Among the many business correspondences that I have encountered, only a few, if none at all, were well-written. Based on the many business letters I have edited, I have seen the most common mistakes that business writers keep on doing.
Though uncomfortable to label myself being an expert on business writing, after seeing many business letter failures, I pat my back for being a better business writer compared to the other professionals. Truly, friends and colleagues come to me to have their business letters checked for grammar, tone and sense. And often times, how I wanted to rewrite the whole thing, I would rather keep a few phrases untouched, or the original thoughts retained in order to reflect the genuine character of the writer.
The following are the most common mistakes that many a business writer keeps on making.
- They “go around the bush” rather than being direct to the point. Often times, they have written a long roundabout paragraph that they have forgotten their true intention of writing the letter.
- They like to be legally prose by using words such as hereby, hereto, herewith, hereunder, thereunder, aforementioned, and other obsolete useless formal words. They feel intelligent by using these words.
- They begin with a story hoping to capture the reader’s emotions, especially when they want something from the reader as in a sales letter.
- The thoughts are not organized, leaving the reader to ask, “So, what are you saying?”
- The letter is lengthy, sometimes, it consumes two pages. Worse, they use a small font size to fit the whole letter in one page.
- They use highfalutin words thinking they can impress their readers more.
- For non-English speakers, it is an excuse to see some or even a lot of grammatical errors. In the Philippines, where English is a second language, a few errors is also an excuse; unless, the writer is a professional, then wrong grammar is no excuse. What’s the use of studying English for 12 years?
To my surprise, I have also seen business letters written by native English speakers who have committed the same mistakes. Hmm?
So, how do you write an effective business letter?
The Three By Three Principle
If you can convey your message in one word, why not? Just do it. In billboard principle, you limit your content to just one element — an image. If that image alone can express a message, then, you’re on the right track. If you can translate that image into ONE word, then your image is perfect. The other elements are just extra. If an image is not enough, support it with a word or a short phrase. If you think, a word would be more effective than an image, then by all means, use that word.
Therefore, in writing a business letter, if you can express your message in ONE word, do it. That’s the basic idea, but practically, it means writing it in a few words. Keep your letter as simple as possible. The fewer the words, the better.
To keep you guided, observe the 3×3 principle.
The three-by-three principle means writing your letter in 3 paragraphs wherein each paragraph contains only 3 sentences, at most. Your challenge is that, in 9 sentences or fewer but not more than 12, you must be able to express and convey your message to the reader without sacrificing the required elements of a business letter.
Why 9 lines or 9 sentences only? Because your reader must be able to read the body of your letter in 10 seconds or less. Business people do not like wasting their time. If you write a long letter, it might just end up in the trash or buried deep in his inbox. Besides, with too much information that he has to digest, most likely, he won’t remember anything. If your lucky, he will just skim your letter very quickly and just look for your main purpose.
Let’s now apply the 3×3 principle.
Subject line. The subject line summarizes your letter in a short phrase. If you can do it in one word, good for you. Use the subject line to catch your reader’s attention to continue reading; or, inform him what your letter is all about. Your subject line should occupy only one line.
Eyeing For The Creative Writing Position
Job Target: Creative Writer
First paragraph. The first paragraph states your purpose of writing the letter. No alibis. State your intention immediately. A person will most likely remember the very first information that enters his mind. That is why you have to state your purpose in the first paragraph.
I am applying for the position of a creative writer. This is in response to your advertisement in the Newspaper Today, 29 July 2015.
Second paragraph. The second paragraph contains information that support the first paragraph.
For six years now, I have been writing articles to a number of websites, aside from my own blog. As a ghost writer, I have written an academic book about web development. I believe creative writing is my innate skill, backed by English studies in school and a couple of English certificate studies.
Third paragraph. The third paragraph contains your courtesy line. It ends with a call-to-action sentence.
Enclosed is my resumé, which I hope you find it fit to your exacting requirements. Should I come for an interview, please call me at 888-7777.
This site gives a technique on how to write effective business cover letters.
Elements of a Business Letter
This is just a review. You must have learned this in high school. A business letter comprises the following.
- Letterhead. Business name, complete office address, contact numbers, email, website. The letterhead may be on top, bottom, left or right margin of the page.
- Date of writing
- Inside address. Name of recipient, title, company name, complete office address. The title is written after the recipient’s name in the same line separated by a comma.
- Subject line. This is considered optional, but for me it is important because this is where you summarize your letter in a few words.
- Complimentary close
- Signature and writer’s identification
- If any, initials, enclosures, copies
For a brief explanation about the elements or parts of a business letter, read this article on Study English Today.
In A Nutshell
Tips on how to write an effective business letter
- KISS. Keep it short and simple. Limit your letter to 3 paragraphs. Use short sentences. As much as possible, express your thought in 3 sentences or less; not more than 4 for the middle paragraph. Abbreviations need not end with a period.
- Limit the inside address to 3 lines as well, but not more than four. Address your recipient properly. Write the name followed by his title in one line separated by a comma. For example, Mr Jack Aajford, CEO.
- Express the message of your letter in the subject line in a few words.
- State your purpose of writing in the first sentence of the first paragraph. Be direct to the point.
- Make sure that your middle paragraph tells something about your first paragraph.
- Do not use highfalutin and obsolete words. They are not necessary. If you can express it in a simple word, why use one that your reader would not understand. Remember that your reader must be able to get your message. Do not use words commonly used in legal documents.
- You cannot put everything in a letter. To give details about your business, enclose a brochure instead. If you are writing an application letter, enclose your resumé.
- Do not repeat in the third paragraph what’s in the letterhead such as your phone number, email, or web address. Write your phone number with a bigger font size but present it creatively. This is to make easier for your reader or client to look for your number.
- Make your letter look neat and not crowded. Use the right font size — 10pt, 11pt, or 12pt depending on the font type. Except for your business name and the phone number, your letterhead can use smaller font size.
- End courteously and don’t forget your call-to-action.