a matter of fact, we are ready to begin.
We are ready.

Avoid inventing metaphors and similes
It is best to stick to familiar English metaphors and similes. A direct translation
often sounds odd in English. If you have to invent your own, keep the language
simple and use a familiar analogy. The following is a real example of what can go
wrong if you don’t:
‘Such government action is really inducing an abortion to a recreational
activity.’
Many people would find this language offensive but the metaphor below
is well-known and perfectly acceptable:
‘Such action would be the nail in the coffin of this recreational activity.’

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8.1 Common Errors in Translations

This section highlights some common mistakes found in translations of newspaper
articles, press releases and other public notices.

8.2 An Article about the Weights and Measures Unit

Articles on famous restaurants always appeal to consumers. This time the eyecatcher is a restaurant highly recommended as a provider of inexpensive and
delicious food. Admittedly, none of us can resist the temptation of
delicacies. During a routine operation, I visited the said restaurant with a few
good friends and ordered for those appetising dishes. Can you imagine a job
so marvellous? In fact, some colleagues and I were just performing our duties
in disguise of a customer in this restaurant, acting on a complaint about
short weight of the food being supplied. Since the restaurant was suspected of
contravening the Weights and Measures Ordinance, we were there simply to
conduct an investigation and obtain evidence. Needless to say, we left with an
empty stomach in the end.

It is a usual responsibility for officers to disguise themselves as customers of
many retailers, such as market stalls, shops and restaurants, for the sake
of investigating and obtaining evidence in relation to any breach of the
Weights and Measures Ordinance. Prosecution may also be initiated against
offenders. The Weights and Measures Ordinance aims to protect consumers
against fraudulent or unfair trading practices concerning quality.

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8.3 Language Use

This writer introduces the work of the Weights and Measures Unit quite effectively
by grabbing the readers’ attention about good food in restaurants. This is more
interesting than starting with something like: ‘The role of the Weights and Measures
Unit is to investigate…’
The mix of long and short sentences also sets an interesting pace. But the paragraphs
need to be shorter and more concise. There are also some problems with language use
and grammar.
Always ask: How can I interest my audience?

‘eye-catcher’ – The opening lines are confusing. The first line refers to
newspaper articles about restaurants. The second line appears to continue this
theme: ‘This time the eye-catcher is a restaurant’. The ‘eye-catcher’ here seems
to refer to a specific article about a restaurant. The third line changes subject and
the newspaper article theme is left hanging. So this opening does not work. If you
introduce a theme, you should bring it to a close. If you need to change subject,
make sure it flows from your earlier thought.

‘Admittedly’ is redundant. There is no need to make a confession. Here is when
you can:
‘Young children should not watch the news. Admittedly, news can be
educational but it also depicts violence.’

‘none of us can resist…delicacies’. This is out of context. There appears to be
no point to this sentence here.

‘said’. Avoid using words like ‘said’, ‘aforementioned’, ‘above’. This is dry
bureaucratic language.

‘ordered for’. You ‘order a dish’ but you can ‘order for your friend’ (order on
behalf of).

‘some colleagues and I’. Not incorrect but it sounds a little awkward. Instead:
‘My colleagues’ or ‘a few of my colleagues.’

‘in disguise of a customer’. This is incorrect. You can be ‘in disguise’, ‘in the
guise of’ or you can ‘disguise yourself as something’. Here are some options:
‘We were performing our duties in the guise of customers.’

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‘We were working undercover, disguised as customers.’
‘We were working in disguise, pretending to be customers.’

‘short weight’. Use the article ‘the’. The general rule is that you use the article
for countable nouns. See the sample below.

‘Needless to say’ is redundant. Only use this expression for obvious statements. If
this article is aimed at an internal audience, where it is well known that you are
not allowed to eat food in restaurants that you are investigating, then it would be
acceptable.

‘with an empty stomach’. You can also say ‘on an empty stomach’

‘disguise themselves as customers of many retailers, such as market stalls…
for the sake of investigating and obtaining evidence in relation to any breach
of… ’. This sentence is long, clumsy and indirect. You do not need ‘for the sake
of’ or ‘in relation to’. Options:
‘They work undercover in market stalls, shops and restaurants to
investigate potential breaches of the Weights and Measures Ordinance.’
‘They disguise themselves as ordinary customers in restaurants, shops and
markets to investigate…’

8.4 An Alternative Article

Newspaper articles about good food always interest me. What caught my eye this week was
a review of a well-known restaurant. I went there only a few days ago and, it has to be
said, the food looked delicious. However, I wasn’t there to eat.
It was a routine operation. Good friends on a lunch break. Naturally hungry, we ordered
plenty of dishes. But all was not as it seemed. We were working undercover, investigating
a complaint about food being served under the minimum weight required by law. After
gathering evidence, we left behind an array of very tempting dishes.
At the Weights and Measures Unit, it is normal practice to work undercover. Posing as
ordinary customers, we visit restaurants, shops and markets to investigate possible breaches
of the Weights and Measurements Ordinance. If we find evidence of wrongdoing, we issue
warnings or prosecute.
The Ordinance aims to protect consumers against fraudulent or unfair trading practices…

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8.5 Extracts from an Article about Motor Biking
(1)

You may associate speed, excitement, hill country, muddy ground, danger together at

a mention of cross-country motorcycling…

(2)

If under the guidance of professional coach, cross-country motor-cycling is an

appropriate pastime. You may have your motorcycle racing dream satisfactorily come true
safely…

(3)

The training class of our motorcycling team can be claimed as the only one in Hong

Kong because usually individual coaching is provided in other places, thus the charges incurred
are much more expensive.

(4)

In mid-December last year, a mere 7 year old met with an accident in the practice

field of a cross-country motorcycle club in Fanling and died. This led to a mighty uproar. Some
fans of the cross-country motorcycle racing activity are of the opinion that maybe due to the
accident, the government becomes to hold a negative attitude towards cross-country
motorcycle racing activities.

(5)

During recent days, several local cross country motorcycle clubs have, one after the

other, received notification from the Planning Department that the land which they have been
using as a motorcycle practice field by them is now changed to farmland zoning. One of these
clubs expressed that such government action is really destroying a recreational activity that has
been developing quite well despite it is still in the germination stage.

(6)

According to Mr Wong, the person in charge of the accident-related HK Biking,

fanatics of the cross-country motorcycle racing activity in Hong Kong have been, over the
years, practising at Fanling.

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8.6 Language Use

‘of professional coach’. A countable noun so use the article ‘a’.

‘satisfactorily’. This is redundant. Either your dream comes true or it doesn’t.

‘can be claimed’. Avoid the passive if possible: ‘is the only training class in
Hong Kong’ ‘They claim it is the only…’ ‘They believe it is the only…’ If you
have to use the passive, then try: ‘is believed’ or ‘is considered’ as they sound less
awkward.

‘thus’. ‘Thus’ and ‘therefore’ are associated with more formal writing. They are
less common in newspaper articles or press statements.

‘met with an accident’. Too many words. Use an action verb: ‘crashed’ or the
more common ‘had an accident’ or ‘was involved in an accident’ if you do not
know the details.

‘are of the opinion’. Try a more direct approach: ‘believe’

‘becomes to hold a negative attitude’. You cannot ‘become to hold’. You can:
‘become negative towards/to/about’. Better ways to phrase this are:
‘The Government has begun to show its disapproval of…’
‘The Government has become more negative about…’

‘one after the other’, ‘activity’, ‘zoning’ and ‘by them’ are all repeated or
unnecessary words in their contexts.

‘expressed that’. Normally you ‘express’ an emotion or opinion: ‘He expressed
his disappointment/dismay/shock/surprise’ or ‘express the view that…’.

‘germination stage’. This is not incorrect but the word is usually associated with
developing ideas. Instead: ‘The activity is still in its early stages.’

‘accident-related’. This has been condensed to the point where it no longer reads
well. You should explain clearly what you mean. See the sample ‘Less Literal
Alternatives’ below.

‘fanatics’ are extremists. The word has negative connotations. In this context,
suitable words include: ‘fans’, ‘supporters’, ‘enthusiasts’.

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8.7 Less Literal and More Succinct Alternatives
There are several ways to re-write the extracts from Motor Biking. The examples below
are merely suggestions.

(1)

‘Cross-country motorcycling is all about speed, excitement, danger and mud.’

OR: ‘When you think about cross country motor-biking, speed, danger and mud all spring
to mind.’

(2)

‘With the support of a professional coach, cross-country motorcycling can be

relatively safe.’ OR ‘Under the watchful eye of a professional coach….’

(3)

This is the only training class of its kind in Hong Kong. Other places provide

individual coaching, which is more expensive.

(4)

Tragedy struck last December when a seven-year-old boy crashed in the practice

field of a Fanling motor-biking club and died. There was uproar. Racing enthusiasts
believe the government’s attitude towards cross-country motorbike racing has hardened
because of the accident.

(5)

Recently, the Planning Department notified several motor-biking clubs that the

derelict land they now use for racing would be re-designated as farmland. Many club
members are dismayed by what they see as Government plans to destroy a recreational
activity that had been developing so well.

(6)

Mr Wong, manager of HK Biking, the club where the accident occurred, said

that enthusiasts have been practising in Fanling for years.

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Appendix – The Language of Appraisals
This appendix lists useful words and phrases to help managers and supervisors in the
evaluation of employee performance.

Useful Verbs
Achieves

Considers

Excels

Monitors

Retains

Accomplishes

Cultivates

Executes

Motivates

Serves

Acquires

Delegates

Exercises

Organises

Shows

Adapts

Delivers

Expands

Plans

Solves

Adheres

Demonstrates

Facilitates

Presents

Stimulates

Adopts

Deploys

Follows up

Prioritises

Strives

Anticipates

Deserves

Focuses

Processes

Surpasses

Applies

Develops

Foresees

Produces

Sustains

Assumes

Discharges

Fulfils

Projects

Thinks

Builds

Devises

Generates

Promotes

Tolerates

Combines

Devotes

Grasps

Pursues

Treats

Communicates

Displays

Keeps

Realises

Undertakes

Comprehends

Distinguishes

Maintains

Receives

Uses

Conceives

Employs

Manages

Recognises

Weighs

Conducts

Enforces

Maximises

Refrains

Widens

Creates

Encourages

Meets

Relates

Works

Copes

Ensures

Minimises

Reports

Writes

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Negative Verbs and Phrases
Here are some verbs and phrases to help you describe unsatisfactory performance:

Omits; Fails; Avoids; Needs to; Needs to improve; Needs to show; Is expected to;
Requires; Is required to; Could do more to; Could improve.

You can construct a variety of negative comments by combining a positive verb (see
the Useful Verb list above) with a comparative: ‘Could manage the budget more
efficiently by…’, ‘Must cope better with stress’, ‘Needs to display greater
cooperation.’

Positive Words
Able
Accurate
Achiever
Adaptable
Adept
Alert
Ambitious
Charismatic
Clever
Committed
Competent
Composed
Concise
Confident
Conscientious
Considerate
Consistent
Constructive
Creative
Decisive
Dedicated
Determined
Dependable
Diplomatic
Disciplined
Discreet

Eager
Efficient
Effective
Energetic
Enterprising
Enthusiastic
Exceptional
Flexible
Formidable
Forward-looking
Genuine
Good-natured
Good planner
Hands on
Helpful
Highly skilled
Honest
Impeccable
Industrious
Ingenious
Keen
Knowledgeable
Logical
Mature
Meticulous
Motivated

Observant
Open-minded
Optimistic
Outstanding
Patient
Persuasive
Positive
Productive
Professional
Proven ability
Prudent
Punctual
Rational
Respected
Perceptive
Popular
Practical thinker
Problem solver
Proficient
Prompt
Professional
Prudent
Purposeful
Realistic
Resourceful
Resolute

Respectful
Responsible
Rigorous
Self-assured
Self-confident
Self-reliant
Self-starter
Sincere
Solid achiever
Sophisticated
Strong performer
Successful
Success-oriented
Superb
Superior
Supportive
Tactful
Team player
Thorough
Trouble-shooter
Trustworthy
Versatile
Visionary
Well-liked
Well-informed

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Common Appraisal Phrases
This list illustrates the kind of language used in common appraisals. The words can
be adapted easily to express other qualities and abilities.

Accepts criticism gracefully

Effectively assesses

Always seeks fresh challenges

Engenders trust in

Assumes responsibility for joint decisions

Excels in encouraging others to

Avoids unnecessary confrontation

Excels in resolving conflicts

Can be counted on to

Excels in communicating with others

Can be relied on to

Exudes confidence in

Continuously explores new

Focuses on

Conveys a mature and responsible attitude

Fulfils his duties with flair

Copes well under pressure

Gains the admiration of his associates for

Copes effectively with adversity

Generates new ideas

Delegates tasks effectively

Gives maximum effort to

Demonstrates a high degree of commitment Gives appropriate attention to
Demonstrates strong persuasive skills

Handles difficult situations well

Displays maturity in managing disputes

Handles several tasks effectively

Displays a willingness to take on more

Has a pleasant demeanour

Displays a warm and caring personality

Has a delightful personality

Displays a strong sense of purpose

Honours all commitments

Displays strong potential to

Is very willing to take on challenges

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Common Appraisal Phrases (Cont’d)

Is proactive in dealing with complaints

Inspires other to

Is eager to assume responsibility

Maintains a high degree of professionalism

Is keen to demonstrate his potential

Makes good use of

Is cooperative and obliging

Negotiates with skill

Is impeccably honest

Organises tasks well

Is an effective persuader

Persistently achieves high results

Is very skilled in gaining support

Possesses a mature attitude

Is committed to high standards

Possesses a cheerful disposition

Is pleasant and enthusiastic

Possesses natural leadership qualities

Is extremely self-reliant and resourceful

Projects confidence

Is always polite and tactful

Promotes team spirit

Is capable of more responsibility

Provides extremely valuable support to

Is tactful in his dealings with others

Remains calm in stressful situations

Is methodical in his approach to

Retains a sense of proportion

Is always dependable

Seizes the initiative

Is ambitious and hard-working

Shows genuine commitment

Is consistent in his approach to

Skilfully handles difficult situations

Is always polite

Thrives in a pressurised environment

Is receptive to initiatives

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Index
Categories of Correspondence, 20
Notices and Letters Providing Information,
20
Ceremonial Writing, 67
Faulty Plaque, 69
Introduction, 67
Language Use, 67
Sample Certificate, 72
Sample Invitation, 71
Sample Plaque, 71
Tips on Layout and Style, 68
Complimentary Closes, 18
Declining Letters, 62
Faulty Declining Letter, 63
General Tips on Layout, 62
Sample Decision Pending Letter, 66
Sample Declining Letter, 65, 66
Forms of Address, 12
Addressing groups, 17
Clergy, 14
Consular and Professional, 16
Foreign Honours, 16
Government, 12
HKSAR Honours, 15
Judiciary, 13
Language Use
Avoiding Emphatic Language, 47
Avoiding Jargon, 5
Be Concise, 90
Switching Personal Pronouns, 43
Layout Styles, 1
Dates, 4
Talk to the Reader, 6
Tips on Layout and Style, 7
Letter Styles
Block, 9
Indented, 8
Modified, 10
Simplified, 11
Letters of Acknowledgement, 44
Apologies, 45
Condolences, 46
Faulty Letter of Apology, 58
Faulty Letter of Congratulations, 55
Sample Congratulations Letters, 56
Sample Letter of Apology, 59

Sample Response to a Request, 60
Sample Retirement Letters, 57
Letters of Thanks, 44
Faulty Letter, 48
Language Use, 51
Sample Letter, 50
Letters Providing Information, 20
Faulty letter, 24
Language Use, 25
Sample, 26
Sample (Personal), 27
Memos, Circulars and Email, 79
Email - Tips on Layout and Style, 85
Email Abbreviations, 86
Sample Circular, 84
Sample Memo, 81
Tips on Layout and Style for Circulars, 82
Tips on Layout and Style for Memos, 79
Minutes, 87
Alternatives to 'Say', 90
Be Concise, 90
Reported Speech, 87
Reporting Verbs, 89
Sample Summary Report, 89
Template, 88
Tips on Layout, 88
More Succinct Writing, 92
Common Errors, 94
Faulty Article, 94
Faulty Article – Language Use, 95
Faulty Article Extracts, 97
Faulty Article Extracts – Language Use,
98
Sample Article, 96
Sample Extracts, 99
Press Statements, 21
Faulty Statement, 28
Language Use, 29
Sample, 30
Public Notices, 20
Faulty Public Notice, 22
Sample Public Notice, 23
Sample Warning Notice, 42
Tips on Layout and Style, 20
Punctuation, 2
Familiar Abbreviations, 2

104

Latin, 3
Other abbreviations, 4
Salutations, 2
Titles, 2
Request and Demand Letters, 31
Faulty Demand Letter, 38
Faulty Demand Letter – Language Use, 39
Faulty Request for a Favour, 36
Faulty Request Letter, 34
Faulty Request Letter – Language Use, 34,
36
Invitations, 33

Letters Demanding Action, 33
Persuading Letters, 32
Requesting Favours, 32
Sample Demand Letter, 41
Sample Favour Letter, 37
Sample Routine Request, 35
Speech Openings, 73
Extracts and Samples, 76
Humour, 74
Opening Styles, 73
Tips on Style, 75
Table of Contents, i

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