David McMurrey's "Inquiry Letters: Ask for Information in a Professional Manner"

This chapter focuses on the inquiry letter or inquiry e-mail; let's call it the inquiry communication. The inquiry communication is useful when you need information, advice, names, or directions. Be careful, however, not to ask for too much information or for information that you could easily obtain in some other way – for example, by a quick trip to the library or by an Internet search.

Be sure to check out the examples.

For related matters, see the chapter on general business-letter format and style.

Inquiry Communications: Types and Contexts

There are two types of inquiry communications: solicited and unsolicited.

You write a solicited inquiry communication when a business or agency advertises its products or services. For example, if a software manufacturer advertises some new package it has developed and you can't inspect it locally, write a solicited letter or e-mail to that manufacturer asking specific questions. If you cannot find any information on a technical subject, an inquiry letter or e-mail to a company involved in that subject may put you on the right track. In fact, that company may supply much more help than you had expected (provided of course that you write a good inquiry communication). If you need to find the names and addresses of businesses related to your report project, see the chapter on finding information in libraries and online.

Your inquiry communication is unsolicited if the recipient has done nothing to prompt your inquiry. For example, if you read an article by an expert, you may have further questions or want more information. You seek help from these people in a slightly different form of inquiry letter or e-mail. As the steps and guidelines for both types of inquiry communications show, you must construct the unsolicited type more carefully, because recipients of unsolicited inquiry letters or e-mail are not ordinarily prepared to handle such inquiries.

Inquiry Letters or E-mail: Contents and Organization

  1. Early in the letter or e-mail, identify the purpose – to obtain help or information (if it's a solicited communication, information about an advertised product, service, or program).
  2. In an unsolicited letter or e-mail, identify who you are, what you are working on, why you need the requested information, and how you found out about the individual. In an unsolicited letter or e-mail, also identify the source that prompted your inquiry, for example, a journal article.
  3. In the communication, list questions or information needed in a clear, specific, and easy-to-read format. If you have a number of questions, consider making a questionnaire and including a stamped, self-addressed envelope. If it's e-mail, just put the questions in the body of the e-mail or attach a separate questionnaire document.
  4. In an unsolicited letter or e-mail, try to find some way to compensate the recipient for the trouble, for example, by offering to pay copying and mailing costs, to accept a collect call, to acknowledge the recipient in your report, or to send him or her a copy of your report. In a solicited letter or e-mail, suggest that the recipient send brochures or catalogs.
  5. In closing an unsolicited letter or e-mail, express gratitude for any help that the recipient can provide you, acknowledge the inconvenience of your request, but do not thank the recipient "in advance". In an unsolicited letter or e-mail, tactfully suggest to the recipient will benefit by helping you (for example, through future purchases from the recipient's company).

Sample #1

1102 West 30th
Lawrence, KS 66321
August 4, 19XX

Dr. Maria Gomez-Salinas
Director of the Diabetes Clinic
St. David's Hospital
1000 Greenberg Lane
Wichita, KS 66780

Dear Dr. Gomez-Salinas:

I am writing you in hopes of finding out more about how the new Glucoscan II blood glucose monitoring system, which a representative at Lifescan informed me that your clinic is currently using.

Originally, I saw Lifescan's advertisement of this new device in the January 19XX issue of Diabetes Forecast and became very interested in it. I wrote the company and got much useful information, but was recommended to write several current users of the system as well.

For a technical report that I am writing for a technical writing class at Johnson County Junior College, I need some help with the following questions:

  1. How often does the Glucoscan II need to be calibrated in practical, everyday use conditions?
  2. How accurate is the Glucoscan II compared to other similar systems that your patients have used?
  3. What problems do your patients experience with this new device?

The Lifescan representative indicated that your clinic is one the leaders in implementing new technology for diabetics, and therefore I am eager to hear from you. In the report I will acknowledge your contributions, and I will send you a copy of the completed report if you wish.

Thank you for your time, and I hope to hear from you soon.


Anita Teller
Student, Medical Technology
Johnson County Junior College

Sample #2

0000 Paul's Path
Austin, TX 78700
July 12, 1998

Technical Support
Red Hat Software, Inc.
4201 Research Commons, Suite 100
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709

Dear Technical Support Department:

I am writing this letter to ask you some technical questions about hardware support in version 5.1 of Red Hat Linux. I saw Red Hat Software's advertisement for version 5.1 of Linux in the August, 1998, issue of Linux Journal. I was quite impressed with the capabilities as listed in the advertisement, and I would like to learn some more about the product. Before I make the decision to purchase the software, I need to be certain that it will work properly on my computer.

I have three hardware support questions that I would like you to answer. I have reviewed the technical support information at Red Hat Software's home page ( www.redhat.com), but I have not been able to find answers to my questions. The three hardware-related questions that I have are as follows:

  1. Does the latest release of Red Hat Linux support the Diamond Viper 330 PCI video card? This card uses the Riva chipset released by NVIDIA Corporation.
  2. If Red Hat Linux does not currently have a driver for this card, is there a timetable for when the card will be supported?
  3. Is there an online site for the latest list of supported hardware. This would be a great aid to me in the future, as I often upgrade my machine.

I am aware that some of the early versions of Red Hat Linux were not able to support some of Diamond Multimedia's products, and I hope that new drivers have been created in this latest software release. If the latest release of Red Hat Linux can support my video hardware, I will definitely purchase the product. I feel that the price on the product is exceptional, and the range of features is outstanding.

For your convenience, you can respond to me by e-mail. My e-mail address is garyc@nnn.com. If you prefer to respond by telephone, you can reach me at (512) 000-0000. I appreciate any assistance that you are able to provide me.



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