The Business Of Writing
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Half the business letters which are written should never be written at all, and of the other half so many are incomplete or incoherent that a transaction which could be finished and filed away in two letters frequently requires six or eight.
A good letter is the result of clear thinking and careful planning. In the case of the sales-letter it sometimes takes several weeks to write one, but for ordinary correspondence a few minutes is usually all that is necessary. The length of time does not matter—it is the sort of letter which is produced at the end of it.
Books of commercial correspondence give a number of rules and standards by which a letter can be measured. But all rules of thumb are dangerous, and there are only two items which are essential. The others are valuable only as they contribute to them. The letter must succeed in getting its idea across and it must build up good will for its firm. And the best one is the one which accomplishes this most courteously and most completely in the briefest space of time (and paper).
There should be a reason back of every letter if it is only to say "Thank you" to a customer. Too much of our national energy goes up in waste effort, in aimless advertising, worthless salesmanship, ineffective letter writing, and in a thousand and one other ways. A lot of it is hammered out on the typewriters transcribing perfectly useless letters to paper which might really be worth something if it were given over to a different purpose.
A good letter never attracts the mind of the reader to itself as a thing apart from its contents. Last year a publishing house sent out a hundred test letters advertising one of their books. Three answers came back, none of them ordering the book, but all three praising the letter. One was from a teacher of commercial English who declared that he was going to use it as a model in his classes, and the other two congratulated the firm on having so excellent a correspondent. The physical make up of the letter was attractive, it was written by a college graduate and couched in clear, correct, and colorful English. And yet it was no good. No letter and no advertisement is any good which calls attention to itself instead of the message it is trying to deliver.
There is not much room for individuality in the make up of a letter. Custom has standardized it, and startling variations from the conventional format indicates freakishness rather than originality. They are like that astonishing gentleman who walks up Fifth Avenue on the coldest mornings in the year, bareheaded, coatless, sock-less, clad in white flannels and tennis slippers. He attracts attention, but he makes us shiver.
Plain white paper of good quality is always in good taste. Certain dull-tinted papers are not bad, but gaudy colors, flashy designs, and ornate letter heads are taboo in all high types of business. Simple headings giving explicit and useful information are best. The name and address of the firm (and "New York" or "Chicago" is not sufficient in spite of the fact that a good many places go into no more detail than this), the cable address if it has one, the telephone number and the trademark if it is an inconspicuous one (there is a difference between conspicuous and distinctive) are all that any business house needs.
Hotels are often pictured on their own stationery in a way that is anything but modest, but there is a very good reason for it. The first thing most people want to know about a hotel is what sort of looking place it is. All right, here you are. Some factories, especially those that are proud of their appearance, carry their own picture on their stationery. There is nothing to say against it, but one of the most beautiful factories in America has on its letter head only the name of the firm, the address, and a small trade-mark engraved in black. Sometimes a picture, in a sales letter, for instance, supplements the written matter in a most effective way. And whenever any kind of device is really helpful it should by all means be used, subject only to the limits of good taste.
It is more practical in business to use standard size envelopes. If window envelopes are used the window should be clear, the paper white or nearly so, and the typewritten address a good honest black. The enclosure should fit snugly and should be placed so that the address is in plain view without having to be jiggled around in the envelope first. A letter passes through the hands of several postal clerks before it reaches the person to whom it is addressed, and if each one of them has to stop to play with it awhile an appreciable amount of time is lost, not to mention the strain it puts on their respective tempers. The paper of which an envelope is made should always be opaque enough to conceal the contents of the letter.
Practically all business letters are type written. Occasionally a "Help Wanted" advertisement requests that the answer be in the applicant's own handwriting, but even this is rare. In most places the typing is taken care of by girls who have been trained for the purpose, but most young girls just entering business are highly irresponsible, and it is necessary for the men and women who dictate the letters to know what constitutes a pleasing make-up so that they can point out the flaws and give suggestions for doing away with them.
The letter should be arranged symmetrically on the page with ample margins all around. Nothing but experience in copying her own notes will teach a stenographer to estimate them correctly so that she will not have to rewrite badly placed letters. It is a little point, but an important one.
Each subject considered in a letter should be treated in a separate paragraph, and each paragraph should be set off from the others by a wider space than that between the lines, double space between the paragraphs when there is single space between the lines, triple space between the paragraphs when there is a double space between the lines, and so on.
A business letter should handle only one subject. Two letters should be dispatched if two subjects are to be covered. This enables the house receiving the letter to file it so that it can be found when it is needed.
When a letter is addressed to an individual it is better to begin "Dear Mr. Brown" or "My dear Mr. Brown" than "Dear Sir" or "My dear Sir." "Gentlemen" or "Ladies" is sometime used in salutation when a letter is addressed to a group. "Dear Friend" is permissible in general letters sent out to persons of both sexes. Honorary titles should be used in the address when they take the place of "Mr.," such titles as Reverend, Doctor, Honorable (abbreviated to Rev., Dr., Hon.,) and the like. Titles should not be dropped except in the case of personal letters.
Special care should be taken with the outside address. State abbreviations should be used sparingly when there is a chance of confusion as in the case of Ga., Va., La., and Fa. "City" is not sufficient and should never be used. Nor should the name of the state ever be omitted even when the letter is addressed to some other point in the same state, as from New York to Brooklyn. And postage should be complete. A letter on which there is two cents due has placed itself under a pretty severe handicap before it is opened.
It is astonishing how many letters go out every day- unsigned, lacking enclosures, carrying the wrong addresses, bearing insufficient postage, and showing other evidences of carelessness and thoughtlessness. In a town in New England last year one of the specialty shops received at Christmas time twenty different lots of money—money orders, stamps, and cash—by mail, not one of which bore the slightest clue to the identity of the sender. Countless times during the year this happens in every mail order house.
The initials of the dictator and of the stenographer in the lower left-hand corner of a letter serve not only to identify the carbon, but often to place the letter itself if it has gone out with-out signature. The signature should be legible, or if the one who writes it enjoys making flourishes he may do so if he will have the name neatly typed either just below the name or just above it. It should be written in ink (black or blue ink), not in pencil or colored crayon, and it should be blotted before the page is folded. The dictator himself should sign the letter whenever possible. "Dictated but not read" bears the mark of discourtesy and sometimes brings back a letter with "Received but not read" written across it. When it is necessary to leave the office before signing his letters, a business man should deputize his stenographer to do it, in which case she writes his name in full with her initials just below it. A better plan is to have another person take care of the entire letter, be-ginning it something like, "Since Mr. Blake is away from the office to-day he has asked me to let you know
The complimentary close to a business letter should be "Yours truly," "Yours sincerely" or something of the kind, and not "Yours cordially," "Yours faithfully" or "Yours grate-fully" unless the circumstances warrant it.
In writing a letter as a part of a large organization one should use "We" instead of "I." A firm acts collectively, no one except the president has a right to the pronoun of the first per-son, and he (if he is wise) seldom avails himself of it. If the matter is so near personal as to make "We" somewhat ridiculous "I" should, of course, be used instead. But one should be consistent. If "I" is used at the beginning it should be continued throughout.
Similarly a letter should be addressed to a firm rather than to a person, for if the person happens to be absent some one else can then take charge of it. But the address should also include the name of the addressee (whenever possible) or "Advertising Manager," "Personnel Manager" or whatever the designation of his position may be. The name may be placed in the lower left-hand corner of the letter "Attention Mr. Green" or "Attention Advertising Manager," and it may also be placed just above the salutation inside the letter. Sometimes the subject of the letter is indicated in the same way, Re Montana shipment, Re Smythe manuscript, etc. These lines may be typed in red or in capital letters so as to catch the attention of the reader at once. If a letter is more than two pages long this line is often added to the succeeding pages, a very convenient de-vice, for letters are sometimes misplaced in the files and this helps to locate them.
A business letter should never be longer than necessary. If three lines are enough it is absurd to use more, especially if the letter is going to a firm which handles a big correspondence. Some one has said with more truth than exaggeration that no man south of Fourteenth Street in New York reads a letter more than three lines long. But there is danger that the too brief letter will sound brusque. Mail order houses which serve the small towns and the rural districts say that, all other things being equal, it is the long sales letter which brings in the best results. Farmers have more leisure and they are quite willing to read long letters if (and this if is worth taking note of) they are interesting.
All unnecessary words and all stilted phrases should be stripped from a letter. "Replying to your esteemed favor," "Yours of the 11th inst. to hand, contents noted," "Yours of the 24th ult. received. In reply would say," "Awaiting a favorable reply," "We beg to remain" are dead weights. "Prox" might be added to the list, and "In reply to same." "Per diem" and other Latin expressions should likewise be thrown into the discard. "As per our agreement of the 17th" should give place to "According to our agreement of the 17th," and, wherever possible, simplified expression should be employed. Legal phraseology should be restricted to the profession to which it belongs. Wills, deeds, and other documents likely to be haled into court need "whereas's" and "wherefores" and "said's" and "same's" without end, but ordinary business letters do not. It is perfectly possible to express oneself clearly in the language of conversation (which is also the language of business) without burying the meaning in tiresome verbiage. And yet reputable business houses every day send out letters which are almost ridiculous because of the stiff and pompous way they, are written.
The following letter was sent recently by one of the oldest furniture houses in America:
Herewith please find receipt for full payment of your bill. Please accept our thanks for same.
Relative to the commission due Mrs. Robinson would say that if she will call at our office at her convenience we shall be glad to pay same to her.
Thanking you for past favors, we beg to remain, Yours very truly,
Contrast that with this :
DEAR MRS. BROWN:
We are returning herewith your receipted bill. Thank you very much.
If you will have Mrs. Robinson call at our office at her convenience we shall take pleasure in paying her the commission due her.
Yours very truly,
Here is another letter so typical of the kind that carelessness produces:
I have your letter of the 27th inst. and I have forwarded it to Mr. Stubbs and will see him in a few days and talk the matter over.
Would it not have been just as easy to write:
DEAR MR. THOMPSON:
Thank you for your letter of the 27th. I have forwarded it to Mr. Stubbs and will see him in a few days to talk the matter over.
In the preparation of this volume a letter of inquiry was sent out to a number of representative business houses all over the country. It was a pleasure to read the excellent replies that came in response to it. One letter reached its destination in the midst of a strike, but the publicity manager of the firm sent a cordial answer, which began :
Your very courteous letter to Mr. Jennings came at a time when his mind is pretty well occupied with thoughts concerning the employment situation in our various plants.
We shall endeavor, therefore, to give you such information as comes to mind with regard to matters undertaken by the company which have contributed to the standard of courtesy which exists in the departments here.
We select another at random:
It pleases us very much to know that our company has been described to you as one which practises courtesy in business. We should like nothing better than to have all our employees live up to the reputation credited to them by Mr. Haight.
As for our methods of obtaining it
Contrast these two excellent beginnings with (and this one is authentic, too) :
In reply to yours of the 6th inst. relative to what part courtesy plays in business and office management would say that it is very important.
Routine letters must be standardized—a house must conserve its own time as well as that of its customers—but a routine letter must never be used unless it adequately covers the situation. There is no excuse for a poor routine letter, for there is plenty of time to think it out, and there is no excuse for sending a routine letter when it does not thoroughly answer the correspondent's question. The man who is answering a letter must put himself in the place of the one who wrote it.
This is a fair sample of what happens when a letter is written by a person who either has no imagination at all, or does not use what he has.
A woman who had just moved to New York lost the key to her apartment and wrote to her landlord for another. This answer came:
Replying to your letter, will say am sorry but it is not the custom of the landlord to furnish more than one key for an apartment. Should the tenant lose or misplace the key it is up to them to replace same.
The woman felt a justifiable sense of irritation. She was new to the city and thought she was taking the most direct method of replacing "same." Perhaps she should have known better, but she did not. Buying a key is not so simple as buying a box of matches and to a new-comer it is a matter of some little difficulty. She was at least entitled to a bit more information and to more courteous treatment than is shown, in the letter signed by his landlordly hand. She went to see him and found him most suave and polite (which was his habit face to face with a woman). He explained the heavy expense of furnishing careless tenants with new keys (which she understood perfectly to begin with) and was most apologetic when he discovered that she had intended all the time to pay for it. It would have been just as easy for him in the beginning to write :
I am sorry that I cannot send you a key, but we have had so many similar requests that we have had to discontinue complying with them.
You will find an excellent locksmith at 45 West 119 St. His telephone number is Main 3480.
I am sending you the key herewith. There is a nominal charge for it which will be added to your bill at the end of the month. I hope it will reach you safely. It is a nuisance to be without one.
Imagination is indispensable to good letter writing, but it is going rather far when one sends thanks in advance for a favor which he expects to be conferred. Even those who take pleasure in granting favors like to feel that they do so of their own free will, It takes away the pleasure of doing it when some one asks a favor and then assumes the thing done. Royalty alone are so highly privileged as to have simply to voice their wishes to have them complied with, and royalty has gone out of fashion.
At one point in their journey all the travellers in "Pilgrim's Progress" exchanged burdens, but they did not go far before each one begged to have back his original load. That is what would happen if the man who dictates a letter were to ex-change places with his stenographer. Each would then appreciate the position of the other, and if they were once in a while to make the transfer in their minds (imagination in business again) they would come nearer the sympathetic understanding that is the basis of good teamwork.
The responsibility for a letter is divided between them, and it is important that the circumstances under which it is written should be favorable. The girl should be placed in a comfort-able position so that she can hear without difficulty. The dictator should not smoke whether she objects to it or not. He should have in mind what he wants to say before he begins speaking, and then he should pronounce his words evenly and distinctly. He should not bang on' the desk with his fist, flourish his arms in the air, talk in rhetorical rushes with long pauses between the phrases, or raise his voice to a thunderous pitch and then let it sink to a cooing murmur. These things have not the slightest effect on the typewritten page, and they make it very hard for the girl to take correct notes. No one should write a letter while he is angry, or if he writes it (and it is sometimes a relief to write a scorching letter) he should not mail it.
It is said that Roosevelt used to write very angry letters to people who deserved them, drawing liberally upon his very expressive supply of abusive words for the occasion. Each time his secretary quietly stopped the letter. Each time the Colonel came in the day after and asked if the letter had been sent. Each time the secretary said, "No, that one did not get off." And each time the Colonel exclaimed, "Good! We won't send it!" It came to be a regular part of the day's routine.
Inexperienced dictators will find it good practice to have their stenographers read back their letters so they can recast awkward sentences and make other improvements. It can usually be discontinued after a while, for dictating, like nearly everything else, becomes easier with habit.
A considerate man will show special forbearance in breaking in a new girl. Different voices are hard to grow accustomed to, and a girl who is perfectly capable of taking dictation from one man will find it very difficult to follow another until she has grown used to the sound of his voice. It is like learning a foreign language. The pupil understands his teacher, but he does not understand any one else until he has got "the hang of it."
The training of a good stenographer does not end when she leaves school. She should be able not only to take down and transcribe notes neatly and correctly. She should be able to spell and punctuate correctly and to make the minor changes in phrasing and diction that so often can make a good letter of a poor one. The most fatal disease that can overtake a stenographer (or any one else) is the habit of slavishly following a routine.
"Many young fellows," this is from Henry Ford, "especially those employed in offices, fall into a routine way of doing their work that eventually makes it become like a treadmill. They do not get a broad view of the entire business. Sometimes that is the fault of the employer, but that does not excuse the young man. Those who command attention are the ones who are actually pushing the boss. It pays to be ahead of your immediate job, and to do more than that for which you are paid. A mere clock watcher never gets anywhere. Forget the clock and become absorbed in your job. Learn to love it."
The position of secretary is a responsible one. Frequently she knows almost as much about his business as her employer himself (and sometimes even more) , He depends upon her quite as much as she depends upon him, though in a some-what different way. It takes personal effort together with native ability to raise any one to a position of importance, but personal effort often needs supplementing, and many business houses have taken special measures to help their employees to become good correspondents.
In some places there are supervisors who give talks and discuss the actual letters, good ones and bad, which have been written. They go over the carbons and hold conferences with the correspondents who need help. In other places courtesy campaigns for a higher standard of correspondence are held, while in others the matter is placed in the hands of the heads of the various departments, acting on the assumption that these heads are men of experience and ability or they would never have attained the position they hold.
The president of a bank which has branches in London and Paris and other big foreign cities used every now and then to stop the boy who was carrying a basket of carbons to the file clerk and look them over. If he found a letter he did not like, or one that he did like a great deal, he sent for the person who wrote it and talked with him. It was not necessary for him to go over the letters often. The fact that the people in the office knew that it was likely to happen kept them on the alert and nearly every letter that left the organization was better because the person who wrote it knew that the man at the head was interested in it and that there was a strong chance that he might see it.
What is effective in one place may not be so in another. Each house must work out its own system. But one thing must be understood in the beginning, and that is that the spirit of courtesy, must first abide in the home office before the people who work there can hope to send it out through the mail.
Roughly speaking there are eight types of business letters which nearly every business man at one time or another has to write or to consider.
The first is the letter of application. The applicant should state simply his qualifications for the place he wants. He should not make an appeal to sympathy (sob stuff) nor should he beg or cringe. He should not demand a certain salary, though he may state what salary he would like, and he should not say "Salary no object." It would probably not be true. There are comparatively few people with whom money is no object. If it is the first time the applicant has ever tried for a position he should say so ; if not, he should give his reason for leaving his last place. It should not be a long letter. A direct statement of the essential facts (age, education, experiences, etc.) is all that is necessary.
Many times the letter of application is accompanied by, or calls for, a letter of recommendation.
No man should allow himself to recommend another for qualities which he knows he does not possess. If he is asked for a recommendation he should speak as favorably of the person under consideration as he honestly can, and if his opinion of him is disapproving he should give it with reservations.
At one time during the cleaning up of Panama there was considerable talk about displacing General Gorgas and a committee waited on Roosevelt to suggest another man for the job. He listened and then asked them to get a letter about him from Dr. William II. Welsh of Johns Hopkins. Dr. Welsh wrote a letter praising the man very highly, but ended by saying that while it was true that he would be a good man for the place, he did not think he would be as good as the one they already had—General Gorgas. The Colonel acted upon the letter confident '(because he had great faith in Dr. Welsh) that he was taking the wise course, which subsequent events proved it to be. "Would to heaven," he said, "that every one would write such honest letters of recommendation!"
The general letter of recommendation beginning "To whom it may concern" is rarely given now. It has little weight. Usually a man waits until he has applied for a position and then gives the name of his reference, the person to whom he is applying writes to the one to whom he has been referred, and the entire correspondence is carried on between these two. In this way the letter of recommendation can be sincere, some-thing almost impossible in the open letter. It is needless to add that all such correspondence should be confidential.
The letter of introduction is, in a measure, a letter of recommendation. The one who writes it stands sponsor for the one who bears it. It should make no extravagant claims for the one who is introduced. He should simply be given a chance to make good on his own responsibility. But it should give the reason for the presentation and suggest a way of following it up that will result in mutual pleasure or benefit. It should be in an unsealed envelope and the envelope should bear, in addition to the address, the words, "Introducing Mr. Blank" on the lower left-hand corner. This does away with an embarrassing moment when the letter is presented in person and enables the host to greet his guest by name and ask him to be seated while he reads it.
Letters of introduction should not be given promiscuously. Some men permit themselves to be persuaded into giving letters of introduction to people who are absolute nuisances (it is hard to refuse any one who asks for this sort of letter, but often kindest for all concerned) and then they send in secret another letter explaining how the first one came about. This really throws the burden on the person who least of all ought to bear it, the innocent man whom the first one wanted to meet. No letter of presentation is justified unless there is good reason behind it, such, as for instance, in the following:
This is Mr. Franklin B. Nesbitt. He has been in Texas for several months studying economic conditions, and I believe can give you some valuable information which has resulted from his research there. He is a man upon whom you can rely. I have known him for years, and I am sure that whatever he tells you will be trustworthy.
It is a common practice for a business man to give his personal card with "Introducing Mr. Mills or "Introducing Mr. Mills of Howard and Powell Motor Co." written across it to a man whom he wishes to introduce to another. This enables him to get an interview. What he does with it rests entirely with him.
Sales letters are a highly specialized group given over, for the most part, to experts. Their, most common fault is overstatement or patronizing. The advertisements inserted in trade papers and the letters sent out to the "trade" are often so condescendingly written that they infuriate the men to whom they are addressed. It is safer to assume that the man you are writing to is an intelligent human being. It is better to overestimate his mentality than to underestimate it, and it is better to "talk" to him in the letter than to "write" to him.
Sales letters are, as a rule, general, not personal, and yet the best ones have the personal touch. The letter is a silent salesman whose function is to anticipate the needs of its customers and offer to supply them. In this as in any other kind of salesmanship it is the spirit which counts for most, and the spirit of genuine helpfulness (mutual helpfulness) gives pulling power to almost any letter. The one which presents a special offer on special terms specially arranged for the benefit of the customer wins out almost every time, provided, of course, that the offer is worth presenting. There is no use in declaring that all of the benefit is to the subscriber. It would be very foolish if it were actually true. Once a man went into a haberdashery to buy a coat. The shop owner unctuously declared that he was not making a cent of profit, was selling it for less than it cost him, and so on and on. The man walked out. "I'll go somewhere where they have sense enough to make a profit," he said.
A sales letter should never be sent out to a large group of people without first having been tried out on a smaller one. In this way the letter can be tested and improvements made before the whole campaign is launched. The results in the small group are a pretty fair indication of what they will be in the large one, and a tremendous amount of time and money can be saved by studying the letter carefully to see where it has failed before sending it out to make an even bigger failure.
On the face of things it seems that an order letter would be an easy one to write, but the mail order houses have another story to tell. Order blanks should be used wherever possible. They have been carefully made and have blank spaces for the filling in of answers to the questions that are asked. In an order letter one should state exactly what he wants, how he wants it sent, and how he intends to pay for it. If the order consists of several items, each one should be listed separately. If they are ordered from a catalogue they should be identified with the catalogue description by mention of their names, their numbers and prices. One should state whether he is sending check, money, stamps, or money order, but he should not say "Enclosed please find."
The commonest form of letter of acknowledgment is sent in answer to an order letter. If there is to be the least delay in filling the order the letter acknowledging it should say so and should give the reason for it, but even when the order is filled promptly (if it is a large or a comparatively large one) the letter of acknowledgment should be sent. Then if anything goes wrong it is easier to trace than when the customer has no record except the copy of his order letter. The letter of acknowledgment should simply thank the customer and assure him of prompt and efficient service.
Complaints should be acknowledged immediately. If there is to be a delay while an investigation is made, the letter of acknowledgment should simply state the fact and beg indulgence until it is finished. Complaints should always receive careful and courteous attention. Most of them are justified, and even those that are not had something to begin on.
The letter of complaint should never be writ-ten hastily or angrily. It should go directly to the root of the trouble and should state as nearly as possible when and where and how it came about. One should be especially careful about placing the blame or charging to an individual what was really the fault of an unfortunate train of circumstances. The tone should never be sharp, no matter how just the complaint. "Please" goes further than "Now, see here."
Collection letters are hardest to write. They should appeal to a man's sense of honor first of all. It is a cheap (and ineffective) method to beg him to pay because you need the money, and rarely brings any reaction except rousing in his mind a contempt for you. The first letter in a series (and the series often includes as many as six or eight) should be simply a reminder. Drastic measures should not be taken until they are necessary, and at no time should the letters be-come abrupt or insulting. In the first place, it is ungentlemanly to write such letters, in the second it antagonizes the debtor, and if he gets angry enough he feels that it is hardly an obligation to pay the money; that it will "serve 'em right" if he does not do it.
Advertising is a sort of letter writing. Each advertisement is a letter set before the public or some part of the public in the hope that it will be answered by the-right person. It enters into an over-crowded field and if it is to attract attention it must be vivid, unusual, and convincing. Increasingly—and there is cause to be thankful for this—exaggerated statements are being forced to disappear. In the first place the ballyhoo advertisers have shouted the public deaf. They no longer believe. In the second place advertisers themselves have waked to the menace of the irresponsible and dishonest people who are advertising and are taking legal measures to safeguard the honor of the profession.
One of the most successful advertisers of modern times was a man who carried the idea of service into everything he did. For a while he had charge of soliciting advertising for automobile trucks for a certain magazine. Instead of going at it blindly he made a careful study of the map of the United States and marked off the areas where automobile trucks were used, where they could be used, and where they should be used, and sent it to the manufacturers along with a statement of the circulation of the magazine and the advantages of reaching the public through it. The result was that the magazine got more advertising from the manufacturers than it could possibly handle. It is very gratifying to know that this man succeeded extraordinarily as an advertiser, for not once during his long career did he ever try to "put one over" on the public or on anybody else.
No advertisement should be impertinent or importunate. During the war there was a splendid poster bearing a picture of Uncle Sam looking straight into your eyes and pointing his finger straight into your face as he said, "Young man, your country needs you!" The poster was excellent from every point of view, but since the war, real estate companies, barber shops, restaurants and whatnot have used posters bearing the pictures of men pointing their fingers straight at you saying, "There is a home at Blankville for you," "Watch out to use Baker's Best," and "You're next!" After all, Uncle Sam is the only person who has a right to point his finger at you in any such manner and say, "I need you." And besides, there is the moral side of it. Imitation is the sincerest flattery, but the dividing line between it and dishonesty is not always clear. And the law cannot every time prosecute the offender, for there is a kind of cleverness that enables a man to pilfer the ideas of another and recast them just sufficiently to "get by." It would be very stupid for a man not to profit by the experience of other men, but there is a vast difference betwen intelligent adaptation of ideas and stealing them. This is more a question of morals than of manners, for the crime—and it is a crime—is usually deliberate, while most breathes of manners are unintentional and due to either carelessness or ignorance.
House memoranda are letters among the various people who are working there. They should be brief, above all things, and clear, but never at the sacrifice of courtesy. Titles should not be dropped and nicknames should not be ,used although initials may be. Memoranda should never be personal unless they are sent con, fidentially. An open memorandum should never contain anything that cannot be read by every one without reflecting unfavorably upon any one. And it is wise to keep in mind—no matter what you are writing—that the written record is permanent.