In this era of email and texting, letter-writing is quickly becoming a lost art. But there are still times when a letter, be it of a business or personal nature, is the best method of communication. Here are some tips to make it an effective one.
Remember that your reader is another human being that you’re going to be communicating with, so, put yourself in your recipient’s shoes and write the kind of letter you would like to receive in the circumstances.
Clear writing is the result of clear thinking. Take time to think about what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. Develop a logical outline, either on paper or in your head, before beginning to actually write.
There’s nothing wrong with a short letter as long as it’s not insultingly abrupt; in fact, short letters are usually more effective than long ones. But, never leave out important points or details simply for the sake of brevity.
Most Important Point
The most important point to remember is that your reader is not going to be able to hear your tone of voice or articulation and cannot see your facial expression, so you have to carefully choose precise words.
Anything you can say to individualize and personalize a letter makes it more effective.
If you catch yourself writing, “In other words,” then you should take out what you wrote just before that; it obviously wasn’t effective.
Personal pronouns and active verbs make for clear sentences. The more words it takes to say something, the less impact it will make.
Be yourself; don’t try to imitate someone else’s style regardless of how impressed you were with it.
Adjectives and adverbs are necessary to achieve the shades of meaning you’re trying to convey, but be sure they make things more understandable rather than causing your reader to have to pause to try to figure out exactly what you mean.
Don’t use jargon and buzz words unless your reader is as familiar with them as you are.
Never use a big word when a small one will do.
Time taken to think of ways to express ideas positively rather than negatively is time well spent.
The best argument you can make is one that simply seems like an explanation.
Letters of apology should be short and sweet. An effective letter of apology needs to: show your reader that you understand his or her feelings; take whatever blame you deserve; tell the person you’re sorry; and, if appropriate, mention how you intend to make amends.
In a letter of condolence, state simply and briefly exactly how you feel.
It’s become a cliché, but the fact is you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, so be sure it’s a good one. Your opening sentence has to catch your reader’s attention and arouse his or her interest.
More letters are ruined in the opening paragraph than anywhere else. Forget about trying to impress people, just get your reader interested in what you’re going to say. Don’t beat around the bush; begin right away to write something that will interest your reader.
It’s always possible to make your opening both strong and friendly, and it’s important to take the time to figure out how to do so.
Your opening should contain the angle that’s most interesting to your reader (not what’s most interesting to you) and also indicate that there’s information in the letter that your reader will really want to know about.
If your letter is in response to an inquiry, or you know for sure the reader is interested in what you have to say, then all you need to do is identify what the letter is about and get on with it.
The first impression of your letter that the recipient gets may not be the opening paragraph; it might be how the letter looks when opened up. If a letterhead is used it should be attractive and not too busy. Paragraphing should be watched carefully; long, heavy blocks of words are attention killers. The first paragraph, in particular, needs to be short.
To the extent possible avoid starting paragraphs with the word “I.”
Use of bold or italic print and appropriate exclamation marks can be helpful if judiciously used. Unfortunately, people who use them tend to overdo it with the result that they clutter up the appearance of the letter and become meaningless as far as interpretation is concerned.
Come to a definite conclusion. Don’t leave your reader wondering what you want done or trying to figure out where you stand.
Always read over a letter before you sign it, looking for ways to improve it as well as watching for mistakes.
Ask yourself what the purpose of the letter is and decide whether it has been clearly achieved, which should always be determined from your reader’s point of view. If not, re-write it. Remember that your objective is not just to be understood, but also to not be misunderstood.
Any letter that you write while angry or upset should be set aside for a few hours and then carefully reviewed before mailing; odds are you’ll make changes.