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How to Write More Gooder Letters

11/2/2016 | Articles & Alerts

All too often, people write without much forethought, with the result that many writings don’t produce the desired result. About forty years ago, Werner Erhard coined the phrase,”[t]he essence of communication is intention.” He was right then, and he is still right today.

To write an effective letter, one must consider the letter’s intended audience, the letter’s intended purpose, and the letter’s intended reception, before putting pen to paper (you all remember paper, right ?)

Before you start writing, think about your audience. If your addressee is not already familiar with your letter’s topic, then you should include sufficient background details, organized logically, so as to give the letter proper context. If you don’t, the reader will have the unmistakable impression of having walked into a movie in the middle of the third reel. That is to be avoided.

Next, think about what your letter is intended to accomplish. You can’t expect to get what you want if the recipient of your letter can’t figure out what that is. Short, simple, declarative sentences, usually written in active voice, will best serve your purpose.

Active voice makes the actor more important than the action, while passive voice – which tends to conceal the identity of the actor – is used when the action is more important than the actor; it is sometimes appropriate, but overuse of passive voice makes writing less forceful. Run-on sentences (like the previous one) tire out the reader; break a long sentence into several short,simple, declarative sentences. Doing so will make your writing much crisper, and better.

Finally, think about the likely reception that your letter will receive. If the purpose of your letter is simply to inform, use a neutral tone. If your letter is intended to ask the recipient to do something that he or she is not required to do, then its tone should be somewhat deferential.

Finally, if you are writing to insist that the recipient do (or not do) something, then just say so. If a failure to act (or to not act) will have consequences, then just identify those consequences, in a reasonably neutral manner, without making threats.

Bombastic letters are fun to write, but they rarely (if ever) accomplish anything beyond inflaming the recipient. And, if you are too bombastic too often, no one will pay any attention to anything you say.

Pens are dangerous weapons. Think before you use them.