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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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201 vs 102

I am writing in respect of the article by Ming Wah Wong on ‘steering us clear of the dark side’. My colleague has pointed out to me the instructions, as far as I can see, on how to prepare for a letter-writing exam and, in particular, ‘Don’t use the phrase “I hope”. Always use “I trust” instead.’

In the real world, the phrase ‘I hope’ (for example, ‘I hope the above is sufficient for your purposes’) is communicating a degree of respect for the recipient’s equal, or in some cases, superior, knowledge and understanding of the situation to which the letter is referring. The letter-writer is, therefore, saying that the content of the letter is aimed at providing the information or answers to the satisfaction of the recipient, but is not in a position to guarantee that what is being communicated is exactly what has been sought. It is a non-arrogant, diplomatically assertive use of the English language, in contrast to the words ‘I trust’. ‘I trust’ indicates more than just a healthy confidence in the letter-writer’s ability to provide the right information and correct answers; it projects an arrogance that can be avoided and should be avoided.

The key to successful letter-writing is to become the recipient of the letter and envisage the reaction to the words. If in doubt, pass the letter to a colleague and gauge their reaction and aim to ensure that the reaction coincides with the intended reaction.