Is Letter Writing Really About Good Grammar?
Reminds me of a poem by Robert Browning titled “The Grammarian’s Funeral.” Browning describes how the corpse was carried to the burial ground: “ … with throttling hands of death at strife, ground he at grammar. Still, to the rattle, parts of speech were rife.”
For my part, I made “Ds” in English grammar while, at the same time, selling little adventure stories to magazines. My college advisor couldn’t figure it out.
Also, I had a learning disability and simply couldn’t pronounce big words or spell them, so I didn’t use them. That seemed like a workable solution.
Years later when I slid in the back door of direct-response marketing, I learned from a kind mentor that my goal in writing a letter should not be to impress the reader with my grammatical skills but to keep the reader involved in the copy long enough to make a positive decision. I believe it’s time for nonprofit executives to come down from the mountaintop, grammatically speaking.
Get warm and personal
My self-appointed crusade is to flit around the country, forcing nonprofit folks to communicate at a personal, rather than grammatical, level.
So here are 12 suggestions for charity presidents and their scribes to get them all communicating in a warm and personal style:
1. Write the way you talk. Use punctuation to help you breathe on paper.
2. Use the present tense. Your letter must be current, not past or future tense.
3. Use the second person. Don’t write, “Our donors will be proud to participate in this project.” Instead, write, “You will be proud to participate in this project.” The magic word is always “you.”
4. Use connectives and action words to hook sentences and paragraphs together. Always avoid a passive beginning of a paragraph. This includes, for example, “the” and “a.” Also, beware of beginning a paragraph with a prepositional phrase. Instead, use an action word or a strong connective word. An action word might be something like, “wait,” “discover,” “explore,” “stop,” “start” and so on. A connective word might simply be “and” or “so” or “but.”