A simple formula lets you cut through jargon and messy language to create straightforward writing that works.
A recent TV commercial informed viewers that the U.S. Post Office 300 million pieces of mail every day. That's a lot of letters. And letters are an important part of communicating with your customers, co-workers, and colleagues.
But how many letters actually get their messages across and motivate the reader? Surprisingly few. In direct-mail marketing for example, a two percent response rate is exceptionally high. So a manufacturer mailing 1,000 sales letters expects that fewer than 20 people will respond to the pitch. If high-powered letters written by ad agency copywriters produce such a limited response, you can see why letters written by busy business executives (who are not professional writers) may not always accomplish their objectives.
Failure to get to the point, technical jargon, pompous language, misreading the reader--these are the poor stylistic habits that cause others to ignore the letters we send. Part of the problem is that many managers and support staff don't know how to write persuasively. There is a solution, stated as a formula first discovered by advertising writers, and it's called "AIDA." AIDA stands for Attention, Interest, Demand, and Action--a sequence of psychological reactions that happen in the mind of the reader as he is sold on your idea. Briefly, here's how it works.
First, the letter gets the reader's attention with a hard-hitting lead paragraph that goes straight to the point or offers an element of intrigue.
Then, the letter hooks the reader's interest. The hook is often a clear statement of the reader's problems, needs, or wants. For example, if you are writing to a customer who received damaged goods, acknowledge the problem and then offer a solution.
Next, create demand. Your letter is an offer of something--a service, a product, goodwill, an agreement, a contract, a compromise, a consultation. Tell the reader how he or she will benefit from your offering. That creates a demand for your product. Finally, call for action. Ask for the order, the signature, the donation, the assignment.
What follows are actual examples of how each of these steps has been used in business letters.
ATTENTION. Getting the reader's attention is a tough job. If your letter is boring, pompous, or says nothing of interest, you'll lose the reader. Fast!