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ISSUE 2 - How to write a letter that keeps residents’ spirits up (02 Mar 08)

A short step-by-step guide to writing in a way that means something – and gets results

If you read my last piece on helping residents get a group off the ground you will know why it is so utterly vital to write in a way that relates to your readers’ needs.

And if you followed my advice and answered the What, who, why, when and where questions about the proposed meeting you should now have some notes to help you to write a persuasive piece that gets action.

But how do you put it all together and in what order should you have everything?

Well, first here is something extremely important.

If your budget is tight, which I bet it is, you don’t need to go beyond a simple, old-fashioned letter. Don’t be tempted into thinking you need a leaflet or anything complicated.

In fact if you are just considering a leaflet - think again. It might seem easier to knock up but a properly written letter will always get a higher response.

This is because it’s a more personal style of communication and people always respond better to a personal approach. They like being spoken to as individuals

The most important part of your letter – of any message - is the opening, because if you don’t get people to start reading, you’ve had it.

This means you should spend more time thinking about this than any other part of your letter.

You have no more than a couple of seconds at most to get people’s interest and get them reading. So you simply must make sure you use your opening words to full effect.

This often means you need a heading. A good one stops people in their tracks and grabs their attention, and if yours doesn’t you’re in trouble. But it also invites them to keep reading, because the heading makes what comes after seem interesting.

Breaking it in two makes it more easy to take in

Let’s analyse the heading I have used. It’s designed to get your attention because it’s offering practical advice with, a promise of useful information if you read on.

  1. We make the subject clear. That singles out readers who might be interested.
  2. And to make it even clearer we say, under the salutation, who will benefit.
  3. “Short” and “step-by-step” reassure you that what follows is quick and easy.
  4. Everyone likes these two things - in fact if you use either of those two words, you always increase readership
  5. The phrase about keeping spirits up is colloquial and slightly emotional.
  6. Emotion always beats logic; and colloquial language is better than formal – it is more personal, friendly and easier to take in.

To help you come up with a heading for your letter, try writing down the main benefits of the tenants’ group for residents and what you think interests – and especially what excites, worries or annoys - them most.

If you can find a link between the two and express it as a heading you are onto a sure fire winner.

The next thing to do is to invite people to the meeting. Simply state the time, date and the place.

For the salutation, use their first name if you have it on your database. If you don’t know it Dear Resident is as good as you will get. Try to avoid colder sounding words like Dear Tenant or Dear Householder.

There are different ways of starting the letter, but from the outset you should aim to have a chatty, friendly style and avoid being stuffy and formal. Try to write how people speak and above all avoid jargon like the plague.

One common, but highly effective way, is to simply address the reader as a member of a group e.g. “As a resident of such and such an estate you probably know…” This might not sound very exciting, but it does work and it makes people feel part of a group.

What you now want to do in the first few sentences is to get people nodding as they read your letter - yes, nodding.

You want your residents saying to themselves, “Yes that’s true; that is me; that’s exactly how I feel”. You can only do this by having put yourself in the shoes of the residents to start with and writing about things that interest them.

Albert Einstein once said that “examples are not just the best way to teach; they are the only way.”

See if you can come up with examples or, better still, a true story that takes the reader from paragraph to paragraph reminding them of their problems are and how a tenants group could help solve them.

Don’t mislead people though as in the long run this will get you nowhere.

There are also technical tricks research has found will keep people reading, such as

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