Remember to keep ideas orderly; state requests
before justifications, answers before explana-
tions, conclusions before discussions, summaries
before details, and the general before the
Delay your main point to soften bad news or
to introduce a controversial proposal, but dont
delay routinely. Readers, like listeners, are put
off by people who take forever to get to the point.
To end most letters, just stop.
Reading slows with every glance from the text
to a reference citation. Use only those references
that bear directly on the subject at hand. Avoid
unnecessary or complicated references. Reading
letters that overuse references is like driving
in reverse through alphabet soup. If you do use
references, be sure to mention in the text any
reference cited in the reference block. List
references in the reference block by following the
order of their appearance in the text.
When writing a response to an earlier com-
munication, subordinate it to your main point.
Dont waste the openingthe strongest place in
a letterby merely summarizing a reference or
saying you received or reviewed something.
Example: Reference (a) recommended the re-
establishment of training in the
field of transportation manage-
ment. Reinstitution of this train-
ing is strongly supported.
We strongly support the recom-
mendation in reference (a) to
re-establish transportation manage-
When writing, use short paragraphs; long
paragraphs cause main ideas to get lost. Cover
one topic completely before starting another; but
keep paragraphs short, roughly four or five
sentences. Now and then, you may use a one-
sentence paragraph to highlight an important idea.
Short paragraphs are especially important at the
start of letters because readers become dis-
couraged if you start out with long paragraphs.
A paragraph may need a topic sentence, or it
may not. The topic sentence of a paragraph is like
the main point of a letter; both are general
statements that you develop later. Even though
you could write a short and simple letter as one
unbroken paragraph, divide it for ease of reading.
So far we have talked about structuring letters
and paragraphs to call attention to important
ideas. Next, we will talk about four ways to avoid
sentences that mumble.
1. Subordinate, or reemphasize, minor ideas.
In other words, place them in dependent clauses
rather than in the main (or required) part of the
sentence. Besides clarifying the relationship
between ideas, subordination prevents the overuse
of and, the weakest of all conjunctions.
Example: The naval station exchange uses a
similar contractor service and saves
its patrons about 15 percent. (Two
ideas presented in two independent
clauses as equally important.)
By using a similar contractor
service, the naval station exchange
saves its patrons about 15 percent.
(One ideausing a similar con-
tractor servicepresented in de-
pendent clause as less important
than the idea presented in main
part of the sentence.)
2. Place ideas deliberately. Start and finish a
sentence any way you like, but keep in mind that
ideas gain emphasis when they appear at either
end. Putting an idea in the middle causes it to lose
Example: We have determined that moving
the computer as shown in enclosure
(1) would allow room for another
cabinet to be installed.
Moving the computer as shown in
enclosure (1) would allow room for
3. Use more parallelism. Express two or more
equally important ideas in similar words and
similar constructions. Parallelism saves words,
clarifies ideas, and provides balance. Parallelism
means that when you use a coordinating con-
junction (and, but, nor, yet), nouns, adjectives,
dependent clauses, and so on, should match in
each part of the sentence. They should have the
same grammatical form and structure.
Example: A good writer must be precise and
have originality. (Precise is an
adjective; originality is a noun.)
A good writer must be precise and
original. (Both precise and original