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Mechanical Form 1

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MECHANICAL FORM 1. Value of good form.—The effect of the mechan ical appearance of a letter is often compared to the effect of the clothes worn by a salesman. This com parison is good, but limited. Salesmen have much more opportunity for the expression of individual ity in the choice of their clothes than correspond ents have in choosing the mechanical dress of their letters. The principle, however, is the same.

Nearly all people who know what is good form in letter-writing are affected unfavorably by the lack of it in letters that they receive. They expect good form as a matter of course. Correct form, therefore, is not so much a positive asset as it is a precaution. Correctness and attractiveness in the mechanical make-up of the letter ward off the possibility of un favorable criticism on that score ; herein is the chief value of observing the current standards of good form.

Altho the desired effect of a letter in nearly all cases is not gained in any great measure by means of the ap pearance of the letter, it must not be forgotten that the consummation of the sale may sometimes actually be prevented by the lack of good mechanical form.

2. Uniformity of mechanical make-up.---Of equal importance with uniformity of tone in the letters that go out from any one house, is the uniformity of the mechanical make-up. It is desirable to have stand ardization of good form both with respect to the con ventional mechanical requirement, such as spacing, punctuation, indentions, and so on, and with respect to the artistic requirements, such as balance and neatness. If an addressee receives several letters that differ in mechanical make-up, it is likely that he will receive an impression of inconsistency.

As good usage in literary composition is established by the practice of leading authors, so good form in letter-writing is fixed by the practice of the leading business concerns. The following sections include in formation concerning standards observed in the lead ing business houses of the country.

3. Originality and customary me chanical make-up of the business letter is so thoroly established that few business concerns care to take the risk of disregarding it. Refusing to conform

to the standard involves the same kind of risk that a salesman takes when he wears a hat or a coat that is out of style or too much in style. He becomes con spicuous; and worse still, his clothes distract attention from his selling talk. Writing the date in an unusual way, the use of colored stationery, the omission of the salutation, odd spacing of the beading or of the ad dress—all such departures from custom involve risk, altho sometimes a variation from the standard may suggest that the concern is up-to-date, and may there fore command greater attention.

It is a nice question to decide just how much orig inality should be shown in the mechanical make-up. Safety lies in close adherence to custom. If, however, it seems probable that a form which is original and unusual will eventually be universally employed on account of its utility, it would probably be safe to use it. The non-indentation of the first lines of para graphs in letters with single spacing—because the double spacing between paragraphs sufficiently sepa rates them—is a case in point. Notwithstanding the fact that many leading business houses have adopted the custom, there is some question as to whether the utility is sufficient to insure universal acceptance.

There is a tendency on the part of many corre spondents to reason that what is customary is old, and what is old is not in accordance with modern methods. But even the modern conventionalized make-up of a business letter is necessarily in accord ance with utility. This does not mean, of course, that forms must always remain the same. Quite the contrary. For instance, it might be advisable to place the name of the writer, as well as that of the addressee, at the top of the letter—unless the letter-head gives the writer's name—because as a rule the reader wants to know, before he reads it, who wrote the letter. But a change of this kind involves considerable risk on the part of the innovator. Its apparent utility is not sufficient to insure universal acceptance.

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