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    Even Experienced Writers Use Help

    Wednesday, July 22, 2009

    Last weekend, one of my daughters asked for advice about writing a letter. She is leaving soon for a year in Germany, under the Fulbright Program, to assist in teaching English to high school students there, and she needed to ask people here to contribute items, photos, and personal stories to communicate what life is like in the U.S.A. She also needed to request help funding her first month over there, until the Fulbright stipend payments begin to arrive. Although she has written thousands of words of literary criticism for her degree, she wasn't sure how to frame this sort of a letter.

    I said, "This sounds like a job for the AIDA format," and opened my copy of Business and Sales Correspondence to show her the example on page 44. AIDA organization is great for persuasive messages. It opens by getting the reader's Attention, then communicates ideas of Interest and Desire, before closing with a request for specific Action. Here's the body of the example letter from the book (addressed to Ms. Judy Niles of Brewster's Brew Coffee Shop in Davistown, Pennsylvania):


    Dear Ms. Niles:


    When folks want delicious coffee and scones, they think of Brewster's Brew. When they want great live music, they could also think of Brewster's. Read on.

    and Desire

    The Daviston Arts Council is launching Music Alive - a network of local restaurants that feature live performances. The musicians include singer-songwriters, classical guitarists, hammer-dulcimer players, a recorder quartet, and even a harpist. Your business would be a perfect venue for these performers.


    Enroll in Music Alive today. Simply fill out the enclosed form, indicating your music-style preferences and the times you could host performers. We look forward to having you in Music Alive!


    Yours truly,

    Patrick Edstrom
    President, DAC

    With that example at hand, my daughter drafted her letter, feeling much more confident about the task. When she finished, I read her draft and said, "Okay, the organization and content are great. But in places the tone still seems a bit formal for the people you want to reach." So I pointed her to "Use Appropriate Formality" on page 88 of the book. Of "Formal," "Moderate," or "Informal," she decided a moderate tone was most appropriate.

    After a quick revision, she had a clear persuasive letter in hand, and the process had been relatively painless. I said, "Frankly, every time I have to draft a business letter myself, I open Business and Sales Correspondence and find an example to guide my writing. No reason to reinvent the wheel." She agreed and asked for a copy to take to Germany, as part of the writing materials she plans to use with students there.

    What is your own experience like when it comes to writing business letters? Are you sometimes uncertain how to get started? Do you wonder about tone? Do you ever doubt whether your readers will understand the content?

    If you answered "Yes" to any of those questions, I know a great little book that can make your letter writing much easier and more effective.

    (By the way, I used AIDA format as a guide in writing this blog entry.)

    - Lester Smith