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Rules - Scientific and business Correspondence

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Scientific and business Correspondence

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Letter-writing as a form of social speech is an essential part of communication. It carries the principal functional language elements for realizing the communication art:

  1. syntax (e.g., expressing a polite request using 'will' and 'would' in the interrogative forms of a sentence),
  2. attitudes (requests, acknowledgement, gratitude, regret, favour, etc.),
  3. modality (probability, possibility, desire, etc.)
  4. guide words that enable the writer to connect  his ideas, concepts, thoughts etc. (e.g. 'as to', 'in comparison with', 'in respect of', etc. ).

Letters, as is known, may be private, official (semi-official), professional. Each letter-writer has a characteristic way of writing, his style of writing, his manner of expressing his ideas, thoughts, facts, etc.; but it must be emphased that the routine of official, business, professional letters require as certain accepted idioms, phrases, patterns which are found in general use to-day.

Therefore, certain letter-writing skills must be acquired by practice, and details of writing must be carefully and thoroughly learnt.

Letter-writing, of course, is not the same as casual conversation, it bears only the same powers of thoughts, reflections and observations as in conventional talk, but the form may be quite different. What make the letter attractive and pleasing is not always the message of the letter, it is often the manner and style in which the message is written. For example, "I wish to express to you  my sincerely appreciation for your note of congratulation" or "I am sincerely happy that you were elected President of the Biological Society." As you see such formulations show the attitude of the writer, his respect and sincerity.


The  language of business, professional and semi-official letters is formal, courteous, tactful, concise, expressive, and to the point.

In the case of "scientific correspondence" (we take the liberty to call so), the majority of letters bear mostly a semi-official character and are concerned with different situations associated with scientific activities concentrated around the organization of scientific meetings (congresses, symposia, workshops, etc.), the arrangement of visits, invitation, publication, the exchange of scientific literature, information, etc. Letters of this kind have a tone of friendliness, politeness, naturalism. Modern English letters should not be exaggerated, overburdened, outmoted with time-worn expressions. The keynote is simplicity. Modern letters tend towards using the language of conversational style.


The body of a typical business, official or professional letter covers generally three major aspects:

  1. The introduction which states the business that the letter concerns (if necessary, reference is made to the previous correspondence, for example, "I have the pleasure of inviting you to attend our conference...").
  2. The discussion which takes up the matter (for example, "Please, inform us at your earliest convenience the topic of your lecture").
  3. The conclusion of the letter which gives the letter a friendly, sincere ending (for example, "Awaiting an early reply from you, I remain, sincerely yours...").



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Make-up of the Letter

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A neatly arranged letter will certainly make a better impression on the reader.

The layout of business and private letters is more or less common in all countries.

There are seven parts in a letter:

  1. the heading (i.e. sender's address);
  2. the date;
  3. the inside address (i.e. the recipient's name and address);
  4. the opening salutation;
  5. the body of the letter;
  6. the closing salutation;
  7. the signature;
  8. the supplements.

The general pattern of a business letter will have the following picture.


1) Layout of a business letter with a printed letterhead:

(1)The heading

(3)The inside address
(2) The date
(4)The opening salutation
(5)The body of the letter
(6)The closing salutation
(7)The signature

See example.



2) Layout of a typed letter:


(1)The heading
(2) The date
(3)The inside address
(4)The opening salutation
(5)The body of the letter
(6)The closing salutation
(7)The signature

See examples.


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The Heading

  • The letterhead of an institution, organization, firm, etc. is usually printed. If there is no printed letterhead, the typed heading should be arranged neatly on the top right-hand side of the page.
  • The address is typed in full to ensure correct delivery of a reply. The heading provides all necessary information: the name and address of the institution, organization, firm, etc. or the name, position, title and address of the sender, the telephone, telex, fax numbers and the telegraphic address or any other details that may be required such as reference numbers, codes, etc. See Advice.
  • If the heading is typed or written by hand it may be arranged in steps or blocks (mostly in usage today, especially, in USA).
  • The sender's address is often omitted.

Here are some examples of standard headings that are used by Russian, British and American institutions, organizations, etc. and by private persons:

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The Date

  • The date is placed under the heading of the sender's address usually one or two spaces lower, either in step (in Great Britain) or block (in USA), with relation to the sender's address.
  • Generally, the year should be  preceded by comma, although this is not always observed by the letter-writer. However complete  dates are preferable in official and business letters.
    The date at the header of the letter is written in the following way:
    • 12th March, 1984
    • March 12th, 1984
    • 12 March, 1984
    • In the USA the date is written so: March 12, 1984. This style of writing the date is gradually becoming adopted in Great Britain and other countries.
  • Many letter-writers abbreviate the date in such a manner: 3/8/89. This way of writing the date should be excluded because it may lead to a confusion, especially in international correspondence. In GB this date is read so: the third August nineteen eighty-nine; in the United States - the eighth of March nineteen eighty-nine.
    In Great Britain:

    (the day)/(the month)/(the year)

    In USA:

    (the month)/(the day)/(the year)

  • Some writers abbreviate the names of some month. See.

See Advice.


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The Inside Address

  • The inside address (recipient's address) includes the name, title and full address of the person or group of people to whom the letter is directed.
  • The inside address is typed in the left-hand part of the letter sheet, two spaces below the date.
  • The inside address may be written in step or block style. At any rate it must be remembered that if the sender's address is typed indented, the inside address should also be indented; if the sender's address is typed in block style, also the inside address should be in the same style.
  • The inside address may be written on the left-hand side, two or three spaces below the signature (unless it is not a business letter to a firm on the purchase of something).

See Advice.

See examples.


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The Opening Salutation

The opening salutation or greeting is flush with the left-hand margin under the inside address after leaving a double space. In GB the opening salutation is followed by a comma(Dear Sir,), in the USA - by a colon (Dear Sir:) and sometimes by a colon and dash (Gentlemen:-). The opening salutation is never followed by an exclamation mark or by a dash only.

When writing to persons the following salutation are used:

  1. formal salutation:
    • Dear Sir
    • Dear Madam (If the letter-writer is not sure whether the lady is married or unmarried)
  2. less formal salutations:
    • Dear Mr. Smith
    • Dear Mrs. Smith ( To married woman.)
    • Dear Miss Smith (To unmarried woman.)
    • Dear Dr. Smith
    • Dear Prof. Smith
    • Dear colleague
    • My dear Mr. Smith

When writing to an institute, organization or business firm the official salutations: Dear Sirs, Messrs. (in addressing to a partnership), Dear Madam, Gentlemen (in the USA) are used.



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The body of The Letter

The body of the letter is the text itself. Each paragraph should deal with one subject, brief, concise and accurate excluding all matters not relevant to the purpose of the letter, especially if it is a business or an official letter. It is best to avoid too long paragraphs. The style of letter-writing requires certain accepted phrase patterns. The writer must be tactful, courteous, sincere, respectful, etc.

The first paragraph usually starts two lines below the salutation: it is either aligned with the salutation, in block-style, the paragraph, being flush with the left-hand margin, without indention, or it may be in indent style, the first line of each paragraph indented, usually three to six spacing from the margin or immediately below the end of the salutation.

Block-style is generally used in the USA, indented style in Europe and other countries although there is growing tendency to use the block-style.

Short letters are usually double-spaced (two line); longer letters - single-spaced (one line) with double spaces between the paragraphs. Many-paged letters should be numbered; the number is written on the bottom of the sheet, in the middle.


See letter examples.

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The Closing Salutation (Subscription)

It is customary to close a letter with a closing salutation. The closing salutation is separated from the body of the letter by a double space (line) aligned with the date or immediately at the center of the page. It always begins with a capital letter and is punctuated with a comma. Most commonly-used closing salutations in business and official letters are 'Yours truly' or 'Truly yours'; 'Yours faithfully' or 'Faithfully yours'.

In letters addressed to person the following subscriptions are usually used: 'Yours truly' or 'Truly yours'; 'Yours sincerely' or 'Sincerely yours'. 'Yours truly' is proper closing salutation for impersonal business correspondence and communication.

'Yours sincerely' indicates a spirit of friendliness and informality. It is customary for colleagues, especially among scientists, to write 'Yours sincerely' rather than 'Yours truly' or 'Yours faithfully'.

Other salutations are: 'Yours respectfully', 'Yours cordially', 'Yours affectionately' is falling into disuse. 'Yours respectfully' is used when the writer expresses his sincere respect for the reader, especially from a subordinate to his superior. 'Yours cordially' is often used, especially when sending congratulations, New Year wishes, holiday greetings, etc. to your friends. 'Yours affectionately' is used among closely-related persons: wife, husband, children, and dear friends.

The subscription may be prefaced by a participle phrase:

  • Looking forward to seeing you,
    I remain,
    Yours sincerely,

Although there is a tendency to use a simple sentence instead of a participle phrase:

  • I hope this date will suit you.
    Yours truly,

See usefull paterns.

See examples of closing salutation among letter examples.

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The Signature

The signature is written by hand immediately below the subscription. Formal and business letters require the full signature: the first line - the name of the institution (typed), the second line - the writer's name and the third line - the writer's title, scientific degree or position (typed):

  • Yours sincerely,
    The Thompson Institute

When the letter is signed on behalf of another, especially an institution, organization or firm, it should have the following signature:

  • Cornball Publishers
    (p.p. A.B. Smith)

    p.p. = pre pro (on behalf of).

In many cases the letter is signed without giving the name of the institution, organization or firm, since it is already mentioned in the heading:

  • Yours truly,
    Assistant Professor of Mathematics.

Informal letters to friends, acquaintances are simply signed by the writer without indicating the name of the firm, organization or institution the writer represents or his title, scientific degree or position. The first name can be written in the  full or the initial:

  • Peter B. Chase
  • I. Smirnov.

A woman's signature usually includes the first name:

  • Nina H. Petrova.

If the woman prefers signing without her first name she should write Mrs. or Miss to avoid confusion:

  • Mrs. N.H. Petrova
  • Miss M.R. Lowell.

See signature examples among letter examples.

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Supplements in Official and Business Letters

  1. The attention line

    The attention line is written  two lines below the inside address either on the same vertical or in the middle of the sheet of the paper in order to draw special attention of a particular person for a prompt reply. The line should be underlined:

    • Brown Laboratory Equipment,
      15 Haygate Street,
      London, N.E. 3,
      Great Britain.

      Attention: Export Manager.
    • Brown Laboratory Equipment,
          15 Haygate Street,
              London, N.E. 3,
                  Great Britain.

      For the Attention of Mr. S.M. Smith
      Export Manager

      See examples.
  2. The subject line

    The subject line is written two below the opening salutation and in the middle of the sheet of the paper. The wording 'Subject:' or 'Re:' (regarding) is typed before the subject-matter and indicates what the letter is about. The subject line should be underlined.

    See examples.

  3. The typist's reference

    The typist's reference, the initials of the writer and of the typist, is typed on the same line as the date on the left or on the same line with the signature, and is used to enable tracing earlier correspondence on a certain subject.

    The writer's initials are separated from the typist's initials by a virgule or colon:

    • LA/EB or LA:EB
    • LA/eb or LA: eb
    • la/eb or la:eb

    See examples.

  4. The enclosure

    The enclosure:

    a) Encl.: = Enclosure which indicates that attached to this letter there is an insertion, e.g. a document, a paper, etc.;

    b) CC: = circular correspondence, i.e. corresponding letters were dispatched to other people. For example, CC: list of names means the letter contains a list of names to whom the corresponding circular was sent.

    Encl.(osure): or CC: is typed in the lower left-hand corner two spaces (lines) below the signature.

    See examples.

  5. R.S.V.P.

    In the letters of official invitations to people the abbreviation R.S.V.P. (Fr.: 'Repondez sil vous plait' = 'Answer, if you please') typed mainly in the lower right-hand corner, two spaces (lines) below the body of the invitation.

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The Envelope

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The address on the envelope should be written in full in order to ensure delivery.

The whole address of the recipient should begin from the middle of the envelope.

The sender's (return) address is written in the upper or lower left-hand corner of the envelope or sometimes on the flap of the envelope (if it is private letter).

In GB each line is usually stepped and set off by commas. In the USA the lines are blocked and without commas.

  1. The envelope address layout
    1. Letters addressed to institutions, organizations or firms:

      1st line - name of the institution, organization or firm,

      2nd line - house number and name of the street,

      3rd line - name of the city, postal district*),

      4th line - name of the country (usually underlined).

    2. Letters addressed to official person:

      1st line - name of the person,

      2nd line - title or position,

      3rd line - name of organization or institution,

      4th line - house number and name of the street,

      5th line - name of the city, postal district*),

      6th line - name of the country (underlined).

    3. Letters addressed to private person at their homes:

      1st line - name of the person,

      2nd line - house number, name of the street and apartment number preceded by a comma,

      3rd line - name of the city, postal district*),

      4th line - name of the country (underlined).

      *) if the address is an American one it is necessary to indicate the name of the stste, usually abbreviated and preceded by a comma


  2. Envelope supplements
    1. Attention line may also be found on the envelope of the letter, two lines below the address:
      • Attention Export Maneger, Mr. Brown
      • For the attention of the Export Manager
    2. c/o = care of

      If a letter is sent to a person whole house address is unknown or who is travelling in some other country, but who is connected with some institution, organization or firm, the address on the envelope should be typed in such a manner:

      • Dr. A.S. Pushkin,
            c/o London University,
                    Great Britain
      • Dr. P.M. Jones
        Columbia University
        New York, N.Y.
        c/o Mr. R. Brown
    3. Postal remarks

      Postal remarks Registered, Air Mail, Via Mail, etc. are typed two or three spaces above the recepient's address a little to the left.

See examples of envelope layout. and envelope address.

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About Dates in the Letter Header and
in the Body of the Letter

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See rules of writing the date at the header of the letter.

See Advice.

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The text of a telegram should be concise and to the point. This is achieved by writing in the so-called telegraphese style typical of lexical and grammatical specific features, for example: PLANE ARRIVING TOMORROW 10 AM.

The auxiliary verb 'to be' is omitted. The articles and prepositions are  left out, where possible, for example: ACCEPT YOUR INVITATION TO CONFERENCE = I accept your invitation to the conference.

The letters in telegrams are capitalized.


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