Friday, July 29, 2011 - Page 2 of 5
How to write a concise business letter
Keeping your business letter to the point
When you write a business letter, you must try not to waste your reader's time. The first step in any writing task is to set down your aim. Ask yourself, Why am I writing? and What do I want to achieve? The clearer you are in your own mind about what you want to achieve, the better your letter. These questions help you focus on the information that supports your central aim, and to cut information that's irrelevant. By doing this, you'll find you keep to the subject and perhaps write a document that is a third shorter than you would otherwise draft.
People read to find out information. You can write the clearest letter or report, but if it doesn't say anything worth knowing, it's a useless document. You have to learn to present the most relevant information for your readers' needs. Then having said what you need to say—stop.
The more specific information you give, the better. You need to be ruthless in cutting out the padding most of us put into letters. It just wastes readers' time and clouds your message.
To help you to keep to the point of your letter, you can draw up an outline to plan your letter. Follow these steps:
- Make a list of the topics you want to cover but don't worry about the order.
- Under each topic, list key words, examples, arguments and facts.
- Review each topic in your outline for relevance to your aim and audience.
- Cut out anything that's not relevant to your aim or audience.
- Sort the information into the best order for your readers.
You don’t have to stick rigidly to your business letter plan as it may change if you discover new information. It should help you shape your thinking but not be a straitjacket. Let your outline focus your thinking to make your writing coherent.
The advantage of spending a little time setting out a plan is that it not only helps the reader, it also helps you write. By breaking down a complex topic into subject areas, you'll find it easier to concentrate on the most relevant information.
Getting the right tone to your business letter
When you write a business letter, it’s important to use a tone that is friendly but efficient. Readers want to know there’s someone at the other end of the letter who is taking notice and showing interest in their concerns. Try to sound—and be—helpful and friendly.
To do this, write as you would speak and talk on paper. This doesn't mean you should use slang, bad grammar or poor English, but try to aim for a conversational style and let the reader hear your voice.
Imagine that your reader is sitting opposite you at your desk or is on the telephone. You’d be unlikely to say “please be advised” or “I wish to inform you”; instead you’d be more informal and say, “I’d like to explain” or “Let me explain” or use other everyday expressions.
Here are some ways to change your writing style to a conversational style.
Using contractions such as it's, doesn't, I'm, you're, we're, they're, isn't, here's, that's, we'll gives a personal and human feel to your writing.
If there are no contractions in your writing, put some in. You don't have to use contractions at every opportunity. Sometimes writing do not comes more naturally than don't. When you speak, you probably use a combination of these styles—try to reflect this in your writing.
Use Personal References
Use words such as I, we, you, your, my, and our in your writing. Don't be afraid to identify yourself—it makes writing much more readable. This is a useful trick to make writing look and sound more like face-to-face talk.
Using I, we and you also helps you to avoid using passive verbs. It makes your style more direct and clear.
So instead of writing:
Our address records have been amended ...
We’ve changed your address in our records ...
Instead of writing:
The company policy is ...
Our policy is ...
Using active verbs with personal references is a quick and dramatic way to make your writing readable and more direct.
Use Direct Questions
Direct questions are an essential part of the spoken language. Using them gives your writing much more impact and is a common technique in marketing and advertising material. Marketing people use this technique to put information across clearly and to give their writing impact.
In much business writing, we hide questions in our writing by using words such as whether to introduce them. Look for these in your writing and change them into direct questions. For example:
Original: We would appreciate your advising us whether you want to continue this account or transfer it.
Redraft: Do you want to continue your account or transfer it?
Original: Please inform us whether payment against these receipts will be in order.
Redraft: Can we pay against these receipts?
Apart from making your style more conversational, direct questions liven up your writing—it’s as though you change the pitch in your voice. There’s nothing like a direct question to get some reaction from your reader and to give your writing impact.
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