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Copied: SEMA's Guide To Writing E-mails

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Copied: SEMA's Guide To Writing E-mails

Postby tammylynn » Fri Mar 07, 2008 10:28 am

Scott posted this in PR and I think this is good for anyone and everyone to see. Good guidelines for forum posts as well.

SEMA eNews, Vol. 10, No. 14 ? April 4, 2007


SEMA offers its members regular tips and tools to improve the way specialty-equipment companies conduct their business. Webinar presentations covering several business arenas?from sales tactics to building better websites?are available to download at Effective business writing, an area crucial to managing a business, could help improve your business operations, leading to future growth. A recent article published by the National Federation of Independent Businesses provides a brief tutorial on better business writing.

Your letters, memos, reports, e-mails and other documents are supposed to generate responses from your readers, helping you close sales, solidify contacts and set meetings. If these goals are not met, your productivity and professional recognition diminish. Below are 10 guidelines that will make people sit up and take notice when reading your correspondence.

Know your audience
A common writing mistake is focusing on your own interests instead of thinking about how they affect readers. Adjust your writing so that it reflects the recipients? perspective and you have a better chance of holding their attention. For example, workers in separate departments may have different concerns and levels of familiarity with an issue. Likewise, customers are likely to care about your problems if you?re explaining efforts to resolve their problems.

Use names
It is not always possible to do so, but using the recipient?s name shows that you care enough to direct your correspondence to a specific person, and that detail will hold their initial attention. Of course, make sure the names are spelled correctly in order to maintain the positive effect. The only time it is inadvisable to use the recipient?s name is in e-mail subject lines because your e-mail may be mistaken for spam.

When writing a salutation for a letter or e-mail, you need to know when to be formal and when a casual familiarity is acceptable. You can use the addressee?s first name if you?re writing to a peer that you have met before, but you should always use the courtesy title and surname (e.g., Mr. Doe) when writing to a senior executive or a foreign colleague until you are invited to use his or her given name.

Stay Focused
Crowding several issues haphazardly into one document or e-mail will confuse recipients. Each document should have an overall purpose, and all your points should relate to that purpose. On the other hand, if your points are varied but brief, your purpose could be bringing the recipient up-to-date with a comprehensive list, but you should state that objective up front.

Cut ?Word Clutter?
Some people mistake wordiness or jargon for sophistication. However this type of ?word clutter? makes language vague, slows the pace of reading and prevents people from quickly understanding a message. When you are straightforward and concise, you convey respect for the readers? time as well as confidence and professionalism.

Wordy phrases such as ?whether or not,? ?highly important? or ?in the final analysis? take up space without adding to your meaning, so substitute more concise terms such as ?whether? or ?critical,? or avoid them entirely. Also avoid overly technical terms unless you?re writing to a colleague in the same field of work.

State Your Purpose Up Front
If possible, write your opening in a way that will encourage recipients to read more. You can reference the reader?s previous correspondence or actions, but do not spend too much time going over information the reader already knows. You could also start off by stating your most important fact or citing the benefits or concerns as they relate to your audience.

Allow Readers to Skim
Since people are often busy or distracted, use subheads to help them navigate the points in your text. Paragraphs with a maximum of six lines are also easy for readers to easily scan for major points.

Vary Sentence Lengths
Using both long and short sentences in your paragraphs sets a lively pace. Your average sentence should be 14?16 words long, but you can occasionally opt for a maximum of about 22 words, as well as sentences containing only a few words or even one word.

Check Spelling and Grammar
Some words are commonly mistaken for each other because they sound the same, though they have different meanings (e.g., ?compliment? and ?complement?). Use a dictionary to ensure that you are using the proper word, and do not hesitate to check any unfamiliar words as well. Read your writing aloud, and have another person read it as well to catch any grammar mistakes.

Eliminate Sexist Language
Use gender-neutral terms and occupational titles (e.g., ?police officer? instead of ?policeman?) to avoid potentially alienating readers. Phrases like ?he or she? are awkward, especially if you use them repeatedly, so opt for plurals or rephrase sentences so that you use the gender-neutral nouns.

Call for Action
Many people neglect to say what they want the recipient to do. Whether it is scheduling a meeting, requesting more information or considering a specific course of action, be clear about the next step that you want the reader to take after reading your message.

Effective writers are seen as intelligent and organized, and these guidelines will help you gain the same reputation for yourself.

Source: ?Improve Your Business Writing,? The National Federation of Independent Businesses.
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