Tutorial 19: master grammar and write for action.

As a writer, you need to understand the basic parts of speech.

Written by
Jerry Huntsinger
Added
February 10, 2019

Good grief, is it really grammar?

As a writer, you need to understand the basic parts of speech – verbs, nouns, objects, adjectives, adverbs, articles, and so on. But you don’t have to worry about the structure of a sentence. Just remember that every sentence usually has a subject, a verb and an object. ‘The house is red’: article, subject, verb, object.

Worry less about the structure and more about the flow of the sentence.

Learn to write action sentences

Start almost every sentence with an action word. This is where letter writing is different from almost every other type of creative writing. Your letter must flow from thought to thought, point to point. The reader must move with that flow.

1) Different ways to write a sentence:

‘The cost of a Braille typewriter is $100.’

This is a simple, declarative sentence. But in most letters it would be flat and fail to move the reader from one point to the next. How can we re-write that sentence to give it strength?

‘You can provide a Braille typewriter for only $100.’
‘What’s a Braille typewriter cost? Only $100.’
‘Braille typewriters cost $100 each.’
‘Your $100 will provide a Braille typewriter.’
‘Will you provide a Braille typewriter for $100?’
‘You’ll be surprised that a Braille typewriter only costs $100.’

And so on... See how much more exciting the sentence becomes when you avoid a ‘passive’ tone? Beginning a sentence with ‘the’, or ‘a’ is almost always passive.

Action sentences can also tell the reader exactly what to do:

‘Sit down right now and write your cheque for $25.’
‘Please don’t wait...’
‘Pick up your favourite pen and...’
‘I must hear from you by...’
‘Don’t wait until tomorrow...’
‘Enclose your cheque...’
‘I urge you to write out your cheque today.’
‘Tick the box on the reply card...’
‘Here is a reply card for your convenience.’
‘Time is short... I must hear from you by...’

2) Keep the construction simple.

3) Keep the clauses short.

Clauses of more than 17 words can slow down the reader. You can string together any number of clauses to give variety to the length of sentences.

4) Add a kicker, or additional benefit, to the end of a sentence.

‘Your charity dollar sent through World Relief is carefully administered.’

Boring! It needs a kicker. You can go two ways: add a benefit to the donor, or to the recipient:

‘Your charity dollar sent through World Relief is carefully administered for the sake of a suffering mother and her children.’
‘Your charity dollar sent through World Relief is carefully administered to make your hard-earned dollars perform more good works.’

Fun, isn’t it?

5) Try a double-barrelled sentence:

‘Your help is deeply appreciated.’

Usually, this kind of sentence needs to run on and keep the reader thinking about why the help is appreciated:

‘Your help is deeply appreciated, and I’m sure your gift gives you a warm and wonderful feeling.’

6) Rhythm: short sentences add punch. Emphasise a key point. Let the reader breathe.

Good letters use a combination of long and short sentences. Use long sentences for explanation, short sentences for action.

Whatever you do, avoid monotony. Give the reader a change of pace. Don’t be afraid of a short, one-sentence paragraph!

7) Use the present tense:

Your letter is a current communication, with a message of urgency. In most cases, stay away from past or future tenses.

8) Use the second person, don’t write:

‘Contributors will be proud to participate in this project.’

Instead:

‘You will be proud to participate in this project.’

© SOFII Foundation 2010-2014.

About the author: Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger is revered in direct marketing circles as the dean of direct mail. 

Some years back Jerry gifted his archive of direct mail tutorials to SOFII and we’ve been serialising them ever since. All 50-plus are gems. Together, they add up to a complete ‘how-to’ guide to everything you need to know about direct mail fundraising.

These tutorials are edited and presented by Gwen Chapman.

Gwen_Chapman.jpg#asset:8990:urlGwen Chapman is a passionate advocate for donor-centric fundraising. She is a senior consultant with international experience in the non-profit sector in Canada, the United States, the UK and South Africa. She explains the importance to these tutorials here.

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