Learn how to trim words that don't contribute to your letter-writing goals, letting you create messages that are short, clear, and on point.
- You need to know your destination before planning a trip. So a strong understanding of why you're writing a business letter will guide and focus you through the entire process. This video helps you cut away unnecessary ideas, letting you create messages that are short, clear and on-point. Chances are you actually have two goals with your letter. First, you want your correspondent to do something right away, that's your short-term goal. Second, you want them to do it for a bigger purpose.
That's your long-term goal. I recommend putting your long-term goal as early as possible so the reader knows immediately why you're writing, and can put the rest of your letter in that context. Then make your short-term goal very clear, with instructions on how they can help you reach it. This is called an action item. Let's take a look at how this works by editing a sample letter. It's from someone who wants to get a job as a developmental editor at a company that makes energy products such as solar panels.
You'll find the letter in the course's exercise files if you have access to them. The first draft of this letter is correct in grammar and form, but it's not good because it doesn't help the writer reach his goals. So let's make it better. It starts off with a personal introduction that leaves the recipient wondering exactly why the writer is writing. It goes: Let me introduce myself. My name is Salman Voorbeeld. I currently work at JustTheSun Publishing, where I enjoy creating materials that inspire fantasy as well as thought.
My resume is attached. Now, from the writer's point of view, the purpose is obvious, to apply for a job. But the recipient might get hundreds of such emails a day about dozens of topics. Don't make the reader work to figure out why you're writing. Tell them right away, be explicit and leave in only the necessary parts. Here's an example. My name is Salman Voorbeeld, and I'm responding to your job listing for an experienced Developmental Editor. My resume is attached.
Now the part that we cut out could be capped or changed or deleted. For now, let's leave it as it is, although we'll move it to its own paragraph. Continuing on, the writer introduces a lot of ideas that are likely to confuse or bore the reader. They'll see such irrelevant terms as "true believers" and "parents" all mixed in there, and none of that actually helps the writer to reach his goals. So, out it goes. But there is one part that matters.
The writer says he won't be available for work until the 1st of August. Now, that's an important fact from the reader's point of view, so let's add it back in to that first paragraph. I'm responding to your job listing for an experienced Developmental Editor, ideally to start around August 1st. Now the letter is better, but it's still missing something very important. The writer never actually said what the reader should do next. There's no short-term goal. There's no action item. So let's add one in.
Please write back to set up a time to talk by phone. I look forward to hearing from you. Now if this is an email, then it's clear that the reader should just hit Reply to respond. But if it's a paper letter, I would also make sure that the address was in an obvious place, like right up at the top of the page. This letter could still stand to be improved, but at least the goals are there. There's the long-term goal and the short-term goal. And at this point you might be thinking wait a minute, there's nothing to that second letter. It's just too simple.
But it actually gives more useful information in fewer words, which is really what you want. And the writer can always add that stuff in about his history with solar power if he wants, but only after making his goals clear. The point is to emphasize your goals and what you want to happen next. If you stay focused on these things, you'll write letters that are easier to read and understand, leading to a better chance of positive responses.
- Defining your goals
- Conducting research
- Setting the tone
- Writing for accessibility
- Sending reminders
- Continuing the conversation