Checklist for Business Letters


Checklist for Business Letters

  1. Be sympathetic to the reader’s situation. Acknowledge their frustration and any previous queries they may have made. Don’t rush into the letter without first mentioning any correspondence they’ve sent you or conversations you’ve had in relation to this business matter. 
  2. Include a short, positive introduction when opening your letter. Try to strike the right now from the start.
  3. Use one idea for each paragraph. Don’t confuse the reader, or yourself, by mixing multiple ideas together. Prioritize the most important points. 
  4. Use headings to divide the letter into logical sections. This also makes it easier to scan. Most people read only the sections that interest them. Using headings to assist them in locating the relevant information. 
  5. Use white space to organize text. Avoid large, dense paragraphs. It’s very intimidating. No-one likes blocks of text. However, if used correctly, white space can emphasize the key sections in a document and give it more breathe. 
  6. Use bullet lists to identify key points. Use short sentences. Number items if action have to be performed in sequence. Avoid garish bullet points. Aim for a clean professional design.
  7. Use tables to represent data. Strive to balance the ‘text to images’ ratio. Provide labels for each table. Consider using alternating stripes to add some color to the document. 
  8. Avoid using condescending language or adopting a patronizing manner. This will only infuriate the reader even more. Avoid using phrases such as, “As I’m sure you’re aware…” or “As you must know…” Always try to put yourself in the reader’s shoes. 
  9. Help the reader understand YOUR position. For example, why your product may have malfunctioned or how they can help you understand their situation more clearly. 
  10. Show your appreciation for the reader’s time, especially if they have already written to you.
  11. Don’t refer to the reader as a ‘user’. It’s a horrible phrase. No-one wants to be called a user. In technical documentation, it may be acceptable but in business letters, avoid at all costs. Refer to them for what they are – a person. 
  12. Talk about the reader’s needs rather than your company’s products. Don’t harp on about your commitment to quality and so on. Get to the point. How can you fix their problem? How can you make their life better? Why should they ever buy your products again?
  13. Avoid the passive voice. Use the active voice. It will give your letter more direction and help avoid ambiguity. 
  14. Vary the length of your sentences without disturbing your writing style, ie the rhythm of the letter.
  15. Be succinct. Revise your letter and remove all extraneous information. A small word of warning, though. Don’t be too curt. It you perform too much surgery on your letter, you may inadvertently cut out its heart. Try to get a balance.
  16. Read the letter aloud. Improve the writing until it sounds natural and easy on the ear.
  17. Get another opinion! Ask a colleague to read your letter. Ask them the three things they dislike most about it. The third thing is usually what they really don’t like. The first two were the sugar-coating, but watch out for the third one… 
  18. Use positive language. The tone you adopt effects the reader’s response. Use positive words and phrases to stress the key points, while avoid a tendency to be over-zealous or excessively optimistic in your choice of words. 
  19. Cut out clichés. Review your document and remove all tacky, jaded phrases. Improve your writing by using more direct, clear communications. Clichés insult people and will not win you any favors with the reader. It smacks of laziness.
  20. Make yourself available for further assistance. Include your email address, office phone number, and extension if possible. Don’t hide behind voice-mail or the secretary. 
  21. Provide a Call to Action so the reader knows what to do next.

 

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