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Tips for better business letters.

Tips for Better Business Letters

Malcolm Forbes said, "A good business letter can sell your product, get you off the hook, or get you money." Your letters and memos can accomplish these objectives.

In addition, written communications are an extension of your management company to the public, suppliers, business associates, and tenants. It makes sense to take a little time to sharpen your writing skills, as well as that of your personnel. Many people you deal with will never see your place of business, but know about you only through your correspondence.

Written and oral communications are generally recognized as the most important skills in procuring employment and in ensuring ongoing success. Surveys have shown that 20 percent of a person's success is due to his or her knowledge of the job and industry, while 80 percent is due to personal development skills such as speaking, writing, and listening. The job and industry skills can more easily be acquired and will be more effectively employed if the other personal skills are present.

In property management, the importance of effective writing is magnified because of the need to correspond with personnel at off-site locations, write and update procedure manuals, and submit reports to the home office, outside owners, banks, and government agencies. This applies to the head of the management company as well as to the property manager, resident manager, and staff.

An otherwise good employee could be held back or, at a minimum, rendered less effective, without good writing skills. Yet, this is a basic communications tool which can be acquired.

Following are some of these proven techniques:

* Write out what you want your reader to know or do after reading your communication. It should be specific, i.e., "I want your project brought to standards within two weeks."

* Analyze who your readers are, and present your case in terms of its value to them.

* Distinguish the important from the unimportant on the basis of your objective and the needs of your reader. Answer the question, "How much information is required if I am to achieve the desired effect?" Too much is just as bad as too little.

* Every topic should be logically structured from beginning to end. For example, your subject may lend itself to a particular sequence, e.g., time sequence, explaining events in the order of their occurrence.

* Your sentences and paragraphs should flow smoothly from one to the next. Coherence is basically accomplished through clear transitional phrases such as "next," "thus," "however," and "for example."

* If you are writing a longer letter or memo, compose an outline first to help organize your thinking. It will also assist in gathering the necessary information and data.

* Do not begin with "Dear Sir or Madam." If at all possible, find out the person's name and direct it to that person, e.g., "Dear Mr. Smith."

* Be natural and write the way you talk. Many of us are too stilted in our writing. Imagine your reader sitting in front of you and write the way you would talk to him or her. To apply the acid test, read your letter aloud, and see if it sounds natural.

* Use words that convey a specific meaning. Abstract words can be interpreted in different ways, while specific words narrow and control mental images.

* Stick to the facts rather than terms that imply judgment. Instead of "a superior" management company, refer to "one that accomplishes your cash flow objectives."

* Illustrate by providing examples. It is difficult for someone to identify with an abstraction. When it is reduced to a specific story or illustration, it becomes more vivid, memorable, and clear.

* Use simple, familiar words, which immediately bring meaning to your reader. If you must use technical terms, and you are not certain your reader will understand, then define them.

* Do not use excess verbiage in complex sentences. Why write "a problem is associated, in a causative or accompanying, way, with..." if all you mean is "the problem is caused by..."

* Do not stack modifiers too far from the word being modified. Do not refer to "the project maintenance superintendent grounds assistant" when you mean "the grounds assistant to the project maintenance superintendent."

* Do not turn every word into a nonexistent verb. "Let's prioritize our objectives" is not as effective as "let's set our priorities."

* Avoid unnecessary shifts of subject, number, tense, place or point of view. Consistency increases comprehension.

* Finally, make your letter look good. Have it typed on good quality stationery. Keep it neat. Do not crowd margins. It should contain no misspellings or other grammatical errors.

Even after you have followed all of the above guidelines, reread your letter or memo carefully before sending it. Check for errors, and make sure it says what it is supposed to say.

The clearer the letter or memo seems, the more time the writer has probably spent on revision. If the reader is confused by the correspondence, the less likely you are to achieve your objective.

Joseph Pulitzer's advice to writers is equally applicable to anyone trying to communicate with others, whatever the form. Pulitzer said, "Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will understand it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light."

Frank Basile, CPM[R], is vice president of the Gene B. Glick Company, Inc., with responsibility for its 20,000 apartments and 650 employees in 13 states. He is a member of the IREM national faculty and Academy of Authors and has authored eight prior feature articles for JPM. He is a graduate of Tulane University.
COPYRIGHT 1989 National Association of Realtors
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Basile, Frank
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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