Saturday, February 16, 2008

Learn the "How-to's" of Apologizing

Q&A!: "In this era of text messaging, a handwritten note is a real standout. There's no mystery to writing any kind of letter – of congratulations, undying love, sympathy, thanks or apology (see the lead article in this newsletter) – if you know the basic elements of personal correspondence."

1. Keep it short and to the point.
Letters involving business (personal or corporate) should be concise, factual, and focused. Try to never exceed one page or you will be in risk of losing your reader. A typical letter page will hold 350 to 450 words. If you can't get your point across with that many words you probably haven't done enough preparatory work. If necessary, call the recipient on the phone to clarify any fuzzy points and then use the letter just to summarize the overall situation.

2. Focus on the recipient's needs.
While writing the letter, focus on the information requirements of your audience, the intended addressee. If you can, in your "mind's eye" imagine the intended recipient seated across a desk or boardroom table from you while you are explaining the subject of the letter. What essential information does that person need to know through this communication? What will be their expectations when they open the letter? Have you addressed all of these?

3. Use simple and appropriate language.
Your letter should use simple straightforward language, for clarity and precision. Use short sentences and don't let paragraphs exceed three or four sentences. As much as possible, use language and terminology familiar to the intended recipient. Do not use technical terms and acronyms without explaining them, unless you are certain that the addressee is familiar with them.

4. Re-read and revise it.
Do a first draft of the letter, and then carefully review and revise it. Put yourself in the place of the addressee. Imagine yourself receiving the letter. How would you react to it? Would it answer all of your questions? Does it deal with all of the key issues? Are the language and tone appropriate? Sometimes reading it out loud to one's self, can be helpful. When you actually "hear" the words it is easy to tell if it "sounds" right, or not.

5. Check spelling and grammar.
A letter is a direct reflection of the person sending it, and by extension, the organization that person works for. When the final content of the letter is settled, make sure that you run it through a spelling and grammar checker. Sending a letter with obvious spelling and grammar mistakes looks sloppy and unprofessional. In such cases, the recipient can't really be blamed for seeing this as an indication as to how you (and your organization) probably do most other things.

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