Lessons >>> Lesson 29
Writing is one of the most important and valued skills in the business world today. The introduction and development of electronic communications has increased the need for written correspondence. More so than ever before, there is a requirement to ensure clarity and effectiveness in the written message.
E-mails may have reduced the need for stationery and snail mail but they still require the writer to convey his thoughts clearly and concisely, following the principles of good business writing.
A business letter is a formal communication between people or companies and it is written to conduct some sort of business. For example, you might write to inform readers of specific information, create proposals for clients, make an arrangement, request a price list, thank someone for a service or apply for a job. It differs from personal letters exchanged by friends in both its layout and content.
Writing letters has some pitfalls and many people go to great lengths to avoid it. Even when it means losing the business or customers. The threat of facing a blank page or a bare computer screen can be more powerful than the need to write a letter.
Every person within an organization is in customer relations, so writing an effective business letter is an important skill for every employee, manager and business owner. Peter Drucker, the father of the science of office management, says, "As soon as you take one step up the career ladder your effectiveness depends on your ability to communicate your thoughts in writing and in speaking."
Writing a business letter takes planning. First of all, you must analyze your audience and determine your purpose. Whatever the aim, create your letter from these goals. Then you need to gather information, create an outline, write a draft, and revise it.
Business letters can be challenging to write, because you have to consider how to get your reader’s attention. Getting the reader's attention is a tough job. If your letter is long-winded, pompous, or says nothing of interest, you'll lose the reader.
Capture your reader's attention with a hard-hitting lead paragraph that goes straight to the point or offers an element of intrigue. Then, hook the reader's interest: the hook is often a clear statement of the reader's problems, needs, or wants. For example, if you are writing to a customer who received damaged goods, acknowledge the problem and then offer a solution.
If your letter is an offer of something (a service, a product, or a contract), state the features and the benefits of your offer in plain, simple English. Give the reader reasons why he or she should buy your product or sign the contract. That creates a demand for your product. Finally, make the action that you want the reader to take, clear and easy to understand.
When writing a business letter, you should follow the format of a standard business letter. The typical business letter usually consists of about six essential parts: the heading (and the date), the inside address, the salutation or greeting, the body of the letter, the complimentary close, and the signature.
The heading of the letter contains the full address of the sender. Most companies have letterhead with this information already imprinted. The inside address coincides with the address that appears on the envelope and contains the name, title and address of person to whom you are writing. The salutation adds a personal touch to your letter and should be consistent with the whole tone. Include the addressee's name and courtesy title along with the greeting. The body of the letter is where you write the purpose of the letter. The complimentary close should be relevant to the tone of the letter and the salutation. And, your signature should be hand written legibly below the complimentary close.
Try to organize your letter logically, making smooth transitions between sentences and paragraphs. It should be clear and concise, with short sentences and simple words. Use personal pronouns and active voice. Avoid me, I, we, us in the beginning of the letter. Avoid also formal and stuffy expressions (like "thanking you in advance", "as per", “be advised”, "in compliance with your request" or “enclosed herewith”), and don't use technical terms unless you are positive your reader will understand them as you do. You will never get what you're after, if your reader doesn't get the message.
Write positively and with confidence. Try to put yourself in the reader's shoes and to anticipate the reader's reaction to your comments. Don't be manipulative. Threatening, cajoling, begging, flattering, and making extravagant promises are manipulative and are usually ineffective. In fact, they may alienate the reader.
Don't ever forget to proof-read your letter. Check the spelling, particularly the name of the person and company. Minor errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar hurt your credibility. Make sure that your letters look neat and tidy on the page. Sloppy appearance will detract from even a well-written letter.
When you send a business letter you create an image of you and your company in the reader's mind. When a reader scans a document he subconsciously builds a picture of the writer. The writer can project the image of a conscientious, energetic professional, or the image of a bored bureaucrat marking time with an antiquated company.
It is important to remember that a business letter is an official document. Of course, there are many other communications between people and companies, for instance telephone conversations, meetings and presentations. Still, a business letter is the most powerful communications tool for providing structured and considered information in a formal way.
Keep the letter to one page. Business people are busy and do not appreciate unnecessarily long letters. Most business letters are less than one A4 page long. If you need a second page for your letter, you should think about whether you could say want you want to say using less words.
An important factor in the readability of a letter is the chosen font. The generally accepted font is Times New Roman, size 12, although other fonts such as Arial may be used. When choosing a font, always consider your audience. If you are writing to a conservative company, you may want to use Times New Roman.
In most cases, the business letter will be the first impression that you make on someone. The way you write a letter and the etiquette you employ may have a significant impact on your success or failure in business. Failure to observe correct business letter etiquette can result in you adopting an inappropriate tone, causing offense or misunderstandings, lack of clarity or purpose and hostility or soured relations.
The best writers strive to write in a style that is so clear that their message cannot be misunderstood. Clarity should be the primary goal of your business writing style.
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