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Your Voice on Paper

By: Marcia Yudkin

Marcia Yudkin's nine books include Six Steps to Free Publicity, Persuading on Paper and Marketing Online, all from Plume/Penguin Books. Based in Boston, she serves as a commentator for WBUR radio, and her Marketing Matters column is syndicated by Paradigm, The Syndicating Agency. Her Web site is at

Whenever you speak with a stranger on the phone, in just half a minute, your listener gets an impression of a personality, background and attitudes. Brusque. Upbeat. Slow-witted. Prissy. Confident. Similarly, whenever you put words down on paper for business, you create an aura that accompanies the meaning you intend to convey. Your reader gets an impression of what you'd be like to do business with. Energetic. Pretentious. Genteel. Candid. Slimy.

For instance, imagine the person behind each of these four business communications.
  1. Next January 15, I will be crossing the finish line of the first ever, nationally televised Pensacola Pentathlon -- first. If you act right away, your company's logo will be exposed to millions on my shirt.
  2. I don't know if you remember me, but I'm the short red-haired woman who spoke to you after your talk to Pen Women United in Kenarsie last September. I hope it's all right to take you up on your invitation to send the completed manuscript of my first novel.
  3. We appreciate the opportunity to serve you. So that we may continue to offer you the finest business information available, kindly fill out our survey form.
  4. Despite the good work I did for you, doubling your profits, I haven't heard from you again. Have you gone out of business? Died? Unfortunately, if you don't set up another appointment this month, I will be forced to expunge you from my file of contacts.
To me, person #1 appears brash, but not arrogant. Person #2 strikes me as unusually timid. Writer #3 comes across as a faceless, insincere corporation, not a person at all. Person #4 gets the biggest rise out of me, impressing me as a rude egomaniac who assumes that I owe him my business.

Your reactions may differ. You might appreciate person #2's apprehensiveness or find person #4 refreshingly forthright. There is no magic voice that appeals to everyone, every time.

Still, it's wise to match the personality of your prose with your business image and your target market. Do you want to present yourself as the customer's ally? As a no-nonsense expert? As a refined, cosmopolitan colleague? As an efficient, down-to-earth service provider?

Feel free to use words you rarely see in business, such as "haggle," "wacky," "peachy." Distinctive language makes your message more memorable.

Avoid stuffy word choices like "apprise," where shorter, ordinary words like "inform" or "tell" communicate well.

Convey a friendly, personal spirit by addressing the reader as "you" and referring to yourself as "I."

Present tense ("Our program brings you...") conveys more confidence than past tense ("...brought..."), future tense ("...will bring...") or the conditional ("would bring...")

Unless you're an uncommonly nimble writer, don't try to become someone in writing that you're not. Phoniness hurts in marketing. Even if your sleight of words worked, you'd run the danger of disappointing the prospect when he or she called or showed up at your office.

© Copyright 1999 Marcia Yudkin. All rights reserved.

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