Learn how to put feelings concerns and needs into effective words

In an informal, direct style, this serie of posts will show you how to compose a letter that communicates rather than merely informs. You will learn how to put your feelings, concerns, and needs into clear, effective words whether writing to friends, elected officials, businesses, or others. Model letters provide examples that you can adapt to your own circumstances. We will focus on how to start a letter, organize it, and produce it in final form.

It is easier than you think

How many times have you wanted to write a letter but failed to do so because you didn’t know what to say or whom to address? Practical letter writing is not only a social skill; it’s a way of keeping the lines of communication between you and others in good working order. And it’s an effective way to stand up for your rights when dealing with companies, service people, politicians, or others.

Even if English was your worst subject in school, you can learn to write clear, concise, effective letters. You would be amazed at the results you can achieve with a well-written message, whether to friends and family, colleagues, companies, politicians, or governments.

Writing techniques

These simple three-step can help you create reader-based letters that communicate effectively.

1. Prewriting

This step involves answering the four key questions of letter writing: What is my purpose? Who is my audience? What should the letter cover? What action or response do I want? Gather any pertinent information you may need to write your letter.

2. Writing 

This step you write your rough copy all the way through to the end. Remember, your first draft is a working draft. Don’t worry about phrasing, grammar, spelling, or organization at this point. Just write until you have a complete letter.

3. Revising

Read over your rough draft and organize your letter so that it flows logically from point to point. Check for grammar and spelling mistakes; double-check the accuracy of dates, facts, names, and figures; eliminate unnecessary words and irrelevant ideas; and proofread your final copy.

Needs and characteristics

Take time to consider the needs and characteristics of your readers before you start writing. Ask yourself the following questions.

1. Who is the intended recipient of my letter? 

Have someone clearly in mind before you begin writing. Direct your letter to that person. The more accurately you can visualize your reader the more precisely you can tailor your message to get the results you want.

2. What is the recipient’s position and authority? 

For example, if you want to complain about a product, does the person you are writing have the authority to act? If not, can you find out who does in the company? Or, if you are writing family members to help organize a reunion, who is likely to have the best organizing skills? Who would be more comfortable with a supporting role?

3. Do you need to acknowledge the recipient’s age, gender, nationality, or other personal characteristics? 

In some instances, it may be appropriate to take into consideration your reader’s personal characteristics when writing a letter. Acknowledging personal characteristics can be as simple as realizing that the deteriorating eyesight of an aging parent or relative makes it harder for him or her to read letters.
Attention to such details can make your letters more effectiveand more appreciated.

4. How much or how little does the recipient know about the subject of your letter? 

What is the recipient’s level of knowledge or skill regarding the subject? You want to avoid the twin traps of talking over the person’s head or talking down to him or her.

Your letter home explaining your job as a systems analyst, for example, should contain clear, nontechnical descriptions of the equipment and tools you use unless you come from a family of systems analysts. On the other hand, a letter describing your job to a friend who is also an analyst can be written on a more technical level.

Strike the Right Tone

Tone is one way you adapt your letters to different occasions and different readers. Tone refers to the emotional content of your letters. You can use a formal or informal, negative, positive, argumentative, or humorous tone. Each tone has its uses, although the negative and argumentative ones must be handled with sensitivity and care.
For instance, an informal tone is appropriate if you are inviting friends to a casual dinner, but a black-tie occasion requires a more formal tone.

1. Informal

Dear Robert and Jane, Jerry and I are throwing a party Friday, May 13, to celebrate the Wildcats’ regional conference victory. After 25 years we’re in the playoffs! We would love to see the two of you therejust bring yourselves and your favorite Wildcat story. Dinner will be around 7:00. Come early and stay late!

2. Formal

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Jordan, The Chancellor of the University is pleased to invite you and a guest to the annual University Alumni Dinner on Friday, May 13, 7:00 P.M., at Fisk Hall, 730 N. Windmeir Blvd. We have a special reason to celebrate this year as our football team has made the playoffs for the first time in 25 years. Please respond by May 6 if you plan to attend. We look forward to the pleasure of your company.

These steps can help you get started and keep writing until you have a finished letter. Using these techniques you should never again find yourself at a loss when you need to put your thoughts in writing.