Letter Writing:
The 7 Deadly Sins...

Through my various websites and my editing service, over the years I have received scores of letters (as well as other types of documents) that people have drafted but want me to review, revise, and finalize for them.

Over time, I have noticed that there are a number of common errors that many people make when drafting letters in particular. So, based on those observations I have put together a list of what I call "The 7 Deadly Sins of Letter Writing". Keep on reading to find out what they are…

In case you're wondering about my use of the term "deadly", in my view, that term is entirely appropriate here! After all, it just takes one sloppy and/or unprofessional letter to cause serious damage to your personal credibility or that of your business.

So, here are what I have observed to be "The 7 Deadly Sins of Letter Writing":
  1. Too Long
    Most people have a tendency to draft their letters too long. Letters involving business (personal or corporate) should be concise, factual and focused and should not normally exceed one typical single-spaced page of 350 to 450 words. If you can't get your point across in 4 to 5 short paragraphs you probably haven't done enough preparatory work prior to drafting the letter. If necessary, phone or e-mail the recipient to clarify any fuzzy points and use the letter to summarize the overall situation.

  2. Weak Opening
    Many letters I receive launch straight into the details of the subject without setting things up to provide a clear context. The introductory paragraph of your letter should be one or two short sentences that state the specific reason for the letter and specify what the primary focus will be.

  3. Lack of Focus
    Many letters I receive for editing are all over the place, in terms of subject. In other words, it is often not at all obvious to me what the main point or the desired outcome of the letter is. Prior to drafting the letter you should decide on a number of specific points that you want to focus on and what the bottom line of your letter needs to be. Ask yourself what exactly you want the letter to achieve in terms of an action or a response from the addressee.

  4. Too Confusing
    People often jump straight into their letter without first organizing their thoughts in some sort of logical order. Even if you have a clear idea of the points you want to cover, it is important that when you present them, one point should flow naturally and logically into the next. It is always worth the few minutes it takes to jot down the logical sequence of your letter in sequential point form before starting to write the letter. This practice will invariably result in an improved final product.

  5. Poorly Formatted
    If your letter isn't properly formatted, in terms of layout, it will look unprofessional which will diminish its credibility and thus its impact. Once you have your words finalized, make sure you clean up the format of the letter in terms of margins, paragraph breaks, address blocks, signature blocks, etc., before sending it. A very common error that I see these days is when people add their own extra space after a period at the end of a sentence. This is NOT necessary since word processing programs automatically insert some extra space at the end of each sentence. This practice is a carryover from the days of the typewriter (Anyone remember those?) and is no longer necessary.

  6. Weak Closing
    Frequently I see closing paragraphs that don't clearly sum up what went before and what is supposed to happen next. Similar to the opening paragraph, the closing paragraph should also be short, comprised of one or two sentences. One sentence should briefly summarize the overall conclusion that can be drawn from the points presented in the letter; a second sentence should clearly state what you will do next and/or what you expect from the addressee as a result of them receiving the letter. Depending on the situation, the final sentence can also provide contact info such as phone number and/or e-mail address.

  7. Too Many Errors
    You would be amazed at the number of spelling and/or obvious grammatical errors I see in the letters submitted to me. That's fine if you are asking a professional to edit your letter. However I have the impression that many people send their letters out riddled with these types of errors. Sending your letter in such a condition is a serious credibility destroyer and will definitely hurt your reputation as a professional in the eyes of any knowledgeable recipient. Make sure you use the spell checker feature of your word processing program and if you aren't sure of your grammar get a professional to edit your letter before it goes out.
As I said above, I see these kinds of errors on a regular basis. In addition to getting professional help if you need it, I recommend that after you have drafted your letter you read it out loud to yourself. I find that if something doesn't sound right when I read it aloud it's usually something that needs to be corrected.

For more tips and info on letter writing, including some real life templates, check out this link:
Letter Writing Resources

(C) Shaun Fawcett is Webmaster of two of the most visited writing-help websites on the Net and the author of numerous "how-to" books on everyday practical writing for home, business and education. All of his letter writing products come with real-life templates that users can download and use instantly in their word processor. His writing help toolkits can be accessed at the following link:

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