The Professional Edge: Writing on the Job 274 The Desk Set Say there's an improvement in the company's billing policy--and you're the lucky employee who gets to write the letter about it. Perhaps you need to announce a smaller holiday party or a limit to "Dress-Down Fridays," or reject a would-be employee. Or it's time to move on and you need to send a cover letter and resumé. Whatever the task, successful professionals know how to write winning letters and resumés. Now you can, too! Here are their secrets. While no two kinds of business letters are exactly the same, they do share certain features besides their format. · · · · · · · · · · They are brief but complete. They state the writer's purpose clearly and concisely. The language is always polite. The tone matches the occasion. A letter to a colleague, for example, is appropriately friendly, but business correspondence in general is formal. The relationship between the writer and reader is established in the beginning of the letter. The writer provides any necessary background information. If the reader is required to take action, the writer states the action outright. If the letter is a response to a letter, phone call, or personal visit, the writer mentions the date of the previous contact. Business letters are always typed, never handwritten. They follow a set format, explained in the following sections. Author! Author! Along with good interpersonal skills, the ability to write well is the single most important factor in promotions and job security. The ability to communicate effectively in writing can also be the decisive factor in a candidate getting a position. Ben Ordover, a division president at CBS, notes, "Many people climbing the corporate ladder are very good. When faced with a hard choice between candidates, I use writing ability as the deciding factor. Sometimes a candidate's writing was the only skill that separated him or her from the competition." Style and Substance Business letters are single-spaced on 8½ × 11-inch letterhead. There are three different formats you can use: the block style, the modified block style, and the semiblock style. The differences among the three styles depends on paragraph indentations and the placement of headings and closes. Here's the run-down: 1. 2. 3. The block style has all parts of the letter flush left. The modified block style places the heading on the upper-right corner and the close and sig- nature on the lower-right corner, parallel to the heading. The paragraphs are not indented. The semiblock style places the heading on the upper-right corner and the close and signature on the lower-right corner, parallel to the heading. The paragraphs are indented.