(first published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer)
by Myrna R. Co
In this age of quick word processing, on-screen editing, and automatic grammar and spell checks, some things have not changed. We still have to compose our letters and reports — word after word, sentence after sentence. We still have to go through the often tedious process of planning, organizing, writing and rewriting.
If you are among those whose hands get all wet and clammy with pen and paper, chances are you’d still fidget in front of a computer screen. The blinking cursor will not hypnotize the words out of your nervous mind. No icon can be clicked to make heads and tails of your cluttered material. And Bill Gates is not about to invent a software that will bust a writer’s block.
The trouble with writing
Some people will do anything — well almost anything short of undergoing lobotomy — to squirm out of a writing assignment. Here are common complaints about writing:
“Writing is a drag. It keeps me desk-bound.”
“Writing is tedious and time-consuming.”
“Who cares to write? Nobody reads the final product anyway.”
“I simply can’t write. I’m not a born writer.”
The trouble with the last remark is that it presupposes that writing is an art. It is or can be, but not always. Not all of us can write like Steinbeck, Austen, Jessica Zafra or Nick Joaquin. But the kind of writing business requires less art than craft
Writing as a craft
Dr. Paz H. Diaz of SERDEF, who conducts business writeshops, underscores the importance of improving one’s writing ability in the workplace.
When a businessman writes a letter, he represents himself and his company. He also reflects the company’s personality through his own. A small firm’s efficiency and competence may be judged by the manager’s letters to a greater degree than he realizes. In many instances, the people who help decide the firm’s future — customers, supplies, importers, agents — may seldom or never meet him; their impression of him and his work must therefore depend largely on the quality of what he writes.
Letters are doubly important to the exporter or would-be exporter. Letters can launch him into export and expand his business.
Do’s of letter writing
Whether you use e-mail or fax or snail mail, pen and paper, typewriter or a computer, the following pointers will be useful.
- Be yourself. Too many of us regard letter writing as some kind of formula. We keep a stock of words and expressions which we keep in our letter-writing inventory to be drawn out on appropriate occasions. Why don’t we let our true selves loose and use phrases and words that come naturally — words that form part of our daily vocabulary? After all, when we write to someone, we talk to him on paper.
- Plan your letters. If you want to write a good letter, you can do it, but you must plan what you want to say and determine how you want to say it before you begin.
- Write for your reader. Let your reader feel important. Put him first, whenever possible. Your opening sentence must grab his attention and hold it. You must sound friendly and interested in your reader’s problems.
Avoid the cold and formal: This will acknowledge receipt of your letter dated March 12 in which you requested for a demonstration of our Product Model No. 28. In reply, I should like to inform you that …
Instead, you can try to be more upbeat: Our promotional team is due in your area next week and should be in your area next week. What do you think if we called on you by Wednesday, the 12th for the demonstration you asked for?
Other good ways to open:
Make a request. Please send me more information on …
Say what have you have done: I have asked our branch in Baguio City to get in touch with you.”
Dive in: The criticism you raised in your letter of last week is not merited.
Ask a question: Is there a way we could better serve your needs?
Show appreciation: We are very glad to do business with you.”
Throughout your letter, keep an eye on the reader. Not We are enclosing but You will find. Not I’d like to point out that … but You’ll be interested to hear that …
If the first sentence motivates a person to go on reading the last sentence of your letter makes a lasting impression. Bad form: Thanking you in advance. Also bad: Hoping this does not inconvenience you too much. Much better: Thanks, we are very glad to have this new business. When we can help, please tell us.
Pay attention to instructions. These belong in the last sentence. Call me for an appointment. Are the instructions complicated? Explain them fully in the body of the letter and repeat the main idea in the closing. Check the figures and deliver them to me tomorrow. What, and when, simply and directly states.
If no action is sought, end on an upbeat personal note. If you are in town next week, drop in to say hello. During the holiday season, include a greeting.
Martin, Finley and Ward in “Effective Communication on the Job” give some don’ts in business writing.
(To be concluded)