Saturday, June 25, 2011

Letter Writing - How to draft a Letter

Drafting a letter

Whether you are writing a letter of invitation to a friend or a letter of complaint to your Member of Parliament, it is important to start with a rough draft of what you want to say. This will make
for a more concise and effective end result. For some of us letter writing comes easily, but although words may flow when writing to a friend, stating a case or making a forceful complaint needs careful thought and exact expression.

First work out precisely what you want to say, the points you need to make, and the most telling way of putting them across.Always remember that it is vital to have these points clear in your mind before you even begin the rough drafting. A mind churning with words and phrases, but without any firm ideas to harness them to, will get you nowhere.

When preparing to write a letter, decide what the main point is. This should come first, followed by the ‘evidence’, or similar m aterial, and then a brief conclusion. If you think the result sounds
too abrupt and clinical, remember that a good letter writer could well follow the advice given to a public speaker: ‘Stand up, speak up. And shut up.’ In other words, say what is essential, but no more.

Making a rough draft will also enable you to weed out from your letter certain phrases that are natural and acceptable when spoken but which can be damaging if they appear in a formal letter.When you read over your draft before writing or typing the final version, make sure you remove those phrases.

Be careful about phrases like ‘OK’, ‘haven’t a clue’, ‘couldn’t care less’ and ‘puts you off’. Cut out all the slang expressions and colloquialisms, which you might normally use in casual conversation. They can make easy reading in a newspaper or magazine article, where they are quite appropriate, but are out of place in a formal letter. Furthermore, they are a sign of the inexperienced letter-writer, and that is not the impression you want to create.

You must also avoid phrases that go to the other extreme and which are left over from a business age that is long dead.

You should not write of ‘your letter of the 10th inst.’, but ‘your letter dated the 10th of this month’. One should not ‘beg for the favour of an early reply’, but ask ‘for a reply as soon as possible’.‘I am desirous of’ is only a more pompous way of saying ‘I wish to’. Avoid saying ‘This is OK by us’, but also avoid saying that you ‘find the aforementioned entirely in accordance with our views’. It will be better if you just say ‘I approve of your idea’. People ‘die’ rather than ‘pass away’, and it is better to say that you ‘do not think’ rather than that you ‘are not of the opinion’. Another horror is ‘re’ when what you really mean is ‘about’.

There are also some words, which are quite suitable in one context and utterly unsuitable in another. For instance, it is correct to write of ‘per cent’ or ‘per capita’, but wrong to write as per my letter’ when what you really mean is ‘as I said in my letter’. The rule should always be to use short, simple phrases which are quite clear, rather than those which are complicated and ambiguous.

These are examples of the stilted English which try to give an air of importance to a simple statement and should be avoided at all costs. The rule of thumb is to use the plain, straightforward expression, the precise word in an economical sentence, so ask your self whether you have said what you wanted to say exactly and simply.You can get a lot of help in this very essential process from ‘A Dictionary of Modern English Usage’ by H.W. Fowler,
published by the Oxford University Press.

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