The underlying principle of all forms of communication, not just letter writing, is the following: say what you have to say clearly and succinctly (see Chapter 13 Plain Language, "Plain Language"). The layout of the document should be such that the reader can quickly determine who the sender and intended recipient are, when the document was written or sent, what it is about, and what follow-up, if any, is required of the recipient.
Since the first edition of The Canadian Style was written, the personal computer has replaced the typewriter. This has had an impact on not only formatting, layout and editing but also the method of communicating written information itself. Hence a section on Electronic Mail has been included at the end of this chapter.
Letters are laid out in two basic styles or variations thereof: the block style and the indent style. The one recommended by the Canadian government’s Treasury Board for administrative correspondence is the block style. (The Board recognizes that the full block style may not be suitable for all types of correspondence.) In it all lines begin flush with the left margin, including the sender’s address, the date, the complimentary close and the signature, as illustrated in the example found in section 10.26 Model letter.1
In the indent style the sender’s address, if not given in the letterhead, appears at the top right-hand corner with the date below it. The complimentary close and signature block are at the bottom right. The first line of each paragraph in the body of the letter is indented. Some feel that this style lends a more personal touch.
Margins may be adjusted to make a short letter appear longer or a long one look shorter. The left margin must be absolutely straight and the right one as straight as possible without splitting words too often. Do not justify the right margin; otherwise distortions in spacing may occur.
While recognizing that it may not be appropriate for all correspondence, the FIP Manual recommends five vertical spaces between the recipient’s address and the salutation, two between the salutation and the body of the letter and five between the complimentary close and the sender’s name. Leave one blank line between paragraphs.
Do not carry over fewer than three lines of text to a new page.
Names of people, numbers and dates should stay on the same line:
A letter should generally not exceed two pages. If three or more pages are required, consider preparing a separate report for attachment to the letter.
If a letter contains two or more pages, use page numbering: an indicator (. . . /2) at the bottom of each preceding page, flushed right, and page numbers themselves, centred at the top of each page.
The maximum length of an address is six lines.
Punctuation must be consistent throughout the document and should be used only where clarity demands it. Enter a colon after the salutation (see 10.16 Attention line) and a comma after the complimentary close (see 10.20 Complimentary close).
For uniformity and consistency, put the parts of the letter, as applicable, in the order in which they are presented below (see 10.09-10.25 Letterhead to Postscript). Each part will start two-to-five lines below the preceding part.
The heading or letterhead identifies the department or agency that produced the letter. The identification of federal organizations and position titles in the letterhead should be in accordance with FIP guidelines.
If the sender’s address appears in the letterhead, there is no need to repeat it elsewhere. Otherwise, include a return address below the letterhead or below the signature.
See 5.14 Dates for the representation of dates.
The date appears at the left margin in full block style (see example 10.26 Model letter), but it can be placed on the right-hand side of the page to help fit in all the pieces of information required and make it easier to find correspondence filed by date.
The logical place for notations such as Personal, Confidential, Registered or Hand-delivered is at the left margin, just below the date line, where the reader would probably look first upon opening the letter. Such notations may be in capital letters or with an initial capital and boldface.
The reference line, on the right-hand side of the page, will give the sender’s file number and the line below it the recipient’s file number, as shown in the example, 10.26 Model letter.
Place the recipient’s address below the date and at the left margin, unless it must be moved to fit properly into a window envelope. Except in purely personal mail, the addressee’s full address must be used. Note the following conventions:
Export Development Corporation
151 O’Connor St.
Ottawa, ON K1A 1K3
Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
664 Main Street
Moncton, New Brunswick
See the FIP Manual for detailed information and guidelines on the presentation of addresses in letters and on other stationery. The Manual specifically covers use of the official languages in addresses and makes the following main points:
100 De Maisonneuve Boulevard
Note that an address can often be left untranslated.
See Chapter 15 Geographical Names, "Geographical Names," for further information on the translation and spelling of such names.
Put the person’s name on one line and his or her title and organization on the next line:
This line begins with Attention of, Attention or Attn., ends with a colon and is placed flush with the left margin. It specifies the intended recipient within the organization when the letter is addressed to the organization or to the intended recipient’s superior.
The salutation will vary depending upon the person addressed and the nature of the letter. The following are some appropriate salutations for various circumstances:
If the person’s name or title is not known, the expression To whom it may concern may also be used. It is not recommended that Mr., Mrs. or Ms. be used with a title as a salutation, as in "Mr. Premier."
A subject line specifying the topic of the letter, if included, comes between the salutation and the body of the letter. The introductory word Subject may be used, but is not essential. The terms Re and In re should be reserved for legal correspondence. The subject line is entered either wholly in upper case or in boldface. It may begin flush with the left margin or be centred for emphasis. It is not used in personal correspondence, where the subject is usually referred to in the first paragraph.
The body of the letter contains the message. Here, more than anywhere else, the general principle of communication applies: say it clearly and succinctly, so that the reader will understand the message properly and quickly. Letters are normally single-spaced, with one blank line left between paragraphs. If a letter is very short, it may be double-spaced. When double spacing is used, the first line of each paragraph must be indented. Avoid writing paragraphs of more than ten lines. By the same token, do not divide a letter into many very short paragraphs.
The complimentary close consists of such expressions as Yours truly or Yours sincerely. It is followed by a comma.
The handwritten or stamped signature comes first, followed by the title of the sender and of the organization. If someone else signs for the nominal sender, the order is as shown below:
The initials of the sender and of the transcriber are separated by a colon or oblique. The initials may be all in capital letters, all in small letters, or, most commonly, as follows:
The information is not always needed but may be useful at a later time.
The notations Enclosure(s), Encl., Attachment(s) and Att. indicate that the envelope contains one or more documents in addition to the letter or attached to the letter. The number of such documents, if there are more than one, should appear after the notation.
Although carbon is now rarely used for copies, the convenient initials c.c.: (or cc:) followed by a colon and the names of the recipients of copies of the letter is still the preferred copy notation. An alternative is Copy to:. It corresponds to the distribution list of documents such as memorandums and minutes, and lets the recipient know who else is receiving the message.
A postscript is useful if the writer wishes to emphasize some point in the letter or if a point worthy of mention arises after the letter has been written. The use of a postscript obviates the need to rewrite the letter. However, if the postscript sheds a completely new light on the message conveyed, the letter should probably be rewritten. Similarly, a postscript should not be used to attempt to compensate for a poorly organized letter. The notation PS: should be placed before the first word of the postscript and be indented if that is the letter format used. The postscript should begin on the second line below a carbon copy notation.
November 18, 1996
University of Ottawa
Dear Ms. Robertson:
Thank you for your letter of October 15, 1996, concerning the possibility of the Translation Bureau accepting students from your program for spring practicums. It gives me pleasure to inform you that the Bureau will again be hosting students interested in one-to-three-month practicums in our organization.
I should point out, however, that owing to budgetary constraints, there may be
fewer places available this year.
To facilitate matters, I would ask you to have the attached forms filled in by candidates and to return them to me by February 21, 1997, either by fax (my number is 997-7743) or by mail.
Please do not hesitate to contact me by telephone at 819-997-7733 for further information.
Yours very truly,
Linguistic Services Division
Public Works and Government Services Canada
c.c.: C. Dupont
A memorandum is a short letter, note or report. The format most often used for memorandums within the federal public service is illustrated in the example (see 10.28 Model memorandum).
In the upper left part of the form appear the indications To, From and Subject. On the right are given the security classification (where applicable), the sender’s and receiver’s file references, if any, and the date.
If required, an indication of any attachments and a distribution list (Distribution or c.c.:) appear at the end of the document. This list can make communication more efficient because it tells the recipient who else is receiving the document.
|Send to||Recipient||TO||Simon Ferrand |
Director, Information Technology
January 3, 1999
|Send from||Sender||FROM||Irene Corrigan |
Finance and Administration
|SUBJECT||Renewal of agreement between Regional Operations and Administrative Services|
Following discussions between representatives of Regional Operations and Administrative Services, senior management has decided that the above-mentioned agreement will be renewed.
I would therefore appreciate your providing me, by January 15, with full details on Regional Operations’ past use of Information Technology and Systems services. This information will enable us to project financial requirements under the agreement for the upcoming fiscal year.
Thank you for your co-operation.
With the widespread computerization of the workplace in the 1990s, more and more communications are being sent by electronic mail (often called e-mail). Given the advantages of this means of communication, its use is likely to increase, especially in administrative and business contexts.
In appearance an e-mail message is much like a memorandum, with a "From" field, a "To" field, and a "Subject" field, followed by the body of the message. Nevertheless, there are significant differences, which soon become evident when this form of sending messages is used.
Communication by electronic mail takes much less time than writing and sending a letter or memorandum. E-mail can be delivered to all parts of the world in hours or even minutes. In addition, if you click on the "Receipt" or equivalent button, you will be automatically notified of the time your communication was read.
Messages can be sent to specific individuals or to predefined lists of recipients within a local area network—all in the same amount of time. Moreover, it is possible to send attachments with your message, including files, programs, graphics, and audio and video material.
Not only can electronic letters or memorandums be delivered more quickly, but they can also be processed by the recipient in a fraction of the time required to receive, read, answer and send correspondence on paper. Even telephone and fax communication can involve more time and money.
With the spread of local area networks, employees can make use of shared storage locations. With this arrangement, it is possible to have access on your computer screen to a file for reviewing, editing or consulting purposes. Keep in mind that, when you have opened a document stored at a shared location, other users cannot work on it.
Electronic mail can be received only by those who are connected to the "electronic highway" through a local area network or an international network (such as the Internet).
Despite advances in ensuring the privacy of electronic communications, e-mail is still easy to intercept and to forge, especially when coming across another network. Not all messages received can be assumed to be genuine. Do not send confidential or sensitive messages by e-mail.
A basic level of computer literacy is required for people to take full advantage of the electronic medium.
E-mail is more impersonal than traditional correspondence. In situations where an office memorandum would not be appropriate (for example, to congratulate an employee on 25 years’ loyal service), do not use electronic communication.
When including attachments with your message, you should ensure that the recipient will be able to understand the format. It is also helpful if you specify in your communication the software and version that you have used (Ami Pro, WordPerfect, MS Word, etc.). This will ensure that it can be readily accessed.
All communications should have a subject. In choosing a subject line (a short one is usually best), bear in mind that it summarizes what the text is about. It may also determine whether your message will be read immediately or not.
Most e-mail programs impose certain standards for physical and data format. These govern, in particular, width (the number of characters per line) and the length of the document. If your lines are too long, there is a risk that they will be split into partial lines, which complicates reading of the message. Longer documents should be segmented into several shorter ones in a logical, topic-based manner to facilitate access to information.
Since documents may be viewed on a variety of systems, avoid using special characters and complex tables which cannot be viewed by all potential readers of your message. When in doubt, keep to ASCII characters. Be consistent in the use of fonts and typefaces. Do not send messages entirely in upper case.
Organizations usually have their own guidelines governing the sending of electronic mail. These concern such matters as the following:
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Writing Tools – The Canadian Style
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