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How to find more clarity in your letter writing


Introduction

Business letter writing is different from other types of writing. In business writing, the voice should be professional and the point succinctly stated. Clarity is probably the most important goal when writing a business letter. You want your reader to understand exactly what it is that you are saying and want this understanding to come as easily as possible. Fortunately, just a few simple steps will help you add clarity to your business letters.


Instructions

Difficulty: Medium

Steps

Step 1: Buy a book. There is a little book on writing that your really should buy. This book is The Elements of Style and it is by William Strunk, Jr. The reason this book is so important is that it is an easy to read little pamphlet that packs all of the business English classes you ever took (if you ever took any) into just 50 easy to read pages. Just looking through this book will remind you of how easy it is to write with clarity.

Step 2: Minimize your use of the passive voice. Using the passive voice in your sentences reduces clarity because it leaves questions in the reader's mind. For example, if you write a letter and state that "It has been reported that." the person will be left wonder who did the reporting. A better and clearer way to write the sentence is, "Our R&D department reported that." this does not leave the reader asking questions.

One reason that people often use the passive voice when writing letters is shyness about using the pronoun "I" in writing. The use of "I" is appropriate, so is the use of "we" if you are speaking for the company. It is clearer to say, "I have enjoyed working with you" than to say, "Working with you has been enjoyed".

Minimizing the use of the passive voice is easy if you are using a word processing program. Just click on Tools and Spelling and Grammar if you are using Word and the program will mark all sentences that use the passive voice. (Notice I didn't say, "All sentences that use the passive voice will be marked).

Step 3: Minimize negations. The way the mind works, it is harder to read a negated sentence than to read a sentence that is positively framed. Phrases with double negatives are particularly hard to parse. For example, "it has not been uneventful" is much more difficult to understand than, "it has been eventful". Be careful when using any negative operators but especially "not". Instead of not honest, try using dishonest. Instead of not open, try using closed. It is much more clear when you frame your phrases positively and it will help your reader to easily understand what you are saying.

Step 4: Be specific. Business writing should be clear and concise. You state your case, even in a letter, and then you let the reader get on with his or her day. Get rid of superfluous preambles to your sentences. Notice I didn't say, "It is a good idea, when writing, to try and get rid of superfluous preambles to your sentences". When you are writing a business letter, you want to get right to the point. However, you should be careful not to le your letter become a series of short, choppy sentences. Read your letter before sending it, aloud if necessary, and get an idea for how the letter will sound to the reader. You should be able to imagine your letter as a message on an answering machine rather than a telegraph message.

Step 5: Do a grammar check. Run a grammar check on your letter before you send it out. It doesn't take long and it will pick up a lot of the mistakes that reduce clarity in business letters.

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