How To Write It

How To Write It

Think about content

  • Make it a practice to tell people when they are doing a good job. It does wonders for goodwill and usually improves work quality.
  • In addition to following the instructions for the type of letter being written, make sure your letter is clear and to the point.
  • Introduce the subject of the letter; state it clearly and concisely.
  • Offer the explanation, backing it up with facts.
  • Be sure you have all the information you need. Do more research if in doubt.
  • Do the necessary research to make sure you have all the background facts and information.
  • Have your reader firmly in mind, and select the most appropriate language. Keep it conversational yet businesslike and easy to understand.
  • Use the subject line to tell the reader the specific topic of your writing.
  • Start by asking yourself, "What does my reader need to know, precisely, about the subject and put this into a purpose statement in a single, explicit sentence. This can be your subject line.
  • Begin with the most important information, usually the conclusion and a recommendation, for most routine problems. This approach saves your reader time. It offers the important information right up front. Write this down in outline form. For example, if you believe your copy machine should be replaced, you would start with this subject line: "Recommend replacing copy machine."
  • Write your response in a timely manner after your initial emotions have cooled and you are able to be objective.
  • Open on a positive note: “Jim I’m sure we both want to resolve this problem…”
  • State your points of agreement.
  • Conclude with a goodwill statement that includes your wish to have a good relationship in the future: “I’m sure that by putting our two reasonable heads together, we can come to a negotiated solution that will allow us to pursue our usual mutually beneficial relationship in the future”.
  • Approach the process with openness and a willingness to compromise.

Eliminate wrong messages

  • Don't write negative messages if you can avoid it. Almost anything you have to say can be said in a positive statement. If you are angry, process your anger privately, not in a letter that will become part of your employee record.
  • Don't use a written message to avoid a verbal exchange. The written employee message, for example, should usually be used to document what has been said in a face-to-face meeting.
  • Don't communicate personnel matters through email exchange unless you have an established organizational policy to do so, and a secure computer system.
  • Don't be ambiguous or vague: be direct, specific and concrete.
  • Don't use an autocratic tone (for example: I demand, you must, it has been decided and so on). It is unacceptable in most organizations today.
  • Avoid negative, accusatory, demanding, or harsh words and phrases.
  • Do not use sensational claims. Stick to examples within the reader's scope of experience. Change, eliminate everything that isn't carefully focused. Eliminate stilted prose and jargon. Never mention people or examples without considering the effect on your reader.

Consider special situations

  • Measure the words you’ve used; don’t go to extremes. “Never” and “always” aren’t good choices.
  • Don’t generalize. Be sure to document what you’ve written.
  • If you state a problem, offer a solution, or at least alternatives and/or a plan for further action.

Edit, edit, edit

  • Cut out unnecessary words, and arrange paragraphs so the reader may easily understand the message. Even with difficult communications, end on as positive a note as possible.
  • Use power words: action, attached, guidelines, instructions, order, progress, renew, revise, analysis, conclude, information, list, outlines, proposal, report, start, announce, confirm, initiate, meet, policy, propose, reverse, status, assign, deadlines, input, notice, procedure, reminder, review, summary.
  • Use carefully chosen words: accept, concession, gain, solution, agree, consider, offer, substitute, alternative, equal, reasonable, suggest, compromise, fair, satisfy, value.

Source: Lamb, Sandra E., 2011, How to Write It, Third Edition: A Complete Guide to Everything You'll Ever Write, Ten Speed Press, New York

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