Top 10 Tips for Effective Letter Writing

One of the things I notice when I review the records to prepare a claim, review claims on behalf of the respondent, or review particulars put forward in a dispute, is the poor standard of letter writing. This ranges from “could have been better” right through to “I have no idea what this letter means”. If your letters fall into these categories, you are not doing yourself or your company any favours. In fact, you could be doing considerable harm. This blog, therefore, contains my Top 10 Tips for effective letter writing.

1. You are not writing the letter for your opposite number on the project. You are writing it as an accurate record to rely on in case a claim or dispute arises in the future. The letter must therefore be fully understood by someone who has no prior knowledge of the project or the matters in question.

2. The letter should be a stand-alone document. In other words, a reader with no prior knowledge should be able to understand it without reference to any other documents.

3. Quotations are very powerful, so rather than describing things in your own words, use quotations from other records or the contract. When you do use quotations, make sure that you identify them as such.

4. Never use abbreviations or acronyms. Even if these are in general use on the project, someone unfamiliar with the project may not understand them. It takes hardly any additional time to type the words out in full. And this is time well spent.

5. Avoid the use of words such as ‘they’, ‘him’ and ‘it’ when referring to the parties, people or companies, because this often leads to misunderstanding and confusion. Use the contractual names – ‘the Employer’. ‘the Contractor’, ‘the Engineer’ or their actual names.

6. When referring to the contract, use the names of clauses as well as the clause numbers. ‘Sub-Clause 20.1 (Contractor’s Claims)’is much more effective and helpful than just ‘Sub-Clause 20.1’, which relies on the reader having intimate knowledge of the contract.

7. When possible, substantiate facts put forward and statements made in the letter. ‘As recorded under Minute 12.3 of the Site Meeting Minutes held on 14 August 2019, we were instructed to suspend work in Area B’ is better than ‘We were instructed to suspend work in Area B on 14 August 2019’.

8. Be specific. Phrases such as ‘This is for your information and action’, ‘we reserve our rights’ or ‘please do the needful’ are meaningless. Specifically state what action is necessary, what rights you have and what ‘the needful’ actually is.

9. It is a fact that if you proof read your own work, you will read what you think you have written, rather than what you have actually written. Have your letter proof read by a colleague. As well as checking for typos, poor grammar and poor choice of language, your colleague should also be able to point out any passages that are not properly explained or easily understood. For this reason, it is better to have a colleague from a different discipline carry out the proof reading.

10. Finally, this advice applies equally to the compilation of minutes, reports, claim responses, determinations, decisions, and instructions. As well as anything else that will form part of the project records.

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