How to write attention-grabbing letters

Posted on 1 July 2015 by Lucy Gregory

 
Letters aren’t as common as they used to be, but sometimes they’re the most appropriate form of communication. Unfortunately, many letters are long rambling narratives that no one wants to read.

So if you’re faced with writing a letter, what can you do to grab your readers’ attention and make sure your points are crystal clear?
 

1. Keep it short

You’re writing a letter, not a novel, so keep it short. Only include what your readers need to know, rather than everything you would like to say on the subject.

If you need to write a longer letter, split it into sections with clear headings.
 

2. Use clear headings

Start your letter with a descriptive subject line underneath the greeting. It should tell your readers what the letter is about so they can decide, at a glance, how important the letter is to them. Compare the two letters below.
 
Start your letter with a descriptive subject line underneath the greeting. It should tell your reader what the letter is about so your reader can decide, at a glance, how important the letter is to them.

Not only does the right-hand letter tell you what the correspondence is about, it includes a call to action – the writer needs help. By using descriptive headings throughout your letter, you’ll guide readers to points that interest them.
 

3. Make your most important points first

One of the most effective ways to structure a letter is to briefly set the scene then launch straight in with your most important points. That way, your readers know upfront what the letter is about and if they get bored half way through at least they’ll have seen your main messages.

This technique was not followed in a letter I received a few months ago. It contained updates relating to my block of flats and it was seven pages. (Yes, seven pages!)

But its length was only half the problem.

It wasn’t until page 4 that I reached the heading ‘Major issues’. I later found out that most residents stopped reading after page 2 and had no idea about the impending service charge increase. Oops!
 

4. Include ‘calls to action’ (also known as ‘action points’)

If you want your readers to do something, make it obvious – don’t bury your instructions where no one will find them.

Ideally, your ‘calls to action’ will have their own section at the beginning and/or end of your letter. Readers can use the section as a checklist for completing the tasks you set them. Here’s a good example:
 
If you want your reader to do something having read your letter, you need to make it clear. 'Calls to action' or 'action points' should have their own section at the beginning and/or end of the letter.

5. Use straightforward language

If you want someone to understand you and do want you want, write to them in a way they will understand. That means short sentences and straightforward language. There’s no point trying to show off your vocabulary or encourage readers to expand theirs.

Here’s an example of how not to do it:

Your job is to write in a way that will be understood by your intended reader...

With all that waffle and technical content, the letter hardly incentivises Mrs Franks to complete the questionnaire. I would rewrite it along these lines:

It's important to use language your reader will understand and that will persuade them to do as you ask...

Next time you write a letter, try these techniques. You’ll be amazed what a difference they can make to your writing. If you’re a little rusty on the proper way to format a letter, check out our blog: How to format a letter.