Good communication in construction is essential. Many problems arise because of poor communication, or when our messages are misunderstood.
Unfortunately many in construction don’t realize how important it is to be able to communicate properly. Many don’t see the necessity of being able to write properly. Yet, project managers have to write letters all the time. Some of these letters could literally be worth millions of dollars. Why wouldn’t we want to put the effort into producing a clear and succinct letter that will convince our clients and customers to award a project to our company, or grant the variation claim we’ve submitted.
So let’s have a quick English lesson – a lesson on writing project letters!
- Have a date.
- Have a unique reference number.
- Be addressed to the correct person (the contract normally specifies who that person is, as well as who should be sent copies. If you’re unsure contact the company to find out who the right person is). Oh, by the way, do spell their name correctly – you don’t want to annoy the person before they’ve even started reading your letter!
- Have a heading, including the project reference name and number (letters to the client should use the reference name and number in the contract document), and a second heading line containing the subject matter.
- Have an introduction, normally a brief overview of the subject within the letter.
- Include the body, containing the facts and supporting information (where the supporting information is lengthy or includes numbers, calculations, and diagrams, consideration should be given to inserting these as appendices, and including only the summary of the documents in the body of the letter, referring the reader to the relevant appendix or attachment).
- Have a conclusion which summarises the facts and indicates the required future course of action.
- Be logical – state the facts simply and in a logical manner that is easy to follow. Don’t assume the person reading the letter is familiar with the project, or discussions that have occurred on the project.
- Be confined to one topic, or a few similar topics. Rather write a new letter for a different unrelated topic.
- Be concise and in simple language. Avoid lengthy sentences.
- Not be contradictory.
- Not use emotive language. Don’t get emotional or abusive. Simply state the facts. You don’t want to later regret the things you wrote.
- Be checked for spelling and typographical errors (if you know your grammar is poor request, someone, to check the letter). As a young project manager, my manager always checked variation claim letters before I submitted them to the client. Frequently they came back with multiple errors highlighted in red ink – yes, it did feel like I was back at school, but they were important lessons.
- Be arranged in easily readable paragraphs. Don’t just ramble on, with one thought leading into the next one.
- Avoid using slang.
- Ensure that when acronyms and abbreviations are used that these are explained, or are clearly understood by the reader and that they are used consistently in the letter.
- Be numbered correctly and consistently when it’s required.
- Use consistent text (resist the urge to use text that is in capitals, bold, in color or in italics to highlight a point).
- Use exclamation and question marks sparingly.
- Quote the correct clauses from the contract document, the specific reference from the tender documents or the applicable drawing numbers.
- Be double-checked to ensure that all calculations and figures are correct and that they tie up.
Poorly written letters are often not treated with the seriousness they deserve, and letters which use incorrect facts and figures could cause the client to doubt the authenticity of the figures.
Don’t assume the person reading the letter will have a grasp of all the facts, or know what you are talking about. The letter must be clear and understandable by someone not directly involved with the project – remember sometimes variation claims are assessed by third parties not directly involved with the day to day business on the project site.
Poor grammar and spelling can detract from the intended message – even confusing the reader. A simple example is a confusion created by wrongly using the word” assess” instead of “access”. You might be submitting a claim because you could not access the work area. But obviously, if you said you couldn’t assess the work area instead, this might not hold the same weight and importance.
Take care next time you submit project correspondence. Don’t let simple spelling mistakes and grammatical errors irritate the reader, cause confusion and perhaps even result in a variation claim being rejected.
There are courses available that teach letter writing skills. Use the spelling and grammar checks on your computer. Double check your letters. Take time to consider what to write and how to best phrase it. Remember your letter could be worth thousands of dollars.
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