Marilynne Rudick and Leslie O’Flahavan’s article, “Business Writing: Turn Your Panic Into Profit,” at E-WRITE provides tips on writing targeted and persuasive business letters, business e-mail, proposals and memos.
First off, the authors recommend taking the reader’s point of view in planning the document, identifying questions the reader will want to ask. This provides the basis for the document’s content.
Rudick and O’Flahavan then suggest organizing your ideas and presenting them clearly and concisely using the BLUF principle: Bottom Line Up Front. This means placing the main message in the first paragraph of the document, preferably in the first sentence, to hook the reader and give him or her a reason to read on.
The writing language should be kept simple, the authors say, keeping sentences clear, direct and without jargon.
The document format should be easy on the eye and easy to read and navigate. This can be done by breaking up long text into short paragraphs, using appropriate headings for meaningful segments and providing white space. Visuals such as photographs, illustrations and charts can be used to support the message. If a company letterhead or logo is used, it should present a professional and pleasing image.
The authors emphasize that the writing tone should be professional and personal, using the active voice and pronouns such as I, we and you.
They also point out that spelling and grammar errors affect the writer’s credibility. A spell-checker is not foolproof, they warn, and recommend having a qualified person go over the document. More than anything else, double-check that the recipient’s name is spelled correctly.
For sales letters, Rudick and O’Flahavan suggest using the pronoun “you” and ending with a reiteration of the main message. Include information on how the reader can respond to the letter, how they can contact you or when and how you will contact them.
According to the authors, the P.S. is the most read part of a sales letter. Thus, they propose the addition of a handwritten postscript to personalize the letter.
With e-mail, the subject line should be informative, according to Rudick and O’Flahavan, telling the reader the nature of the message (e.g., a request, an announcement, etc.) and its gist.
If the content of the e-mail is long, the authors recommend beginning with a brief overview followed by short paragraphs. Vertical lists can also condense information. Use conventional capitalization, spelling and punctuation, and proofread before sending.
Finally, they advise that the e-mail should be sent only to those who need to know.
There is a tendency these days for business e-mail to be more casual than conventional business correspondence. We should be careful not to cross the thin line between the personal professional tone toward too much familiarity.