We have discussed the importance of communication and the significant part letter-writing plays in this function. Correspondence is, indeed, an area where the office administrator should pay particular attention.
Letters are written to perform two main functions: (a) that of communicating ideas and information; and (b) the recording of that communication in permanent form. The record has two aspects, that of the recipient and that of the sender. In both cases the letter serves as a means of reference in future discussion or negotiation and because of this it is important to take care in its composition.
Clarity and conciseness are essential in business and other letterwriting and to this end the following points should be borne in mind:
- Before committing anything to paper the writer must be quite clear as to what is to be said. Woolliness of thought will give rise to vague, indefinite communication which will do nothing to provide precise information to the other party.
- Complicated and verbose sentences should be avoided at all costs and it should be the aim to keep sentences and phrases as short as possible.
- English is rich in synonyms, but very rarely will two words be found to give precisely the same meaning. It is necessary, therefore, to choose the exact word required to convey precisely what is meant. If a writer’s vocabulary is lacking a good dictionary or a dictionary of antonyms and synonyms will be of great help.
- Mistakes in business, and even litigation, arise because of ambiguity in communication. In letter-writing this must be avoided at all costs. Attention to 1 above will help a great deal, but in addition misunderstandings can be avoided if the writer tries to look at the letter from the point of view of the recipient. Punctuation, as well as syntax and the actual words chosen, can have an important bearing on meaning.
- As an aid to clear understanding by the receiver a letter should be so constructed that the ideas contained in it flow logically from point to point, the matter developing in an orderly and logical fashion.
- In attempting to save time and to be concise many letter-writers are brief to the point of abruptness, often to the point of seeming
This sometimes creates an unfavourable impression in the mind of the reader and can result in a loss of goodwill. It is important, therefore, to remember the common courtesies when composing letters, whatever the subject matter.
- It is good advice that letter-writers should visualise their correspondents and compose their letters as though they were speaking to them. However, this does not mean that slang expressions should be used in business letters; these should be strictly avoided. The exception to this rule is where accepted technical jargon is used in technical correspondence. Similarly, hackneyed expressions should be avoided as far as possible but not to the point of excluding accepted modern phrases. Neither, however, should a writer use odd or unfamiliar expressions in an endeavour to be different.
- To aid the rapid handling of mail in the receiver’s office it should be made a rule to put the addressee’s reference at the top of each letter and to have a subject heading. Where more than one topic is to be written about and different departments are involved, it will assist those who have to answer if each topic is written about in a separate letter, though despatched in the same envelope.
1. Types of Letter
Speed is of the essence in modern office administration and there are several ways to achieve rapidity in writing and answering letters.
The first is the form letter. This is a pre-prepared letter in standard form which has spaces left for the insertion of variable data such as name and address, date, subject and so on. It may be pre-printed in ordinary letterpress characters or in imitation typewriting, or it may be produced on an automatic typewriter or a word processor. The variable information may be filled in by hand or by machine.
This method is much used for the acknowledgement of letters and orders, sales letters covering the sending of brochures and in similar circumstances. At worst they are printed postcards completed in handwriting: at best they are cleverly produced facsimile type circulars very carefully matched in with typewritten variable particulars. The growing use of automatic typewriters and word processors is giving rise to the increasing use of set form letters in which the static information is indistinguishable from individual typing and the variable information is matched in perfectly.
A second way to speed up correspondence is an extension of the form letter concept. In this method several standard paragraphs are prepared and numbered, these paragraphs being designed to cover any normal circumstance within the area of responsibility of the person or department concerned. Merely by telling their typists the numbers of the paragraphs to be included executives and others can deal with correspondence quickly without recourse to dictation. Here again, selective automatic typewriters and word processing machines are being extensively used though such equipment is not essential to the successful employment of this method.
A third way of dealing quickly with the writing of outgoing letters, saving the executive’s time at any rate, is to allow the typist or secretary to compose the full, formal letter from brief notes of what the reply should contain. This method is quite common in practice but does need the services of secretarial personnel of high calibre.
There is a fourth way which saves time in the actual typing of original letters and this is the simplified letter. In its extreme form there are no paragraph indentations, every line including the date starts at the left-hand margin, the salutation and subscription are omitted and there is no punctuation except in the body of the letter. This layout saves typing time because there is no need to tabulate and keystrokes for making punctuation are unnecessary. This form does appear rather terse and has not proved very popular despite the savings in time. Two variations have proved more acceptable. One, most popular in America, is similar to that just described but does include the salutation and subscription. The other, more frequently adopted in Britain, is also similar to the extreme form but besides including the salutation and the subscription has the date on the right-hand side of the letter. This gives better visual balance and puts the date in a prominent position, which is most useful for reference and filing purposes.
Whatever form of simplified letter is adopted it is visually weighted on the left-hand side: the appearance of letters can be improved if attention is given to the design of the letter-heading to correct this imbalance.
2. Following Up
A chapter on correspondence must include a mention of following up, as not infrequently correspondents do neglect to reply when required.
The simplest method is merely to keep a diary in which are noted the dates for expected replies. Failing this, a carbon copy can be kept by the sender in a folder that is inspected every day. Better still, a carbon copy may be held under the appropriate date in a so-called ‘tickler’ file. This is a file in any form – a box file or drawer in a filing cabinet – which is equipped with divisions in dates. The carbon copies are merely slipped in the sections carrying the dates of the expected replies and inspected as the dates come round.
All these methods require active inspection.
Unfortunately, there is no automatic reminder system that does not require what office machine manufacturers term ‘operator intervention’. In fact, any reminder system will be only as good as the people who operate it.
3. Quality Control
It must be remembered that an organisation’s letters are to a large extent its representatives: it is therefore important that a good impression be created. Thus, the quality of its correspondence should be checked to ensure a good image. Unfortunately, whilst some line officers can be relied upon to make sure the work of their typists is impeccable, very many others are much more concerned with their technical function and will sign and despatch letters that are below standard. How, then, can adequate quality be assured?
There are a number of ways in which the quality of outgoing correspondence can be controlled, both from the point of view of the typing and in relation to the actual letters themselves, quite apart from relying on the people who originate and sign the letters.
- A senior officer in the office services function should check a sample of the carbon copies at regular intervals. This check should involve the quality of the typing, spelling mistakes, erasures and so on. Quality control of the language in this method of check is difficult, however, as it is certain that the average letter writers, especially those of managerial status, would take unkindly to criticism of their letters from this point of view by anyone except their superiors in authority.
- A second way to try to ensure a good standard, especially from the aspect of letter construction, is to have an agreement among those responsible for correspondence as to form, style and the like. Standard paragraphs can be laid down for common matters to which all have to conform. This agreement is arrived at by meeting and discussion in the first place and occasional checks made subsequently to ensure continued adherence to the agreed principles.
- A more direct method of ensuring quality and a good style is to have a staff of specialist correspondence clerks who are responsible for writing all outgoing letters, being fed with the necessary information by the various departments. At one time this was a very popular method of dealing with correspondence though it seems to have fallen into disfavour. It does, however, ensure good letters and a consistent style.
- Finally, it is possible to make rules and issue written instructions on style and presentation. In fact, this is the imposition of a house style to which all must conform. Whilst this ensures uniformity it can deprive much of the correspondence of any spontaneity.
Memoranda are written communications intended for internal use only. The first question to ask about a memorandum (‘memo’ is the popular name) is: ‘Is it really necessary to write one at all?’ In very many cases the answer will be ‘No’ because the matter could very well be dealt with over the internal telephone. All too often the memo is looked upon as a defensive device to be used in the future to avoid blame – and an expensive defence it is to the organisation. A memorandum should be used only where the absolute accuracy of the written word is essential.
A memorandum should be brief and to the point. Brevity, however, does not mean discourtesy and the same care in quality and politeness should be taken as when a letter is composed. The matter to be dealt with should be presented in a direct fashion. Ambiguity should be avoided and the same precision in the use of words is required as in the more formal letter. A memorandum should also deal with only one subject.
In general memoranda are typed, but they need not be. In fact, it can be said to be quicker and less costly if they are handwritten by the originator. This removes the need to call and dictate to a typist who has then to transcribe and type the memorandum, which then has to be returned for signature. If the originator is provided with a pad and carbon paper it is quick and easy for the message to be written by ballpoint pen and certainly less costly than having it typed.
This chapter on correspondence would not be complete without mentioning incoming and outgoing mail.
5. Inward and Outward Mail
The mail, both incoming and outgoing, plays an extremely important part in the functioning of an organisation and despite the development of the telephone, telex and other such means, still remains the most important channel of communication. It is important, therefore, that the office administrator pays proper attention to the efficient operation of the mail procedures.
5.1. Inward mail
The flow of post into an organisation may be said in many cases to be the trigger that sets off the day’s work and it is imperative, therefore, to ensure that incoming mail of all kinds is distributed to departments as early as possible, preferably by the time that staff arrive to start work.
The first problem is the actual delivery of the mail by the Post Office. The time of delivery depends to a large extent upon whether the offices of the organisation are near the start of the postal round or near the end. If the volume of post warrants it, special arrangements can be made with the Post Office for early delivery, but where this is not possible then the solution is to collect the mail from the sorting office. This will, of course, entail the use of a vehicle to make the collection but this is a small expense compared with the savings in time and convenience which an early post provides.
The next problem is ensuring that the post is opened, sorted and distributed to departments as soon after starting time as possible. This is accomplished by arranging for the postal staff to begin their duties, say, three-quarters of an hour before the normal office starting-time, depending upon the normal volume of mail and the number of postal staff available to cope with it. Much of the work attached to opening the post is capable of being performed by relatively junior staff, but in all cases a responsible official should be present to supervise the work and to settle queries.
Whilst the routine followed in various organisations differs in detail, nevertheless there is a basic procedure running through them all. This is most easily described by setting it out in steps from the time the mail is received in the post room:
- Separate first-class from second-class mail, on the basis that second- class post is likely to be less urgent than that sent first-class.
- At the same time, make a preliminary sort by department if this is stated on the envelopes. At this stage private and personal mail will be separated from business mail.
- Open the first-class envelopes and abstract contents, any loose enclosures being pinned or stapled together. Whether the envelopes are opened by hand or by machine depends upon the volume of post: machines are available that can open from 100 to 600 or more envelopes per minute.
- Date-stamp the mail as it is opened and then sort into departments. In the interests of speed the date stamping can be dispensed with: it is a practice hallowed by custom and is a defence device in the event of disagreement with a correspondent as to the date of receipt of a document. Few organisations, in fact, do dispense with it. Sorting will be done into trays or pigeon-holes depending upon the number of departments involved.
- Much of the sorting will be simple as most of the correspondence will be noted with a reference or subject-heading that clearly indicates its destination. However, there are bound to be some documents where the department is not obvious and these should be set aside for perusal by the post-room supervisor, who will decide on the routing. On no account should it be left to junior staff to make such decisions.
- The first-class mail is now ready for distribution and this can be done at once. Distribution may be done by messenger service, or there may be collection by someone from each department, depending upon the size of the organisation and how widely the various departments are dispersed. Collection by departmental staff is quickest if the departments are long distances from the post-room. If this part of the post can be ready by the time departmental staff arrive it can be collected as they come in.
- Open second-class envelopes, sort and distribute. These will be mostly invoices and statements, orders, circulars and the like, and routing will, on the whole, be straight-forward. Many organisations hold distribution until all mail has been opened to save two rounds by the messenger, but this can hold up urgent matters unless provision is made to deal with these as they arise.
- All envelopes must be checked for overlooked enclosures. This can be done by slitting the envelopes all round and opening them out, or by passing them in front of a light. Some organisations have a lighted panel set in the bench in the mail room over which the envelopes are passed: this is most effective. However it is done it must be done effectively, as much inconvenience is experienced if enclosures are lost by being destroyed with old envelopes.
5.2. Receipt of remittances
An important part of the incoming mail consists of remittances of all kinds, from cheques to actual cash, and it is important that this is dealt with so as to avoid loss by accident or design. Most of the payments will be made by cheque, money order or postal order and, therefore, there will be no indication that these remittances are enclosed before the envelopes are opened: cash, on the other hand, is normally enclosed in a registered envelope.
There must be precise rules laid down in connection with remittances received, which may be as follows:
- Cheques, Money Orders and Postal Orders: As these are opened they should be checked against the remittance advice or other document enclosed. Bearing in mind (a) the need to have the mail dealt with promptly and (b) that remittances of any kind should be sent to the cashier direct and not allowed to circulate to other departments, where something other than a remittance advice (say, an order) accompanies the remittance, action has to be taken to route these separately. This is most easily done by raising an internal remittance slip which is marked with the sender’s name, account number (if any) and the amount. This is then attached to the remittance and set aside for forwarding to the cashier. The order, letter or other document is marked ‘remittance received’, initialled and sorted to department. Where cheques (rarely) or postal orders (very commonly) are received uncrossed they should be crossed at once by means of a rubber stamp.
- Cash: This will usually be received in a registered envelope. If so, the envelope should be opened by, or in the presence of, the post supervisor and the cash counted immediately, the amount being marked on the envelope and checked against the advice enclosed. Where the figure is correct the advice should be ticked and initialled, but where incorrect should be marked as such, the actual amount received written on the envelope and the advice note and the whole set aside to be dealt with by the cashier separately.
Very often, especially where mail order or hire purchase involves dealing with the public direct, cash is received with no written indication of the amount purported to be enclosed and the actual sum does not tally with the accompanying document such as the hire- purchase repayment card. Very great care must be exercised in these cases to count and record such remittances in the presence of a second party. Occasionally cash is received in an ordinary envelope and thus there is no outward indication of its contents. The postal staff should have instructions, in such cases, to call the supervisor’s immediate attention to this and have the money counted and recorded at once.
From this stage on cash remittances are dealt with in the same fashion as cheques, though usually the registered envelopes can be used instead of internal remittance slips if required since they have been marked with the total of the contents.
- All the remittances received have now been collected together and the next step is to make out a list in duplicate of the remittances and to total them. They will then be sent to the cashier and a signature obtained on one of the slips, which will be returned to, and retained by, the post department in case of subsequent queries.
Much trouble should be taken to reduce the risk of defalcation and it is frequently suggested that, at least periodically, the post department’s remittance lists should be checked against the cashier’s bank paying-in book. This check would, of course, be suitable only where the cashier’s department had no receipts except through the post room and banking was done daily (as it should be).
5.3. Other matters concerning inward mail
It frequently happens that a letter arrives which requires attention from more than one department; there are two ways of dealing with this problem:
- A list of the departments or persons concerned is noted on the letter by means of handwriting, rubber stamp or a gummed slip. This letter is then circulated round the departments concerned, the notation being initialled by each party as ‘their’ matter is dealt with. This method, however, has the disadvantage that it causes delays whilst the letter is in circulation.
- Photocopy the letter (a more modern method than (a)) producing sufficient copies to satisfy the number of departments concerned and distribute them simultaneously.
Many organisations mark their notepaper with a request that matters for separate departments be written on separate pages and this solves the problem if the request is followed.
Frequently some method is required to ensure that letters are not filed without receiving attention. The usual way to establish this is to incorporate in the date-stamp a box which has to be initialled and dated when the letter has been answered or otherwise dealt with, the filing staff having firm instructions to return any letter sent down for filing that is not so initialled and dated.
A tighter control can be applied where each letter is serially numbered as it is opened in the mail room, and a notification of the first and last numbers given to the filing staff each day. By this means letters due for filing are known and if after a stated period certain numbers have not reached the filing department investigation can take place as to why. In both cases the filing staff will also ensure that there is a copy of the reply attached to each letter, or will seek a reason for its absence.
It will be noticed that no mention has been made about a ‘post inwards’ book. A very few organisations may still require all incoming mail to be entered in such a book, but nowadays this is very rarely done. It consumes time and thus delays the distribution of post and very rarely serves any useful purpose. The present accepted view is that staff must be trusted to deal with correspondence in a careful and proper manner, and some check on their action on correspondence is made by the controls just mentioned.
The fewer the cases of mail being received without clear indentifi- cation of routing the better and to this end it should be a rule that references are put on all outgoing post, with a request printed on the notepaper for replies to bear the reference concerned. Some concerns attach to outgoing letters small adhesive labels bearing a reference or name, with a request that this is affixed to any reply.
This raises the point of correspondence being addressed to staff by name and also the question of personal mail being sent to the organisation.
There are differing viewpoints about staff having personal correspondence addressed to their place of work, but on the whole it would not seem to be a good thing save in exceptional circumstances. First, there is no obvious reason for this practice if the employee has a home address and, second, time is consumed in the mailroom during the sorting. Further, if the member of staff concerned happens to be absent there is a responsibility thrown on the organisation to take care of this mail. The only circumstances where this practice is almost obligatory is where the staff concerned are engaged in work that requires them to travel about the country. In such cases the employer is in a much better position than the person’s home to re-address mail, especially where stays in any one location are very short.
The addressing of normal official correspondence to individual members of staff should be discouraged because if the member is absent correspondence can remain unanswered until the individual returns, sometimes at great inconvenience to the correspondent and to the organisation. The only way to prevent this is to require all mail to be opened, however addressed, and to ask correspondents by means of a note on letter headings to address all communications to the organisation and not to individuals. This, in fact, is frequently done. Exceptions to this rule would, however, have to be made covering post marked ‘confidential’ and addressed to senior members of staff in their official capacity.
5.4. Outward mail
As it is necessary to deal with inward post quickly and efficiently, so it is necessary to treat outward mail in the same manner. Fortunately, many of the operations carried out in the outward mail procedures can easily be mechanised, which helps considerably in dealing with this problem and enables the benefits of centralisation to be enjoyed to the full.
The operations involved in the outward post fall into a regular sequence of folding, inserting into envelopes, sealing, stamping and despatching.
Usually the envelopes for correspondence are typed at the same time as the letters and accompany them when they go for signature. This is preferable to the typist retaining the envelopes separately, as is sometimes done, because there is less risk of correspondence finding its way into the wrong envelopes. Occasionally envelopes are prepared after the letters are returned signed, but this has two objections, (a) a run of envelope-addressing is monotonous for the typist and is not looked on kindly and (b) if the post is late in being signed the envelopes have to be typed in a rush and even then the last posting time may be missed. In many cases, in fact, it is preferable to dispense with typed envelopes altogether and to use window envelopes instead. Provided proper indications are made on notepaper as to the typing location and area for addressees’ names and addresses, with proper folding marks also shown, the use of window envelopes ensures that the letters will be despatched to the right parties and avoids the necessity of typing envelopes at all.
Folding is often done by the typists departmentally, as is insertion into envelopes and sealing, but for economy and speed it is to be preferred that these operations are done in a central post department. First, the work involved is of lower grade than that of shorthand-typist or typist; second, mechanical folding, inserting and sealing can be employed centrally owing to the greater volume of work, with the consequent savings. Even where mechanical folding and inserting is not practicable because of the individual nature of the mail, nevertheless it should be done by the relatively lower-paid post room staff and not by typists: and the sealing, of course, can be done mechanically in any case.
Whether folding, inserting and sealing are carried out departmentally or centrally, the mail still has to be in the post department for stamping and despatching, which are invariably done centrally. Stamping is still carried out with adhesive stamps in many small organisations, but the use of franking machines is now normal practice in most undertakings.
Whatever method is used it is convenient to sort post into weights and, if overseas mail is included, destinations. It can be assumed that overseas mail is to go by air unless otherwise marked. This makes the task of stamping or franking much easier than attempting to deal with mixed charges, as it brings together the various categories of denominations. This sorting is even more important with franking than with stamping as it avoids the necessity of repeatedly altering the machine settings and also minimises the risk of wrong postage being franked on envelopes. Where there is a quantity of mail at the same postage charge – circulars, notices of meeting and the like – it is possible to dispense with stamping or franking in the office altogether by making arrangements with the Post Office to accept unstamped mail and pre-paying the total charge. This, of course, saves a great deal of time for a busy postal department.
The actual posting of the mail is the final stage in the procedure. Where envelopes are stamped with adhesive stamps the post may be placed in the local letter-box or, if voluminous, arrangements can be made for the Post Office to collect from the organisation’s offices. Even a private post box may be installed by arrangement. Where mail is franked, normally it must be taken to the Post Office, but here again special arrangements can be made for collection.
5.5. Further observations on outgoing mail
The foregoing is a simple exposition of outgoing mail procedure, but in practice certain difficulties arise which require examination.
Nothing is more annoying to a recipient than to discover that an enclosure has been omitted and so efforts have to be made to lessen the risk as much as possible. Two popular methods are to make a sign such as an oblique stroke (/) in the left-hand margin of the covering letter against the line where reference is made to the enclosure, or to type at the left-hand bottom corner of the letter the abbreviation ‘Enc\ A more emphatic indication of this nature is a red disc stuck on to the letter in the same place. Signs such as these are intended to remind staff folding and inserting mail that enclosures are to be included. It should be mentioned that departmental folding and inserting leads to fewer omissions than the central performance of these tasks. Finally, it should be a practice to pin or clip enclosures to their covering letters to minimise the risk of omitting them: this also helps to prevent them being mislaid or mis-routed by the recipients.
It is always expected that post should be mailed in time to catch the post for transmission the same day. This very often leads to a rush of work just before finishing time, entailing overtime for the post-room staff. To avoid this a ‘latest time’ should be established for the receipt of post by the post department to ensure mailing the same day. This deadline should allow sufficient margin to permit the mailing procedures to be carried out without undue pressure. This might mean, for instance, that if the Post Office collection is 5.30 p.m., then mail must be in the post department not later than 4.15 p.m. Departments should also be encouraged to send mail down for despatch at intervals during the day so spreading the post-room’s work more evenly over the day. Nevertheless, some provision must be made for really urgent mail to be dealt with after the latest time for receipt, though steps must be taken to prevent this service from being abused. Needless to say, all departments must be made aware, officially, of the regulations concerning times.
No mention has been made about keeping a post outwards book. This is a procedure that has fallen into disuse with the wide acceptance of postal franking. It performs two functions (a) to keep a record of all mail despatched and (b) to keep a check and control on expenditure on postage. Where adhesive stamps are used then its prime purpose is (b) and it is normally retained, preferably kept on the imprest system in the same way as the petty-cash book. Where post is franked by machine and postal charges are automatically recorded, then the post book is dispensed with and (a) is satisfied by copies of correspondence on file. To keep such a record separately would negate the benefit of speed provided by the franking machine. However, it is still necessary to record the despatch of registered or recorded mail and the simplest way to do this is to stick the receipts in a book maintained for this purpose.
Finally, both inward and outward mail are vital to the efficient running of an organisation. Close and constant attention must be paid by the office administrator to the effectiveness of the procedures, which must be laid down with authority and known to all. Attention must also be paid to the many services provided by the Post Office, which will be found in the Post Office Guide. Bulk posting as previously described is only one of the services which can save time and money.
5.6. Mechanical aids
One of the departments in the office which has had the attention of the machine-makers for very many years is the mail department.
The handling of inwards post does not lend itself very much to mechanisation and the principal device available in this area is the letter-opener. This machine is manufactured in two main forms, hand- operated and electrically operated, the former operating at about 100 envelopes per minute and the latter up to about 600. The principle used to open the envelopes is to cut a very thin sliver from the edges: it is essential, therefore, to tap the envelopes sharply before feeding them to the machine to allow the contents to fall away from the edge to be cut otherwise there is a real danger that the contents may be cut through.
It is in the sphere of outward mail that operations have been widely mechanised and the principal machines available may be examined as follows:
Many forms of machine are offered for folding letters and other papers prior to mailing and they operate at speeds of between 50 and 500 pieces per minute. Some will fold only in one direction and others, the more expensive ones, will fold in two directions. Folding machines are used most advantageously when there are long runs of similar papers (standard letters, circulars, notices of meetings and so on). It is necessary to readjust the machine whenever different size papers or different folds are required. There are, therefore, less useful where mixed papers have to be folded. Apart from their use in the mail room, folding machines are also employed for folding the pages of brochures and staff magazines produced internally.
Following folding, the next step in the mailing operation is inserting the documents into the envelopes. For runs of similar pieces this can, again, be done mechanically. Normally these machines fold as well as insert and some models will seal the envelopes as well. Operation is very rapid and, therefore, these devices are most profitably employed when long runs of matter of similar size have to be dealt with. An interesting machine is one that, instead of inserting the contents into envelopes, actually makes the envelopes around the enclosures from flat pieces of paper.
A very profitable operation to mechanise is sealing. These machines are available in simple forms which are hand-fed, or in more advanced designs that have automatic feed. Unlike inserting and folding machines, most of them can handle mixed sizes and types of envelopes in one run and are, consequently, useful even in the smallest office.
An operation that is both laborious and subject to petty defalcation is stamping envelopes with the normal adhesive stamps. This task is very simple to mechanise with postal franking machines. These imprint direct on to the mail impressions of the various denominations, the machine being set according to the postal charge due. Many models are available accommodating a narrow or wide range of postage charges and they can be either hand or electrically operated. As well as envelopes, gummed strips can also be run through the machines for use on packets and parcels. Where the highest denomination on the machine is insufficient to cover the total postage two or more impressions are franked. Speeds range from 2 000 to 15 000 frankings per hour and in addition to the postage it is common also to imprint either an advertising slogan or a return address. The user of a franking machine must obtain a licence from the Post Office (in practice this is done on the user’s behalf by the manufacturer) and has to pay to the Post Office in advance a lump sum of the estimated amount of postage for a given period. It is necessary to take the machine, if a small one or the metering section if a large one, to the local post office and pay the estimated amount, when the machine will be set to frank mail up to the sum pre-paid. When this total has been reached the machine will lock so that no more mail can be franked until a further sum is paid.
Franked mail may not be posted in the normal letter-box but has to be handed in at a post office or, if the volume is large enough, arrangements may be made for collection by the Post Office.
The advantages of franking machines include speed, security due to there being no loose stamps, and the possibility of advertising on envelopes: there is also a direct control of expenditure on the post. The disadvantages include the requirement to pre-pay postage for a period ahead, the need to take the mail to a post office, the possibility of carelessness causing excessive postage being paid and the fact that franked mail is often associated with circulars especially by the general public. The possibility here is so strong that many organisations using franking machines mark important mail ‘This is not a circular’.
When circulars with many enclosures have to be dealt with it is advantageous to collect the various sheets mechanically and machines of various types are available to do this. Some merely collate whilst others collate and insert, or even collate, insert and seal. Strictly speaking, the applications of collating machines are far wider than use in the mail room and they are employed whenever a large volume of papers has to be put in order in sets.
Where the amount of collating is small and an automatic machine is not warranted, small machines are available which merely separate a single sheet from each pack to be assembled so that they may be picked up easily by hand. Operation is either by hand lever or by foot pedal and they do make the task of collating quicker than by the usual manual method of spreading the packs of paper over a table top or desk top and picking up each sheet direct from the pack.
For high-volume collating there are many automatic machines which offer a great variety of facilities operating at high speeds.
Whilst the various functional machines have been discussed separately, it must be observed that where very large organisations are concerned the tendency is to look for machines that combine a series of operations and such machines are available, though prices are high.
Source: Eyre E. C. (1989), Office Administration, Palgrave Macmillan.
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