Whether delivering a stiff message
or conveying good tidings, keep it personal, says Graham Hopkins.
I once received a memo that read: “I
return herewith above memo from you dated 15 May which was received by myself.
I am not sure how or why this memo came to be delivered to myself and therefore
return it herewith.” I only hoped this bureaucratic language didn’t filter out
to the public.
Sometimes, too many people working
in social care forget they are providing a public service. The public – the
reason services exist – can too often be treated like an occupational hazard.
We should write to them in a way that shows us to be human (just like the
people we communicate with, strangely) and not some faceless bureaucrat
cowering behind the concrete edifices of the country’s town halls and civic
centres. And this means, where possible (it perhaps wouldn’t do to sign off a letter threatening eviction with “best
wishes”, for example), being informal, being human. This means:
– Being polite and conversational in
tone. This makes the reader feel more comfortable.
– Saying “please” and “thank you”
(and “sorry” if you have reason to be – but, naturally these days, with the
full, comprehensive written permission of your legal section and insurers).
– NOT USING CAPITAL LETTERS LIKE
THIS BECAUSE THEY SHOUT AT YOU – AND SHOUTING IS RUDE. It’s amazing the number
of people who highlight headings to letters with bold, capital letters and
underlining. Lighten up. Use lower case letters and bold. That’s it. Honest. It
– Handwriting your greeting (the
“dear whoever” bit). Shows a personal touch.
– Preferring familiar phrases
(“thank you for your letter”) to cold, bureaucratic ones (“further to your
– Preferring pronouns (“I”, “we”,
“you”) to phrases such as “the council” or “this department”: “Thank you for
your letter which I received today.”
– Using contractions (“I’m”,
“we’ve”, “we’re”, “you’re”) as this is
how people talk and again helps them to feel more comfortable.
– Signing off your letters with
“Best wishes” or “Kind regards”. These days “Yours sincerely” is universally
acceptable (forget all that outdated “yours faithfully” with “Dear Sir”
palaver). I sign all informal letters “best wishes” (or similar) and all formal
ones “yours sincerely”. Some people edge themselves in by typing “yours
sincerely” but handwriting “best wishes” with their signature.
– Signing off letters with your
first and last names only, while preferring lower case letters for your name
and job title. Too often we see something like:
MRS M M R JABB
ASSISTANT MANAGER, AUTISM TEAM
The use of a title (“Mrs”) and
initials smack of formality. And whether intentional or not, the job title in
bold capital letters screams out “look at me, I’m important”. Whereas,
Assistant manager, autism team
sounds like someone you can get on
with. She sounds human. Which we all are. So show it. Herewith.
Beget outta here
“Poor employment and educational
backgrounds can lead to under-age pregnancy and imprisonment for girls and
From a county council internal
summary of press coverage. Thanks to Sarah Wood, communications officer,
Gloucestershire Social Services
Contributions welcome. Please send
Have no truck
“Mr X presents as an intelligent and
From a Pre-Sentence Report written
within Kent Probation Area
Please send contributions to firstname.lastname@example.org