In Receipt Of–A Phrase to Banish

Maureen wrote to me today to ask about the appropriate salutation to use when writing a letter to one person who is a friend and another who is a stranger. Would it be "Dear Kathy and Ms. Greene"?

I suggested sending two separate letters, with each one communicating the right message for the relationship.

But Maureen was planning to start her letter "We are in receipt of . . . "

Blech! Yuck! No, Maureen–don't do it!

Why not?

For a moment, imagine a different communication: If you were writing to your best friend to say thank you for a gift, would you write "I am in receipt of"? 

If you were writing to a client to say thank you for a referral, would you write "I am in receipt of"? 

"I am in receipt of" is cold, bureaucratic machine talk.

Try these alternatives as openers for your replies:

  • Thank you for letting us know . . .
  • Thank you for your letter . . .
  • Thanks for your letter!
  • Thanks for your message.
  • I appreciate your letter . . .
  • Thank you for taking the time to write to us . . .
  • How wonderful to hear from you!
  • It was a pleasure to hear from you.
  • I am grateful for your detailed letter . . .
  • I have received . . .
  • We have received . . .

The last two alternatives are neutral rather than positive. Reserve them for the rare instances when you don't want to communicate a positive tone. For example, if someone sent you unsolicited attacking feedback and you were required to respond, you might use "I have received" as an opener. If a customer sent a wacky complaint letter, you might use "We have received." However, in normal circumstances the best opener in response to complaints is "Thank you for," which instantly establishes a positive tone.

Sometimes people fear that they write the way they talk. They want to sound more professional in writing. Well, "I am in receipt of" isn't the way anyone talks, yet we shouldn't write that way either. We should choose natural language that communicates human to human.

Do certain cold phrases drive you nuts? Please share them here.

Lynn
Syntax Training

 

20 COMMENTS

  1. Ugh. What a horrible phrase. I couldn’t agree more.

    My most hated bit of bureaucratese is “regarding”. Does anyone ever use this blasted word outside the office? Can you imagine, if someone told you they’d seen a film last night, ever replying: “Really? What was it regarding?”

    Whenever I see a sign saying “If you have any comments regarding these facilities, please contact xyz” I want to get my big black pen out.

  2. I like your response: “Blech! Yuck!” That’s what “In Receipt Of” deserves. Thank you for a great post.

    An unnatural expression that I have to fight in my own writing is one that includes “per,” not as in “miles per hour” but as in “per last quarter’s report.” I think there are times that it can be used legitimately, but I never include it in my conversation.

  3. I don’t like these:

    1. The above matter refers.
    2. Further to our telephone conversation on (date, …
    3. We regret to inform you that …

    Do you have alternatives?

  4. Hi, Clare. I love your energy. I don’t have a problem with “regarding” though. I don’t use it in speech, but I might use it in writing if I wanted to communicate formally, which I occasionally do.

    In fact, Maureen, who inspired this post, used “regarding” in her revised opening sentence, which she shared with me. Because the letter was rather formal (acknowledging the end of a business agreement), “regarding” sounded natural.

  5. Hi, Christopher. I agree with you about 1 and 2.

    I can’t suggest alternatives for “the above matter refers”–I don’t know what it means.

    As for 2, how about “To follow up on our telephone conversation” or “Since our telephone conversation, I . . .”? Or simply “Since we talked”?

    “We regret to inform you” is formal and impersonal. I prefer “I am sorry to tell you,” but sometimes the more formal approach may be needed.

    Thanks for bringing up those examples.

  6. My favorite writing phrases to hate:
    “Thank you in advance…”
    “…equally as…”
    Any future tense used inaccurately in directions: “A barn will be on the left…” (It’s not there now?)
    Passive voice in policies & procedures: “The lights will be turned out when the last person leaves.” (So I don’t have to do it?)

  7. Hi, Anne. Thanks for joining the discussion. Yes, I agree with your phrases to hate.

    The only example I don’t object to is the future tense, with your example of a barn on the left. If I am following directions, I relate to that tense. To me, it is saying “If you are in the right place, a barn will be on the left.” And voila: a barn IS on the left. As a driver or navigator, it makes me feel fulfilled–and pleased to be in the right place.

    I hope to hear more from you.

  8. It is quite helpful for me to read Lynn’s writings and all those comments.

    I often use “regarding” in my letters. While, my concern is about “Thank you in advance”. Do you mean it deserves hatred?

  9. Hi, Kathy. Thank you for catching me in a bit of exaggeration. I hate to think of myself expressing hatred for an innocent sentence.

    I will write about “Thank you in advance” later this week. It deserves more discussion than I can include here.

  10. Lynn, thank you for your attention.
    Your writing is really helpful for me. Actually, I am not a native English speaker. Sometimes it is not that easy to feel the subtle difference between similar words or sentences. But when writing to customers, I must be serious because they may care.

  11. Hi again, Lynn.
    I’m still against using the future tense INACCURATELY for directions. There are other options. If future tense is more gratifying for the direction-follower, why not be more exact and say instead, “You will see (or pass) a barn on the left”? Or, to allow for error, “You SHOULD see a barn on the left”?
    I believe what happens is that we put the future in the wrong spot. Like putting “only” in the wrong place, it can slightly alter a sentence’s meaning and leave room for misunderstanding.

  12. Hi, Anne. The reason I prefer “A barn will be on the left” is that it focuses on what I need to know.

    “You will see a barn on the left” puts the focus on me rather than the barn, as does “You should see a barn on the left.” The all-important barn is hiding in the middle of the sentence, where I need to work to find it.

    Writing is about communicating with the reader. If I were writing directions for you, I would write them the way you prefer them.

    Thanks for continuing the conversation.

  13. Sounds like a reciept for disaster…
    I was once directed to pass “a restaurant that isn’t there anymore”! Dad and I laughed all the way, noticing sites without restaurants.

  14. Great post! I just read a letter from the assistant property manager of my building with that ‘in receipt of’ phrase and was wondering what it meant. It didn’t sound right to me. Now I understand why. Thanks!

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    Thank you for your attention to my request!

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