Business Writing For Dummies, 2nd Edition
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If you’re a solopreneur or partner in a small business, you may regularly need to write pitch letters or deliver cold-call messages. Typically, your goal is to bring you, or your product or service, to someone’s attention and ask for an in-person meeting.

Such letters are important for professional specialists of many kinds. Here’s an approach which is visualized via a specialized professional.

Sarah, a professional historian, knew that a county preservation office would soon need someone to organize an application to obtain landmark status for a local building. Aiming for an appointment to present herself, Sarah drafted a letter.

Try This: Imagine you’re the government official Sarah is addressing. How would you react to this letter? And how might you improve it?

Dear Mr. Johnson:

I had the pleasure of meeting you last July when I accompanied Jane Maxwell of the city preservation office and architect Roger Brown on a site visit to Marigold House. At that time, Jane and Jeremy were working on the city’s new Local Landmark designation for properties of historic and cultural importance outside the Big City Historic District. The Pritchard Building was officially approved by the City Council on November 28. Robert Brown was the consulting architect on that project, and I served as the consulting historian, preparing a historical title search and the land use, cultural, and biographical information necessary to establish the significance of the health center.

The nineteenth-century Marigold House has more than 300 years of stories to tell and a number of them are nearly unknown. For example, the eighteenth-century correspondence of Margaret Green and Eleanor March; Mary Jennings’ 1810 book of poetry, recently discovered; the autobiography of the slave Emelia, who escaped to the north on a boat in 1814. All of these and more contribute to your property’s historical and cultural significance.

I would like to research the title and history of Marigold House and prepare the significance portion of its application for Landmark designation in conjunction with Lisa and Roberta and the city preservation office. Can we schedule some time to talk about this?

Sincerely, Sarah Jones

Did you have trouble getting through this? Most people do. You can assume Mr. Johnson would have too had he received the letter.

Here is a suggested revision. How does it compare with your idea?

Dear Mr. Johnson:

We met at Marigold House last July when I accompanied Jane Maxwell of the City Preservation Office and architect Robert Brown on a site visit. I’m taking the liberty of writing now because as a professional historian, I would very much like to work with Jane and your office to research the property’s title and history for its application as a designated landmark.

This eighteenth-century house has more than 300 years of wonderful stories to tell. For example:

The correspondence of …

  • Mary Jennings’ 1810 book of poems …
  • The first-hand account of the slave Emelia who escaped …
All these stories contribute to Marigold House’s historical and cultural significance, but only a few of them are now part of the official registries.

I would like to prepare the significant portion of the application and include these stories and many more.

I’ve previously worked with Jane to develop the city’s new Local Landmark designation regulations and I served as the consulting historian to establish the significance of Margaret Field …

I am the former resident historian for …

Can we schedule some time to talk? I will welcome the opportunity to explain my qualifications to research Marigold House and support its application for Landmark status.

Sincerely, Sarah Jones

Here are the guidelines derived from comparing these two versions:

  • Say what you want ASAP so the person knows why you’re writing. When you have a personal connection, begin with that because it positions you, establishes trust, and builds instant connection.
  • Format the letter to be quickly read and easily understood. In the revised letter, the short, bulleted list breaks up the copy and gets the examples across more effectively. Paragraphs and sentences are shorter and less dense to encourage reading.
  • Make the most of what’s interesting, relevant, and/or close to the reader’s heart. Sarah showcases her qualifications with specific details in the bullets. This show-not-tell technique is far more effective than saying, “I am an expert historian and know many interesting stories.”
  • Use a writing style that relates to the audience and your goal. In this case, the writer is addressing someone with an academic orientation similar to her own, so a slightly formal tone feels right.
  • Cite credentials, but not necessarily up front. They are often not your best sales points. People respond more to your understanding of their challenges and what you can do for them, rather than what you’ve done in the past. This isn’t really counterintuitive: Knowing how to bridge your expertise to other people’s problems is a top trademark of professionalism.

If you came up with a different version you like better, good for you. Editing and writing are far from scientific. It might be nice to think you can follow formulas or use templates, but “canned” approaches come across as overly general and boring. Practice thinking each challenge through with a goal-plus-audience framework in mind, address head and heart, and you’ll get the results you want more often.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Natalie Canavor's career spans national magazine editing, journalism, corporate communications and public relations. Her writing for business media, professional audiences and The New York Times have won dozens of national and international awards. She has taught advanced writing seminars for NYU and conducts frequent workshops.

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