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.
Services of Cleveland has uncovered a wide range of costs (US) per contact
in the methods companies use to generate revenue:
- Industrial sales
- Trade show $162.00
- Business letter
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are using outdated writing styles.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
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.