Lost Art of the Business Letter

Way back around 1985, when I was an entry-level engineer at Exxon, the company had a training session with a writing instructor.  The course, if it had a name, could be called "the art of the business memo." 

Now, I know that you 20-somethings in the world of text messaging and soon-to-be-f*cked internet companies are probably cringing at the thought of learning to write business memos the Fortune 50 way.  But there was something about this course I found compelling.  Since then, I have taken a lot of communications courses, particularly presentation courses, of varying utility.  McKinsey & Company taught me the pyramid principal for organizing persuasive letters and presentations, something that has been so useful to me that I wonder why none of the expensive schools I attended ever bothered to teach it.

To this day, I am still compelled by the perfect business letter.  I know this may seem weird, but I still remember several of my best efforts from years ago.  I sometimes go back and read them lovingly.  I have three lifetimes of projects that I would like to put together, but one fun one would be to put together a book collection of great business letters.  I fell like its an art that should better recognized.

Anyway, I was reminded of all this by this letter that has been linked around the blogosphere a bit this morning.


  1. Allen:

    I'm still a bit of a young pup but I wouldn't cringe at the thought of taking a course on writing business memos. More so, I'd fully support it for many of my co-workers. They seem to think by putting their modern version of the valley talk vernacular into writing they are communicating. Worse, when I ask a simple question such as "Were you referring to the javascript function with that name or the function we built in Oracle" it's not uncommon to get a reply such as "yes, that one" or "the one I mentioned in the first email". Getting a lot of people to take a few seconds to think about what they're actually trying to communicate would be wonderful.

  2. smcg:

    Coyote - I'm a wee bit older than you, so maybe have seen a bit more degradation in writing style.

    Unfortunately, it goes beyond just well written business letters into almost all written communication these days.

    I have actually had 'twenty somethings' produce written reports (supposedly formal drafts for delivery) full of "txt" messaging abbreviations - with which they've not seen anything wrong at all....

    Love the Blue Jeans Cable letter by the way.

  3. la petite chou chou:

    That, far and above, was one of the most amazing letters I've ever read. I would love to compose a letter like that at some point---not necessarily under those circumstances though.

    All forms of writing are being accosted these days. I have a Master of Science in Writing and I see it everywhere. The worst part is what people get away with in higher education. People whose writing doesn't even approach "acceptable" are passed along.

    I could go on and on about this. Sigh.

  4. Charles:


  5. Charles:


  6. Mesa Econoguy:

    No one knows how to write correctly and forcefully these days. It’s a function of laziness and politically correct linguistic evisceration.

    They can’t even swear effectively.