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Characteristics of Effective Letters 1

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CHARACTERISTICS OF EFFECTIVE LETTERS 1. Application of fundamental • principles.—The distinction between effective and ineffective letters has been stated and the fundamental point of view of the effective correspondent has been insisted upon. It is not enough, however, to advise a man to be effective, or to show him the standpoint from which his efforts must be judged. It is equally important to show wherein effectiveness consists. Some of the charac teristics of effective letters are so important that they should engage the attention of the reader. It may, perhaps, seem that some of the principles stated are merely the enunciation of homely truths of universal acceptance. Truths may find universal acceptance without general application. When well-known truths fall into disuse it is imperative that attention be forcibly directed to them. It is always the con scious application of fundamental principles to par ticular cases which makes for excellence, and it is the conscious use of such principles which raises the writ ing of letters in business from a waste in efficiency to an effective instrument in business affairs.

2. Interesting the reader.—Interest is indispens able. Unless the letter interests the reader he will not read it thru and its message is lost. But if the letter is only mildly interesting the reader will not give it his undivided attention as he reads. To make the letter interesting is a difficult requirement. It cannot be done unless we know what is interesting and what is not interesting to readers.

In case an inquiry comes in for a price on a certain product, tell him the price before you dwell on quality or service, especially if the product is standardized in quality. If his chief interest is satisfied first, lie may read on with interest what is said about service or quality. Furthermore, if the price is withheld until the end of the letter, the reader is likely to interpret what goes before as an apology for a high price.

These effects do not necessarily follow. It is im

possible to lay down hard-and-fast rules. In general, when the price is set forth boldly and without addi tional information apparently designed to impress the fact that it is a proper price, we are likely to feel that the writer believes his price to be low, and we will probably take him at his word—unless, of course, we are asking for a price on goods highly standardized in quality—a market value which is well known to us.

3. Selecting the chief interest.—It is always advis able to satisfy the reader's chief interest as soon as possible, and in many cases the important thing is to determine just what this interest is. A practical il lustration of this point is found in a letter which in formed the addressee that be must keep a set of books and pay for them because they were not returned until after the date on which he had agreed to send them back in case he should not wish to keep them. The concern allowed prospective purchasers a five-day pe riod for inspection. Many purchasers returned the books after this period had expired. In preparing a letter to meet this situation, the question came up as to whether it would be better to tell the addressee frankly in the very first paragraph that he would not be allowed to violate his contract, and then try to resell the books to him; or to try to resell the books, and then later in the letter inform him that he must abide by his contract.

It was agreed that lie ought first to be persuaded to keep the books, and this plan was adopted. But the letter was not successful. The policy was too much like apologizing to someone for bumping into him just before the bump is deliberately given. It was found that the other order of statements, used in a later letter, was much more effective; that is, to tell the reader first that he would not be allowed to break his contract ; and secondly, that he really ought not to do it, out of consideration for his own best interests.

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