10 Tips for Getting Your Business Letters Read
Bill Lampton, Ph.D.
Since many of us rely so heavily on E-mail, business letters have become special once again. Yet your prospects won’t read just any letter. Try these ten tips to increase readability:
FIRST: Use simple, contemporary language. Readers dislike a stilted approach. Eliminate “heretofore,” “henceforth,” “concomitant with,” “pursuant to” and similar words dressed in tuxedos. Use water cooler language, not boardroom lingo.
SECOND: Not only will you want to use short words, use short paragraphs, too. The reader wants to see plenty of white space, not a jumble of cluttered lines. Note how this “ten tips” list offers text separations.
THIRD: Address your letters by hand. Sure, this will take longer, but the few extra minutes are worth the personal touch your handwriting brings. In 1982, John Naisbitt’s book Megatrends popularized the phrase “high touch,” which he recommended for a “high tech” society. Almost a quarter century later, the need for personal contacts in our digital society has become more essential-and warmly welcomed.
FOURTH: Time your mailing. Target your dates so people don’t get your letters on Mondays, holidays, the week of April 15 and other sensitive periods.
FIFTH: Include the words “you” or “your” as one of your first three opening words. My veteran sales professional friend Bill Bell of Otto, North Carolina gave me this tip years ago.
SIXTH: Add a handwritten P.S. Surveys indicate that a legible P.S. almost jumps off the page, compelling attention.
SEVENTH: Tell a story. As children, our ears perked up once we heard the opener, “Once upon a time.” And most of us never outgrow our love of stories. So if your letter seeks to make a sale, tell the story of how one or more purchasers increased profits, achieved a more balanced life style, became a more dynamic leader, improved family relations or achieved national prominence after buying your product or service.
EIGHTH: Mention referrals at the outset. Example: “Our mutual friend Martin Milhouse suggested that I contact you.” Bingo-immediately you have borrowed the credibility of a respected colleague your prospect admires. The result? You, a stranger, become a credible person to the reader. Truly, the old cliché makes sense: we are known by the company we keep.
NINTH: Sign the letter legibly. Nothing looks more pompous than an unreadable signature. The reader could surmise that if even your name is unclear, your business offering might be undecipherable as well.
TENTH: Use quotation marks in almost every paragraph. Why? Because quote marks indicate that people are interacting and sharing their thoughts. Remember the last time you selected a novel in a bookstore? Chances are good that you browsed until you found one with plenty of dialogue. So when you are telling a story to make your point, quote people talking in conversational language.
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