Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Please do hesitate…

with 23 comments

Royal Mail red pillar box
Image by freefotouk via Flickr

Official letters are the bane of my life, but the final line of one I’ve just received from a local council employee made me laugh:

Do hesitate to contact me if you require any further information.

On a more serious note,  the tired, old-fashioned cliché, ‘Please do not hesitate to contact me…’ , so beloved of lazy letter writers, should be banned. Some words have been strung together too often to have retained any real meaning.

Download a brief guide about writing letters (including alternatives to ‘Please do not hesitate…’) from the Plain English Campaign.

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– a brief guide go politically correct writing.

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23 Responses

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  1. ‘Please do not hesitate to contact me…‘ (or similar) is one of my favourite clichés; when I use it in letters, I mean it literally and sincerely, I really don’t care whether it is tired, old fashioned or even lazy. Ban me if you like.
    And when closing conversations with tired, over-worked call-centre operatives, I often wish them, “Have a nice day”, and again mean it. They only get that if I rang them.

    Someone much wiser than me once said, “Never trust a man with no room for Kitsch in his life.”

    Dai

    23/02/2010 at 6:42 pm

    • Hello, Dai — that’s really interesting. My heart sinks when I see the ‘do not hesitate’ phrase at the end of a letter. Having said that, I do agree that you should never trust a man who has no room for Kirsch in his life.

      Deborah

      23/02/2010 at 6:52 pm

  2. I have never liked that sentence: do not hesitate….!

    In India, they begin applications like, “I beg to state that…! It couldn’t get more ridiculous. A better expression was ‘I have the honour to call your attention’ but it was also copied from Wren and Martin by my teacher.

    Kirsch! I learnt a new word. 🙂

    Tell me if I should buy this book (It will cost me a little over 2 dollars only with the 20 per cent discount code that I have and is delivered in less than 24 hours) http://www.flipkart.com/oxford-guide-plain-english-martin/0195674782-dqw3f3ywnd

    • Hi, Vikas — yes, I’m very much in favour of plain language.

      I would hesitate to recommend a particular book because what suits one person doesn’t suit another. However, the author of the book you mention, Martin Cutts, co-founded the Plain English Campaign in 1979, and now runs the Plain Language Commission. If you go to its website and click on ‘About us’ on the left hand side, you will see some free plain language guides there. If you like them, it may help you decide if you’d like to buy the book.

      Deborah

      23/02/2010 at 8:05 pm

  3. Deborah: Is it the thought or the expression that troubles you? I agree the expression is empty and tired; but you sometimes need to invite the other person to reply. In some business, insurance, and legal contexts, the writer does it to create a presumption that, since the recipient never replied, the initial letter must have been accurate.

    If I need to ask for a reply, I’ll usually say something more casual like “Let me know if you have a different understanding” or “have any problems with the above.” Not perfect, but it does let me claim later that I logically presumed my proposal was OK since I never heard back.

    Michael Farrell

    23/02/2010 at 8:05 pm

    • The expression, because to me it suggests lack of thought. When I read ‘Please do not hesitate to contact me’ I get a mental image of someone setting their answerphone to ‘out’. Perhaps that’s just me (or the fact that when I don’t hesitate to contact someone it’s impossible to get hold of them). There are many suitable alternatives, depending on the content of the letter:

      I’d be happy to answer any questions that you have about this.

      I hope this has answered your query. If you need more information I would be happy to help.

      You are welcome to call or email me if you need further help or information.

      Please contact me straightaway if I can be of further help.

      These types of phrases are direct and friendly without losing professionalism.

      Deborah

      23/02/2010 at 8:22 pm

      • Kindly do not hesitate to post any more such valuable suggestions should you have any.

        Michael Farrell

        23/02/2010 at 8:26 pm

        • The words “do not” are negative, I feel this is why the phrase “please do not hesitate” can leave a negative impression. It’s like we are trying to encourage, but we use negative words – it’s a bit of an oxymoron.

          How about “I encourage you to contact us…”

          Are there any other ways to state this?

          Mike

          31/01/2011 at 1:35 am

          • Hi — Welcome to Wordwatch Towers!

            That’s a very interesting point about ‘do not’ being negative — I hadn’t considered that before. Your suggested ‘I encourage you to contact us…’ is a great improvement. Other possible phrases (as suggested above) are:

            I’d be happy to answer any questions that you have about this.

            I hope this has answered your query. If you need more information I would be happy to help.

            You are welcome to call or email me if you need further help or information.

            Please contact me straightaway if I can be of further help.

            Thanks, Mike.

            Deborah

            31/01/2011 at 7:20 am

      • Very nice suggestions!

        Anonymous

        29/07/2014 at 5:28 pm

  4. Deborah,

    Thanks the said site is not opening. I am not buying that book or any other such book presently.

  5. I was JUST asked to review a letter at work with this lovely closing: “Thank you in advance for your professional courtesy and cooperation. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions or concerns regarding the foregoing.”

    Did I change anything? Heck, no. It’s not my letter.

    Michael Farrell

    23/02/2010 at 11:45 pm

    • That’s very baroque! I always find it interesting that people are prepared to put so much effort into their writing — but to make it more ornate, not more understandable. (The latter can sometimes be more difficult.) Thanks very much for that, Michael.

      Deborah

      24/02/2010 at 9:45 am

      • It is broke and I’m not sure exactly how to fix it. I am amused by the closing because (1) the recipient is not at all likely to respond with professional courtesy or cooperation; (2) “contacting my office” is so austere and stiff compared to “contacting me” or “calling me”; and (3) “regarding the foregoing” would be so much better as “about this letter.”

        Next: How to get my staff to replace “via facsimile transmission” with “by fax.”

        Michael Farrell

        24/02/2010 at 1:53 pm

  6. First, the initial term referred to was “kitsch,” which is not “kirsch,” although I like that sentiment, too. Regarding letters: Nowadays you’re more likely to write email letters, and email etiquette is far more informal and forgiving than with conventional letters. Thus, you can cut to the chase and trim your language with little risk of offending. Besides, even with conventional letters, most people don’t need all the dancing around at the start and finish. They want you to get to the point. “Dear Mr. Smith, I would like to meet with you for 15 minutes to discuss my award-winning consulting services. I will be in New York March 12-15. Can we meet on one of those dates? Below [or attached] is a summary of what I do, what I charge, and who my clients are. I will call your office tomorrow to check your availability. Sincerely, Don Bates [phone number, etc.]” Why waste people’s time with gratuitous introductory platitudes and waffle-word closings? If your message is clear, they know what you want and whether they can oblige. K.I.S.S. is King in writing — Keep It Short and Simple. What did FDR say: “Be sincere. Be brief. Be seated.”

    Don Bates

    24/02/2010 at 3:01 pm

    • Hi, Don

      I couldn’t agree with you more. Thank you you for your sample letter — and the FDR quote. I haven’t heard the quote before (having led a sheltered life), but have now filed it away for future use.

      The effect that informal electronic communication has had on the way we write is very interesting. Many people bemoan the ‘shorthand’ used and blame this trend on texting etc. But in fact, its history goes back much further as this article explains.

      By the way — the morph from ‘kitsch’ to ‘kirsch’ was just a bit of lighthearted banter!

      Thanks again, Don. Your comments are always so useful and interesting.

      PS — note my proper long dashes above. Lesson learnt.

      Deborah

      24/02/2010 at 3:25 pm

      • Hi Deborah

        The FDR quote came from his son John who said his dad shared this advice after he had asked him what makes a good speech. But I apply it to writing and speaking in general.

        Another phrase in emails and letters that gets me crazy is “I would like to” (e.g., invite, suggest, recommend, request, etc.). The “would like” in these instances encourages the question, then why are you writing?

        For a party, why not “I invite you to attend my party on….”? Or “Please attend my party” or “I hope you will attend”? In most openings, get rid of the “would like” and say it plain with an always stronger active verb, e.g., I request, I offer, I suggest, I recommend.

        Now, I’m off for lunch and a few sips of kirschwasser.

        If you clean tacky clothes, are you a kitschwasher? (I know, keep my day job.}

        Don
        writingRX.tumblr.com

        Don Bates

        11/10/2012 at 5:21 pm

        • Hi, Don

          It’s good to hear from you. I would like to thank you for your interesting comments. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) But my lame joke does illustrate your point: ‘I would like to’ can sound overly formal and is often redundant.

          Enjoy your lunch! Go easy on the old cherry water.

          Deborah

          11/10/2012 at 5:53 pm

  7. John Crace in the Guardian:

    Dear reader. No, that doesn’t seem right. Hi reader? Maybe not. Will “Hello” do? Sod it. I haven’t a clue.

    According to the Wall Street Journal, starting your correspondence with an old-fashioned “Dear” has become a complete no-no – it’s now perceived to be overly familiar. A spokeswoman for a member of Congress, who tries to keep her communications with the press at “the utmost and highest level of professionalism” admits she no longer uses “Dear” because it’s too intimate.

    Really? I’ve had hundreds of letters that start “Dear Mr Crace” from the bank, the HM Revenue & Customs and other institutions over the years and never once imagined any of them were hoping for an inappropriate liaison. Maybe I should sue them all retrospectively for sexual harassment.

    More likely, I’d reckon, is that “Dear” is on the way out because it is too formal for email and texting. So what should you say? Hi – or Hey, if you’re an American – will do if you even vaguely know the recipient. Hello or Good morning sounds as if you’ve been training to read the news on hospital radio. Yo? Ideal as a presidential form of address to a British prime minister you’ve come to take for granted but not for much else. Perhaps it’s best to just dive straight in. Or maybe it really doesn’t matter that much. It’s not as if anyone is going to read your email anyway.

    Deborah

    05/02/2011 at 9:38 am

    • But Crace’s example isn’t fair: He doesn’t know who his reader is. If, on the other hand, a reader wrote Crace, “Dear Mr. Crace” would be fine.

      I’m old-fashioned and see no problem starting a letter with “Dear.” In an e-mail, on first contact, I might try “Mr. Crace:” or something less formal.

      Michael Farrell

      05/02/2011 at 4:19 pm

      • Thanks, Michael. I think it’s with email that the difficulty arises. I don’t see any problem with starting a formal/business email with ‘Dear’ — but it does seem to become cumbersome after the first or second email to the recipient. (And ‘hi’ or similar does not seem a suitable replacement.) I’m not sure why that is, or why an email in a formal/business context feels somehow different (and more problematic tone-wise) when compared to a letter. But it undoubtedly does.

        Deborah

        05/02/2011 at 4:35 pm


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