The other day a client (I'll call him Joe) was talking with me about his letters to customers. He responds to customers' compliment and complaint letters about a high-end service Joe's company sells. Joe was worried because when he responded to customers, he was having a hard time keeping his letters to one page. He asked:
How do I keep my letters to one page and still address all the customers' concerns?
When customers open your letter, are they saying, "Gee, I hope he keeps his response to one page"?
When Joe put himself in his customers' place, he recognized that the length of his letters is not an issue. If a customer sends Joe a 3-page letter commenting on the strengths and weaknesses of Joe's company's service, getting a short response is not the customer's goal. Instead, the customer wants to be heard, feel valued, and get excellent customer service. If it takes Joe 1.5 or 2 pages to show that his company hears, values, and serves the customer, that's just fine.
Whenever you face a writing rule that feels like an obstacle, ask yourself whether it applies to your situation and your reader. Examples:
- The rule of keeping a letter to a page does not meet Joe's customers' needs.
- The rule of avoiding contractions (can't, didn't) does not apply if your readers want to hear from a person--not a spokesperson--as in a blog.
- The rule of one-page resumes does not apply if you have lived a two-page life. Your reader wants all the relevant highlights.
- The rule of using short chunks of text, like bullet points, may not apply when you are telling a story, even in business writing. Bullet points focus on facts and figures--not on atmosphere, emotion, vision, and story.
The only rule of business writing is what works for readers. The rest is just artificial constraints.