8 Tips on How to Write Compelling Letters

8 Tips on How to Write Compelling Letters
Applying for a job? Drafting a resignation letter?  Want to ask for a raise? There are many reasons why we write letters; but the top 2 reasons are either because we want to express ourselves, or we want to get something. Whether you are applying for a citizenship, trying to get a raise, wanting to get an extension or a discount, whatever the reason is, you obviously want an outcome that is favorable for you. So how do you compose winning letters and make them compelling? Read on below for some tips:

1. Keep it short

You are not writing a novel or an eBook, so keep it short and sweet. I always go by what our English teacher drilled in us: write using an ‘economy of words with an army of thought’. Cut out the fluff and keep only what’s necessary. Imagine that you don’t have a lot of ‘airtime’ with this person you are writing to, so you need to ‘get down to brass tacks’ right away.

2. Make it personal

Imagine that the person who will read this letter is right in front of you and you have a few minutes to convince them to agree with you. Use words that you would use as if you were talking to them face to face.  Don’t use highfalutin words or archaic language that can alienate people. Resist using ‘business lingo,’ as that can put off your reader if they are not familiar with that. Stick to using simple words; if they have to get a dictionary to understand your letter, then you’ve lost them.If you are sending your letter to dozens or hundreds of people, make sure to personalize each letter. Make sure you address the person you’re writing to correctly. Avoid the outdated and obsolete “To whom it may concern” greeting.  

3. Get the facts straight

When mentioning details in your letter, such as statistics or scientific facts, it is worth checking to see if you have the latest and most up-to-date numbers and facts. It is embarrassing to send letters with outdated statistics. Stay current and make sure all facts are correct.

4. Add supporting statements

It’s just like trying to convince someone in person; you should be prepared to add statements that support your case. Saying “I’m the best person for this job” is insufficient. After writing down this sentence, tell them why. 

5. Mention sources

It is good manners to cite your sources, and your letter will look even more credible when you mention sources whenever applicable.You never know when the recipient might check and verify, so be sure to mention where you based your statements or facts from.

6. Keep it positiveletters

The tone of your letter should always be respectful and polite, no matter the subject matter and issue you’re trying to write about. Resist blaming a person or handing out threats just to get your way. Instead of using four-letter words, you can always say:“I was not happy with what happened last weekend when…” instead of writing “You good for nothing morons are the scum of the earth…”; and it is more productive to say “I would like a decision regarding this matter and I would appreciate a speedy resolution” rather than using counterproductive, threatening words such as: “You’d better do this or else…” Never write when you’re angry. Calm yourself down first and then proceed to writing.

7. Enlist help

After spending a fair amount of time composing your letter, put it down or walk away from your computer and re-read it after a few hours. Chances are, spending time away from it  will help you gain a fresh outlook and you might end up editing or rewriting some parts that you are now seeing in a new light. Before submitting or sending the letter out, get a second opinion.Two heads are better than one as they say, and another person might be able to point out certain things that you may have overlooked in a letter. Sometimes we are too vested in what we want,our emotions get the best of us. Having another person who can read it objectively will be beneficial; be open and accept any constructive criticism. And if the letter is for legal matters, it is best to get an expert’s advice, such as from a lawyer who specializes in your case.

8. Write from the heart

I have written many letters in my life, and I have found that the letters that got me favorable responses are the ones where I was writing from the heart. Readers can tell if you’re genuine and sincere. Although the world is governed by rules and policies, decision makers are willing and will bend those rules if they feel it is for a worthwhile cause. People will make an exception to your case if they think that doing so would be meaningful and valuable.The only time when your letter will prompt action is when the reader is affected by it. Now, think about that before you write a single word.

There is no such thing as right or wrong letters, only effective letters that get you favorable responses or lousy letters that end up in the bin. I hope these simple tips were helpful to you.

About the author

Mae Davies

BA, MA Psychology (and Conflict Resolution), University of Cambridge (2007). With a decade of trial and error in psychology and 33 years of navigating my own complex (that's one word for it!) relationships with family, friends, co-workers and men, I hope I have some useful knowledge and skills to share with my readers about making sense of relationships and trying to become a better person every day.