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The Look of a Letter

By: Ilise Benun

Ilise Benun is the Director of the Hoboken NJ-based consulting firm, Creative Marketing & Management. Her emphasis is on the human element of marketing and she offers training seminars and workshops on strategic storytelling, self-marketing, sales follow-up and other sales & marketing topics. She is the publisher of the quarterly newsletter, The Art of Self Promotion, and the author of three marketing books, including Self-Promotion Online, due out Fall 2000 from North Light Books. Visit the Web site for her newsletter or send email to

Once a week, usually on a Sunday evening, I actually sit down and read the week's mail. That's the only time I have to focus my attention on it - and I'm one of the more conscientious ones. I've seen enough offices with piles of unopened mail to know that I'm not the norm.

So keeping in mind that most people don't ever read much of their mail, know that in order to get your message across, you need to focus as much on the graphics of your letter as on the content. For example, if a letter isn't skimmable, if the paragraphs are too thick, the copy too dense, no matter what it says, it may not be read. In fact, you could be giving away money, and it wouldn't matter.

Veteran copywriter Don Hauptman offers these suggestions:
  1. Don't use a dizzying variety of fonts, type sizes or graphics just because you can. When people open an envelope, they expect to see a letter, with its familiar conventions. The personal communication may be an illusion, but it's one that most of us have come to expect.

  2. Write short paragraphs. To avoid a gray wall of type that discourages reading, paragraphs shouldn't be more than seven lines. A visual and dramatic break can be provided by an occasional paragraph of one sentence, one line or even one word.

  3. Use familiar attention devices. 
    • Underscore key words and sentences with a continuous line. 
    • Use bullets of any shape to set off an easy-to-read list of benefits or past clients. 
    • Use subheads, set in a slightly larger type size, to break up the copy. 
    • Use inset paragraphs, centered and blocked, to call attention to an important point.

  4. Handwrite something. People used to be afraid that handwriting anything on a business letter would make it look unprofessional. Now, the opposite is true. Handwriting a P.S. or even the salutation on a generic letter lets your prospect know there's a human being behind the computer; it's a sign of life that people desperately need in this era of pseudo-personalized everything.

  5. Less is more. Don't write more than one page if you can help it. Don't send something that will be eligible for the To Read pile.

  6. Always use a P.S. It's the first read (and the most read) element of a letter. Use it to either restate your main point, just in case your reader missed it, or to highlight a premium offer or major benefit.

© Copyright 2000, Ilise Benun

Other Articles by Ilise Benun

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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