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Business Letters: Accentuating the Positives

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Your letters will be more successful if you focus on positive wording rather than negative, simply because most people respond more favorably to positive ideas than negative ones. Words that affect your reader positively are likely to produce the response you desire in letter-writing situations. A positive emphasis will persuade the reader and create goodwill. In contrast, negative words may generate resistance and other unfavorable reactions. You should therefore be careful to avoid words with negative connotations. These words either deny—for example, no, do not, refuse, and stop—or convey unhappy or unpleasant associations—for example, unfortunately, unable to, cannot, mistake, problem, error, damage, loss, and failure.

When you need to present negative information, soften its effects by superimposing a positive picture on a negative one.

  1. Stress what something is rather than what it is not.
  2. emphasize what the firm or product can and will do rather than what it cannot.
  3. open with action rather than apology or explanation.
  4. avoid words which convey unpleasant facts.

Compare the examples below. Which would be more likely to elicit positive reader response?

Negative: In response to your question about how many coats of Chem-Treat are needed to cover new surfaces: I regret to report that usually two are required. For such surfaces you should figure about 200 square feet per gallon for a good heavy coating that will give you five years or more of beautiful protection.
Positive: In response to your question about how many coats of Chem-Treat are needed to cover new surfaces: One gallon is usually enough for one-coat coverage of 500 square feet of previously painted surface. For the best results on new surfaces, you will want to apply two coats.

Negative: Penquot sheets are not the skimpy, loosely woven sheets ordinarily found in this price class.
Positive: Penquot sheets are woven186 threads to the square inch for durability and, even after 3-inch hems, measure a generous 72 by 108 inches.

Negative: We cannot ship in lots of less than 12.
Positive: To keep down packaging costs and to help customers save on shipping costs, we ship in lots of 12 or more.

In addition, you should reemphasize the positive through embedded position and effective use of space.

Embedded Position

Place good news in positions of high emphasis: at the beginnings and endings of paragraphs, letters, and even sentences.

Place bad news in secondary positions: in the center of paragraphs, letters, and, if possible, sentences.

Effective Use Of Space

Give more space to good news and less to bad news.

Evaluate the examples below to determine whether or not they present negative information favorably.

  1. To make the Roanoke more stable than other lamps of this size, our designers put six claw feet instead of the usual four on the base and thus eliminated the need for weighting. Claw feet, as you know, are characteristic of 18th-century design.
  2. No special training programs are normally offered other than that of the College Graduate in Training rotational training period. We do not expect our employees to continue their education, but we do have an excellent tuition refund program to assist in this regard (see Working with General Motors, page 8). Where an advanced degree is essential, individuals are recruited with those particular advanced degrees. Both Butler and IUPUI offer courses leading to an MBA degree.
  3. With our rigid quality standards, corrections of Adidas merchandise run less than .02 percent of our total line. Because of an oversight in our stitching department, a damaged needle was inadvertently used and caused the threads to come loose in these particular bags. Since we now have a check on all our machine needles before work each day, you can be assured that the stitching on our Adidas carrying bags will last the lifetime of the bags. Thank you for calling our attention to the loose stitching.
  4. We are sorry that we cannot furnish the club chairs by August 16.
  5. I have no experience other than clerking in my father's grocery store.
  6. ABC Dog Biscuits will help keep your dog from getting sick.