Business Letters

Write A Strong Opening

Your first job in writing any letter is to gain your reader’s attention. It’s an important principle of effective writing to put the most important information first. Your opening paragraph is both the headline and the lead for the message that follows in the rest of the letter.

Don’t weigh down the front of your letter with boring repetition of information that your reader already knows. Many letters fail to start well because they follow the standard paragraph of every business letter. Here are some typical examples of openings in business letters

Thank you for your letter of 8th March 1998, which has been passed to me for my attention.

I refer to previous correspondence in respect of the above and note that to date we have not received your cheque for the outstanding arrears.

I write with reference to our telephone conversation yesterday regarding the above matter.

Starting with a reference to the incoming letter is weak and wastes your reader's time. Most readers skip it, looking to the second and third paragraphs to get the answer to their questions. If you step right into your subject in the first paragraph, you’ll show your reader you do not intend to waste valuable time. So get rid of any opening reference to the reader's letter and answer the most important question or give the most relevant information in your first sentence.

Make your first paragraph do something other than just referring to known information—so plunge straight into your message and don’t waste your reader’s time. For example, you could

  • answer a question
  • ask a question
  • explain an action taken
  • express pleasure or regret
  • give information

As the opening paragraph sets the tone for your letter, try to avoid using tired phrases that are wordy, give little information and create a formal and impersonal tone. Using the classic business-speak opening of Further to... almost guarantees the rest of the letter will be a typical, long-winded, standard piece of business writing.

These opening phrases are so popular because we don’t have to think of what to write. Watch out for standard phrases in opening paragraphs. Examples are:

  • Further to my recent
  • I am writing
  • I refer to my letter dated
  • I refer to previous correspondence
  • I write in reference to
  • In respect of the above
  • Recent correspondence
  • Regarding
  • With reference to
  • With regards to

So be sure your opening paragraph sets the right tone for your letter. Be direct and use your words positively so your reader has a good impression from the beginning of your letter. Decide what is the most important information—and put it in the your first paragraph. Don’t be afraid to start your letter strongly.