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Is Your Letter Writing Year 2000 Compliant?
By Jane Watson   Printer Friendly Version

You hear a lot about Year 2000 compliance. Companies are racing against the clock to ensure their computer systems will be ready to handle the change over. And - don't get me wrong - this is essential. But what about the correspondence of their staff. Is it also ready for the year 2000?

Over 7 billion letters are produced each year in Canada. They relate to jobs, relationships, fund-raising, public relations and sales. They are important to the growth of a business.

Penton Research Services of Cleveland has uncovered a wide range of costs (US) per contact in the methods companies use to generate revenue:

  • Industrial sales call $277.00
  • Trade show $162.00
  • Telemarketing $31.16
  • Business letter $13.60

Therefore, letters are the least expensive way to get your name in front of a customer. However, many writers fail to produce effective documents because they are using outdated writing styles. This causes their written materials to be overly formal, long-winded, difficult to read and lacking a clear call to action.

Year 2000 correspondence should be concise, reader-friendly, and it should build relationships with clients, customers and internal staff. Here are some tips to ensure your writing style is ready for the new millennium. But don't wait for then, put these ideas into practice now.

1. Write with the reader in mind: what does he want to know; what does he need to know. Omit all other details.

2. Use words the reader can easily understand. If he or she is familiar with jargon, use it. Otherwise, choose simpler words.

3. Don't waste your reader's time with cold, useless phrases: as per, we are in receipt of ..., we wish to acknowledge ... Jump in with why you are writing: I need your assistance to ..., As you requested, here are ...

4. Make it easy for your reader to interpret the message. Use plenty of white space and wide margins. Keep sentences short. A reader's attention drops off after the 18th word. If you add a 19th, it better be good.

5. Think of visual appeal when you compose paragraphs. Long paragraphs intimidate; however, too many short paragraphs makes it look as if you are in a time warp and trying to send a telegram. A good guideline is to use variety but keep opening and closing paragraphs three to six lines long and nothing in the body over eight lines. (Half these numbers if you are sending an e-mail.)

6. Keep the tone warm. Use the reader's name. Write about what you can do - not what you can't. If your purpose is to inform or persuade, use the word you more often than the words I, we or it.

7. Always give your readers a WIIFY-what's in for you. Too many writers stress their own importance, or the wonders of their product/service without spelling out the benefits to the reader. To gain a reader's attention you have to focus on the benefits to them rather than to the object.

(I am amazed at the number of sales people who confuse features and advantages with benefits. It is hard to write persuasively if you don't understand this concept.)

8. Close with what you want the reader to do next. If you have a date, give it. Never use the ambiguous term as soon as possible. Wrong and overused: If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me. Better: If you have any questions, please call me at ...

Remember, our readers are drowning in paper, and they don't necessarily have to read and follow up on your correspondence. However, if you write in a warm, easy-to-understand, concise style - if your correspondence is Year 2000 Compliant - your chance of having your message acted upon will greatly increase.

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