We live in the computer era, and modern businesses have access to many more different means of communication than businesses used to have say 20 years ago.
In the beginning people thought that computers will eliminate (or at least almost eliminate) paper … Now we use much more paper than before the computers. Paradoxes of everyday life …
The types of business correspondence we use nowadays are:
- business letters
- faxes and
When someone mentions "business correspondence" around you what is the first thing that comes to your mind? If you are like most of us, you would probably immediately picture business letters. In spite of the fact that business email nowadays is used much more than letters. But business letters have been the only type of business correspondence for much longer than any of us can remember, so "business correspondence" is still associated with them more than with its any other type. And as anything that "has been there" for a long time business letters just have to have very well established rules and regulations. So none of us is surprised when students nowadays are taught to use phrases like "this is to remind you", "in respect of the above", "I am writing to advise" during their communications classes.
And then students become employees who need to write business letters and of course they write them the way they have been taught with no doubts whatsoever. "If everybody does it, if my teachers do it that way then it's the only way." "Creativity is not for writing business letters!" And business letters become "work of art" in the worst sense because people seem to compete in stuffing them with as many pompous ambiguous phrases as possible.
This is gradually changing though. More and more we try to write business letters using clear and concise language, natural style and conversational tone. People even use "I" instead of "we" in writing business letters lately, which makes the letters less flowery and allows to see the person behind the letter.
Business memos are not studied at school as profoundly as business letters. They are probably considered a by-product of business letters and are treated as something secondary. Besides, they appeared around 1920s and are much "younger" than business letters. This is probably the reason why they tend to be less formal and usually sound more human. Every business uses lots of business memos, and a lot of them nowadays are sent by email which makes them even more ubiquitous.
Business faxes became common during the 1980s. Actually, they have been around longer than memos but for a long time very few people had had access to fax machines. So, most of us would say that faxes have been a part of business environment for about 30 years which is nothing compared to the life span of business letters. Consequently, there are not very many rules established for writing faxes. Everybody wrote them the way they considered appropriate. And now faxes are dying a slow death. There is such a thing as faxing via computer of course, but it is so close to email it should probably be treated like one. But do not hurry to throw away your fax machine. Faxes are still very widely used, in some countries more than in others, and will be at least for a few years.
Business e-mail … the most recent and the most common type of business correspondence in today's office. How could we have lived and even conducted business without it ?! How can there be people that do not use email at all … there still are some eccentrics like that, you know? Email is the blessing and the curse of modern life, modern businesses included. It is very helpful as a means of instant communication but becomes a burden for those who have thousands of unopened messages sitting in their inbox. Spam is also a very big issue though a little less so lately when there are ways to harness it (more or less). Email is still in its infancy though we all know it is here to stay and it will be used more and more … if nothing better comes up, of course. The good thing is that we are gradually getting used to treating email with care and realizing that though it is very close to a phone conversation, it is still a type of business correspondence, "business" being the operative word.
Business letters, emails and memos will be for quite a while very widely used types of business correspondence. Faxes are still there, too, and the following 10 years or so will show whether they will totally blend with email. Who knows, we might even have new types of business correspondence a few years from now.