Top 10 Tips for Effective Letter Writing

One of the things that I notice upon reviewing the records to prepare a claim, reviewing claims on behalf of the respondent, or reviewing the particulars put forward in a dispute, is the poor standard of letter writing. This ranges from “could have been better” right through to “I have no idea what this letter means”. If your letters fall into this category, you are not doing yourself or your company any favours and you could be doing considerable harm. This blog, therefore, contains my Top 10 Tips for effective letter writing.

You are not writing the letter for your opposite number on the project. You are writing it as an accurate record to be relied upon in case a claim or dispute arises in the future. The letter must, therefore, be fully understood by someone who has no prior knowledge of the project or the matters in question.

  1. The letter should be a stand-alone document. In other words, a reader with no prior knowledge should be able to understand it without reference to any other documents.
  2. Quotations are very powerful, so rather than describing things in your own words, use quotations from other records or the contract. When you do use quotations, make sure that you identify them as such.
  3. Never use abbreviations or acronyms. Even if these are in general use on the project, they may not be understood by someone who is unfamiliar with the project. It takes hardly any additional time to type the words out in full and this is time well spent.
  4. Avoid the use of words such as ‘they’, ‘him’ and ‘it’ when referring to the parties, people or companies, because this often leads to misunderstanding and confusion. Use the contractual names – ‘the Employer’. ‘the Contractor’, ‘the Engineer’ or their actual names.
  5. When referring to the contract, use the names of clauses as well as the clause numbers. ‘Sub-Clause 20.1 (Contractor’s Claims)’ is much more effective and helpful than just ‘Sub-Clause 20.1’, which relies on the reader having intimate knowledge of the contract.
  6. When possible, substantiate facts put forward and statements made in the letter. ‘As recorded under Minute 12.3 of the Site Meeting Minutes held on 14 August 2019, we were instructed to suspend work in Area B’ is better than ‘We were instructed to suspend work in Area B on 14 August 2019’.
  7. Be specific. Phrases such as ‘This is for your information and action’, ‘we reserve our rights’ or ‘please do the needful’ are meaningless. Specifically state what action is necessary, what rights you are entitled to, and what ‘the needful’ actually is.
  8. It is a fact that if you proofread your own work, you will read what you think you have written, rather than what you have actually written, so have your letter proofread by a colleague. As well as checking for typos, poor grammar, and poor choice of language, your colleague should also be able to point out any passages that are not properly explained or understandable. For this reason, it is preferable to have a colleague from a different discipline carry out the proofreading.
  9. Finally, this advice applies equally to the compilation of minutes, reports, claims responses, determinations, decisions, instructions, and anything else that will form part of the project records.

This blog was written by ICCP Executive Officer and Fellow, Andy Hewitt. Andy has also written a detailed paper for members that discusses COVID-19 in relation to the FIDIC 1999 contracts (Red and Yellow Books). If you’re an ICCP member, please log in to the Member’s Area to download. 

If you would like to learn more about claims, check out our training partner, Claims Class.

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