1. Start at the end. What’s your point? How do you want to conclude? Write that down in a few rough sentences, and you will find it much easier to fill in the rest.
2. Outline! Remember when you learned to make outlines in high school English class? It’s a valuable practice for business letters as well as for theme papers on The Catcher in the Rye. Write down any points you can think of that support your conclusion. Then, look at what you’ve written and organize it. Make your first and last supporting points strong ones. If you’re not sure a point is relevant, leave it out.
3. Write a rough draft. A good introduction is short and sweet. Tell the reader why he/she should read the letter. Then proceed with your supporting points and conclusion, writing freely. Don’t worry too much about grammer or wording.
4. Edit. It’s much easier to edit a business letter you’ve already written than to edit as you write. This is the time to work on your word choices, style, and grammar. Some helpful resources:
- Dictionary.com is an excellent online resource for spelling, defininitions, and synonyms, despite the annoying pop-up ads.
- The Associated Press Stylebook has useful guidelines for punctuation, usage, and business terminology. (It’s a must for press releases, by the way.)
- For usage and sentence construction, I came across a great book recently–A Grammar Book for You and I, by C. Edward Good. It’s easy to read, with everyday examples that make sense. Of the twenty-plus grammar books I’ve read, I’d say this is the best.
As a general editing rule, when in doubt, leave it out. Shorter is better.
5. Break up the text. In most cases, readers skim or ignore long paragraphs in business letters–reading them is too much work, so use bullet points to break them up.
6. Use a sounding board. Find a trusted someone who can read your letter and give you helpful feedback. Sounding boards are invaluable: a good one will be brutally honest, thoughtful, and of course, a decent writer. You should cultivate more than one sounding board, because depending on the letter, you may need options. For example, if you’ve written a letter introducing a complicated new software package to a non-technical client, you don’t want one of the software developers to evaluate it. Better to find someone who, like the ultimate reader, is unfamiliar with the product and can tell you whether the content makes sense.
7. Get help. I’ve done a number of letter-writing workshops for sales personnel, and they are always well received. Most sales people dislike writing and freely admit they need training. And it does help. Sometimes it makes sense to hire a professional to write certain types of business letters and proposals, especially when it eliminates hours of work for high priced sales talent.
Of course, there’s much more to writing a good business letter. Different techniques come into play depending on the purpose of the letter, but these 7 work effective across-the-board. Hope it helps. Any other tips? I’d love to hear them!