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Pay Attention to How you Close Letters, Memos

Don't finish a document with pitfalls that waste your preceding paragraphs

By Phyllis Taufen

How to begin business letters and memos took the spotlight in a previous column in this newspaper; how to end letters and memos takes center stage this time. Although the first impression is indeed important, the last impression is equally so. It's like the final frame of an Academy Award movie, the concluding bar of a haunting melody, or the last taste of a favorite dessert. All linger a bit and bring good things to mind.

Closings come in various shapes and sizes and need careful scrutiny.

Some letter or memo closings just finish the business at hand: "The enclosed charts will answer your questions about the ratings. Please retain for your files." Or "if you wish to change your reservations, please call 1-800-123-4567."

Other closings make gratitude the key: "Your generous sharing of time at the company picnic made our annual get-together enjoyable for all." Or, "We sincerely appreciate your care and concern during this time of transition. Thank you for your patience."

Many closings seek future gain and focus on tomorrow: "We look forward to serving you again." Or, "Our representative will stop by within the month to discuss your current office needs."

Still others entice or persuade. Well written and strong, such closings can sum up a proposal or -tip the scales toward compliance. They are relevant and friendly: "Investing in this new software will further your options as your business continues to expand."

Some "persuasive" closings, however, can be too much. Written in a pseudo-intimate tone, they often fail because they are built on a false camaraderie. "Jot-It-Software will solve all your scheduling problems." Hardly true!

So whether you wish to just finish the business at hand, show appreciation, seek future gain, or persuade, your closing should sum up your message.

A few pitfalls, however, can destroy your best endeavor. Writing experts offer the following suggestions.

First, keep your closing positive. Reinforce the good news or confirm the agreement. Relay your continued interest in the common enterprise: "Serving you is our top priority and we await your next request."

Second, if the news is bad and you ~ have struggled to build a satisfactory com promise, don't ruin it with an ending apology that brings back the sad scenario. Writing, "Again, let me apologize for the late arrival of your special order" cancels your previous careful explanation.

Third, don't invite further conversation unless you truly wish such continued involvement.

If, however, you have added facts that might be useful and you welcome an expanded conversation, then write, "If you wish further information, please call."

Be wary of the word "hope." Although I need "hope" in my life, I understand the experts' warning. "I hope this is satisfactory" might imply that it is not. You've just suggested that perhaps you should have done better. Try something more positive like, "I know you will appreciate the new document when it arrives," or, "We have enjoyed working with you on this project and look forward to more collaboration."

The same warning holds for the phrase "I regret." If you do regret, try to find a more positive way to say it. And if you don't regret having to fire the cook or demand a refund for faulty merchandise, why say you do?

These same experts suggest never "thanking in advance." They say it presumes too much and puts me receiver under pressure. So give your reader a choice. Then say thank you after the deed has been done. Or just say "thank you" without the "in advance."

With these three subtle suggestions comes the last admonition: don't dangle. Letters should close with a complete sentence and not hang in mid-air. Examples include "I remain," "Hoping to hear from you, "Regards," and "Wishing you the best, and many other such odd phrases. Rewrite these empty cliches-make them complete sentences.

Finally, the ending I most abhor is the ubiquitous "If you have any questions, please feel free to call me" and "If you have any questions, do not hesitate to call me." Why "feel free"? Why "feel" at all? Why not "feel expensive?" And "do not hesitate to call me" has a negative ring. At least 60 times this semester I have edited students' letters and crossed out "do not hesitate" or "feel free" and inserted a simple "please." So, "If you have any questions, please call."

Endings should do what they signify- end the entire enterprise. They should echo the main idea of your letter or memo, give your final thought, and build good will. They should foster future relationships by reminding how enjoyable your current enterprise has been. They're like the good ending to a movie, a favorite song, or that last bit of chocolate mousse smothered with whipped cream.

Phyllis Taufen is an associate professor of English who teaches business communications at Gonzaga University's School of Business Administration. Excerpted from"Writing for business" By Phyllis Taufen, contributing columnist (Reprinted Journal of Business May 21, 1998)

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