Original Post by Amy McNulty:
The purposes of each are very different. The first scenario is strictly to communicate information to an organization. Having dealt with an insurance company once before, the contact person changed around or the letter might go to a few different departments so it’s less of a personal communication and more just a manner to convey details. That being said, I do think you need to create the appearance of it being a personal letter if only to humanize you in the even that creates any goodwill within the company that might benefit you in the claims process. The content of the first is strictly facts, the tone formal and impersonal, and the style is formal as well. I haven’t sent an actual business letter in forever so I assume the communication was via email therefore the typical letter heading doesn’t apply here. As far as providing details, I’m not sure you need to admit you were looking at your email. Legally speaking that seems to open up a large liability. While the moral right thing to do would be to provide that information, I don’t think that applies in the legal world and so providing a more succinct comment that “I did not see that car” would be sufficient as opposed to “I did not see that car because I was checking my phone”.
The second scenario is asking for something as well as apologizing and, therefore, even if you have great and less formal relationship with your boss, you still need to be more formal in this communication given the circumstances. You’ve created a significant inconvenience for others as well as having potentially jeopardized your own standing in the organization therefore a bit of contrition would be appropriate.
To me, the third scenario to me was the easiest. There are certain things that need to be discussed live and to me, something like this that results in damages in the tens of thousands of dollars this would be one of them. My husband and I tend to be pretty direct anyway so I know he wouldn’t want a long letter with details. I conveyed the topic, that there was no reason to worry, and that we would chat when he’s available. There’s nothing immediate he needs to or could do so I think communicating the details in person is more appropriate so I can convey my regret and apologies in a respectful way so he can hear my sincerity, I can answer his questions, and discuss any concerns.
When writing, considering the audience is essential because it dictates the tone, style, and word choices of the communication in addition to the genre and medium. The audience dictates genre and genre helps determines the medium in addition to the expectation of the audience (Purdue University n.d.). Therefore, my husband just needs to know that we need to talk and a quick text message is sufficient, the insurance company just needs facts and a formal letter/email is appropriate, and I’m asking for a favor from my boss who is accustomed to receiving either text or email communication from me and since this is a more formal tone, the medium is email rather than text. Perdue recommends attaching a formal letter to the email but I’ve rarely even seen that except for formal governmental notifications. I do think that the genre/medium issue for business letters has become a bit conflated as formal letters are often just inserted into the body of an email rather than attached.
Perdue University. n.d. “Genre and Medium.” Accessed January 5, 2022. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/professional_technical_writing/business_writing_for_administrative_and_clerical_staff/genre_and_medium.html
Excellent post! It is smart to recognize that convincing is still a component of the communication with the insurance company. The purpose is to file a claim that brings the lowest price increase to the insurance policy. So, being formal is important to show respect as it increases the chances of getting the desired low cost result. It is interesting to consider how not having yet met the actual person who is receiving the letter is different from already knowing your boss and significant other. It reminds me to take into consideration all the knowledge I have about the individual person I am writing to in cases I do have it. Knowing your husband well brought more confidence in your style of writing to him.
Great point that sincerity necessitates at least a dash of formality in the context of apologizing and that the best way to say sorry to someone with emotion involved is in person or over a phone call.