How to manage business letter paragraph length

The importance of keeping it short

Modern business is all about go, go, go. Every time there is an economic downturn, heads are cut. When things get better, those heads are not always replaced. That means we all end up becoming increasing more time constrained.

Communication is sent through a multitude of media and it isn’t just the guy who yells the loudest that gets read. It’s the guy who used the fewer words. Chances are, if it takes a long time to read, it will take a long time to action. That means, it will likely get shelved until some time becomes available, and that could be… never.


Step 1

Cut to the chase

Sure it is important to have a good hook. Something that grabs their attention and gets them to focus on what you need to get across to them. But what they really need to know is what you want from them.

Good communication is a three-parter. One: Tell them what you’ll tell them. Two: Tell them. Three: Tell them what you told them. But, leave that for when you are talking to them in a presentation format. When it comes to business communication, just tell them.

Step 2

Who, why, what

There are really only three things a reader needs to know in reading what you wrote:

  1. Who are you to ask anything of me, in the first place?
  2. Why should I do what you are asking (what’s in it for me)?
  3. What is the ask or deliverable that you are looking to get out of my reading this?

These questions need to be answered in as few words as possible. Anything else can be either left out completely or reserved for a follow-up communication.

Step 3

If in doubt, do without

This is the best piece of advice anybody will ever give you. If you aren’t sure if you should say it or if you are struggling with a particular thing to say, just skip it. Chances are, the paragraph will read better without it anyway.

Things Needed
• A clear idea of what you are trying to say
• An understanding of who will be reading it
• A spell checker
• A proof reader, even if it is you
• Time. The less words you need to use, the longer it will take you to write them.

Tips & Warnings
• Business people are busy people. No matter how important your message is, respect their need to get it quickly and directly.
• Always take the time to find out the reader’s preferred method of communication. Not only is it important to know if they want an email or a fax, it is important to know if they want to get it through an admin assistant instead of getting it right in their in-box.


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