Trying to find the right tone and the right words for a business letter or other document can shake your confidence and try your patience. Here are a few simple pointers that should reduce your effort and help you write better documents, faster.
1. Know your objective: to sell or describe a product, to get someone into your store, to get an appointment, etc.
2. Know your audience: their degree of interest in your subject, level of knowledge, facility with the English language. If you know a bit about your readers' lifestyles, how much they read and the kind of reading they do, you'll be better prepared to write to a specific audience. Writing to a specific individual or audience is generally more effective. Work to not write over the heads of your audience or to talk down to them. People can quickly spot patronizing language and stop reading as quickly.
Use the recipient's name, when appropriate, and spell it correctly. If you do not know the person, don't make the mistake of specifying the wrong gender.
3. Write simply and in your voice. Don't mask your enthusiasm or sincerity in business-speak, jargon or formal or pompous language. Keep sentences and paragraphs short. Use active verbs and few adjectives or adverbs. Be honest. Don't exaggerate. Be specific and always distinguish fact from opinion.
4. Start with an attention-getting sentence. Copywriter Ivan Levison (www.levison.com), talking about sales letters in his Levison Letter, suggests you might start by scaring or shocking your recipients ("Do you know how many germs are in your re-usable shopping bags?"); soothing them with good news; making them feel special ("As the person who makes your company's financial decisions "); asking a question; presenting an offer right away; telling a story; or citing authorities. If you're writing sales letters, it's important to measure the effect of different approaches.
Copywriter and writing coach Suzanne Lieurance (www.workingwriterscoach.com) suggests shaking up the way you begin by changing the part of speech. If you often start with a pronoun, try a noun, a verb or a gerund. "I hate to mow the lawn" could become "Mowing the lawn can be tedious and even dangerous." Shifting your sentence structure freshens your language. And fresh language is more apt to be read.
5. Use humor, if you feel comfortable with it, and if it is appropriate (and clean). Remember that you cannot predict every reader's reaction to your humor.
7. Be tactful and respectful of your reader. This includes respecting the reader's time constraints. Make sure, too, that you are clear and your message is understandable. No one has time or a yen to puzzle out what you mean. Have someone else read your communication to be certain you are saying what you intend. Proofread your document. Now, proofread once more.
While some of my suggestions may require a bit more time, especially as you become familiar with them, I believe they'll result in more effective communication.