What is it You’re Trying to Say? How to Write Letters and Memos That G…
already with email taking over the bulk of written harmonies, letters and memos are a regular part of the business world. Some people consider it to be a fact of business life that they build up in the upper left-hand corner of their desk, a location that I often refer to as Death Valley.
That name is given to the corner because any harmonies that ends up there “dies.” It never sees the light of day again. Why? Most letters and memos that are written in the business world aren’t readable and don’t offer enough motive for addressees to pick them up to read.
Notice that concepts listed in this article are called disciplines, not rules. Disciplines are practices that structure a related course of action to make people get better at something else.
for example, a football player will lift weights – not to become a better weightlifter, but to learn how to use his strength more efficiently when blocking and tackling. In the same way, these disciplines will help focus your letter and memo writing skills so that you are aware of the impact you have on others by your daily written business harmonies. The late T Frank Hardesty was a huge proponent of short, to-the-point harmonies. He would strongly endorse this article.
DISCIPLINE 1: No more than 22 words per sentence
Some people are impressed by their ability to string words and concepts together ad infinitum. They are enamored by the strength and complexity of their sentence construction. In reality, though, they are doing a huge disservice both to themselves and to their readers. Long, complicated sentences are difficult both to construct and to decipher. Short, crisp sentences are read and receive responses.
DISCIPLINE 2: Two sentences per use
This discipline causes many people to cringe, especially technically oriented individuals. Most people do not know where to end one use and begin the next. They look for some hidden clue that will automatically tell them that it’s time to tell the reader something different is being discussed.
Think about it – no one challenges where you break your thoughts. In your letters and memos, it isn’t worth deliberating at length where one thought really finishes and another begins. Just count – one period, two periods and begin a new use.
When you do this, you will create white space. Every advertising major knows the psychological advantages of white space. It makes a written document look readable and entices the eye to continue. It makes a document look less imposing and more inviting – the kind of document that gets read and generates solutions.
Many people feel as if these first two disciplines restrict their style and hinder their ability to say what they want to say. However, to press how much can be said in 22 words and two sentences, here is the complete story of Goldilocks and the Three produces told with two sentences that total 22 words:
A girl on a woodland walk found an empty house.
Because she ate, broke furniture and fell asleep, the
owners were angry.
That’s it – the complete story. In addition to encouraging a person to get to the point quickly, this skill is valuable to those who have young children. Each night my two young daughters ask for a bedtime story. With enough practice, that story can take about 15 seconds, allowing me to get back to the sports page before it gets cold.
DISCIPLINE 3 – Use the shortest possible words to explain complicated thoughts
In most situations, you’ll be able to accomplish this using words that have no more than three syllables. If you use words that are sesquipedalian, your readers will have the same reaction that you just had when you saw my foot-and-a-half-long information.
When people don’t understand a information, they read by it, developing their own interpretation for what’s in the memo. Don’t let someone else determine what you are saying. Use forthright words that everyone can easily understand.
To show how effectively this can be done, reread your freshman assignment in English literature, the soliloquy of Hamlet which begins, “To be or not to be . . .” Look closely and you’ll realize that not one information in the text is longer than three syllables, and very few three-syllable words are present. We can all agree that the person who wrote it knew what he was doing.
DISCIPLINE 4: Never begin a sentence with “There is” or “There are.”
The reason is quite simple. Any sentence which begins with those words, buries its subject two words deeper than is necessary.
“There is a hidden meaning in the message” can be changed to “A hidden meaning is in the message.”
“There is a better way to write letters” can become “A better way exists to write letters.”
In both examples, the subject is pulled forward to assume a position of greater prominence and better communications.
DISCIPLINE 5: Never begin a use with “We,” “I,” “My,” or “Our.”
When any of these words appear in the noticeable identify at the start of a use, the writer is
emphasizing his or her own importance and de-emphasizing the opinion of the other party. A good salesperson understands that success is determined by taking the other individual’s point of view. When a use begins with a “first-person” information, it automatically loses its sales allurement.
in addition, how often in the corporate world have you looked at the memos that cross your desk and notice that every use begins with the information “we?” It is a pattern that, when broken, can make succinct letters and memos stand out and get read.
DISCIPLINE 6: Never use a semi-colon.
Very few people (mostly English majors) know how to use semi-colons. As a consequence, this punctuation is used incorrectly by the majority of writers. The solution: don’t use them at all.
If you are connecting two sentences by a semi-colon, put a period at the end of the first sentence, capitalize the next information and make two sentences. Then, of course, start a new use.
DISCIPLINE 7: Use one side of one sheet of paper.
Long letters and memos don’t get read. Short ones do. Certainly technical papers require longer explanations, but the everyday harmonies that you create will be read more often when it is short and to the point. And, none of your ideas will be acted upon unless someone first picks up that sheet of paper with the inclination to find out what you have to say.
Yes, this discussion of business writing was a bit whimsical. It was meant to be. However, try these disciplines for your next 10 letters and memos. If you like what you see, continue to use them or modify them to meet your special needs.
If you don’t like them, forget this article and continue to do things the way you’ve always done them. It’s all up to you. Very few people feel as if they are getting the desired results from business harmonies. A few disciplines and tweaking of the dials might be just what is required to add that luster to the surface of your communication skills.
Copyright, 2008 Management Strategies, Inc.