Do you hate to write business letters? Do you spend a lot of time on each email only to receive slow or no responses? Use these six tips to develop a writing style that gets results.
One Letter One Subject
Each letter or email should address one issue only. You can always send another email to talk about a second subject. Keeping to one topic helps the reader absorb your point, and act.
Openers and Enders
Direct Marketing studies show that the most-read sentences in any letter are the first and last sentences (especially if that last sentence is a ‘P.S.’).
Make your purpose clear in the first sentence: “I am writing to share details about the Jones project”.
After that you can introduce background information, but do not start there. People are busy. Tell them what they are going to read about, in the first sentence.
Recap your purpose at the end of the letter, and use the last sentence to ask for an action: “Please let me know by Friday…”.
Use bullet points to catch the reader’s eye as she is skimming down the page (between the first and last sentences).
- Bullet points catch the eye
- They summarize the details
- Use sentence fragments to keep them brief
- Use only 3-5 bullet points
Unless you are writing for a scientific journal or your industry has a very formal style (i.e. law), keep your style informal. Use ‘you’ and ‘I’ instead of writing in the passive voice. For example, say “We decided at last week’s meeting to push forward with…” instead of “A meeting was held and it was decided that…”. Conversational language keeps a document livelier-and readers awake.
Keep It Brief
Try to keep documents to one page (or one screen, if email). People will read a short document immediately but put a long one in a ‘to read’ pile. Short communications also force you to keep to the point.
Edit out unnecessary words and repetition.
Don’t repeat yourself (like I just did).
Always leave time for editing. Re-read every piece of writing before you send it out, even quick emails. Edit out half your words if possible. Seriously.
Don’t rely on your spell-checker. I almost proposed giving a talk on “Sex Tips For Better Business Writing” to my local Chamber of Commerce. Luckily that is one of those errors that leaps off the page, but the spell checker didn’t catch it!
Find someone else to proofread your work or use these copyeditor’s tips: slowly read your work aloud once to make sure there are no missing or incorrect words. Then read the work backwards to look for spelling errors. Reading backwards helps you see typos.
Always carefully check these typo hot-spots check:
- telephone numbers
- zip codes
Also check for ‘smart quotes’ that are turned around the wrong way, and missing punctuation.
Use these six tips to develop a clear, concise and correct business writing style. You will endear yourself to busy colleagues, and start to see improved response rates to your communications.
P.S. Contact me if you need a copy editor. (See what I mean about the P.S.?)