Tuto­r­i­al 25: 22 ideas for keep­ing your read­er mov­ing on

Keep in mind these prin­ci­ples when you write long letters.

Written by
Jerry Huntsinger
February 04, 2019

The following principles are particularly relevant in the context of writing long letters.

  1. Try telling a story and let the thread of the narrative flow through the entire letter.
  2. Try the question and answer approach, with each question involving a ‘yes’ answer.
  3. Keep your paragraphs short. Usually a block of print of more than six lines discourages the eye from moving on. Several long paragraphs coming one after the other discourage reading.
  4. Throw in a one-line paragraph for emphasis.
  5. Indent key phrases and quotations.
  6. Try to highlight key thoughts by underlining them with a felt pen so that the letter can be scanned by following the underlining.
  7. Use action verbs, active tenses.
  8. Stay away from redundant adverbs and don’t continually further qualify helplessly sick adjectives with words ending in ‘ly’.
  9. Use good old pictorial nouns and a simple vocabulary. This is not necessarily because your people are simple, but because that’s the only way you can get their attention.
  10. Don’t use words people can’t easily pronounce. This blocks the flow of the letter.
  11. And don’t moralise. That also blocks the flow.
  12. Try using trigger words that have special meaning to your particular mailing list. And sprinkle these key words throughout the copy.
  13. Use simple sentence constructions.
  14. Use connectives between paragraphs to keep the reader moving on (therefore ... but ... so you see ... and then when ... here’s how ... ).
  15. In a letter more than two pages, break the progression of ideas into logical steps, then number each step and indent each number.
  16. Try putting the reader into the letter: ‘Picture yourself lying in the street waiting for the ambulance to arrive.’
  17. Don’t let the copy wander just because you have extra space. Search for more exciting material.
  18. Stay with your purpose. If your goal is to balance the budget don’t shift to deferred giving.
  19. Try using a deadline and build a case for action before the deadline expires.
  20. Experiment with handwritten marginal notes, maybe in red ink.
  21. Read your copy aloud and, when you stumble, smooth out the language.
  22. And, most important of all, write about a flesh and blood person – not an idea or a programme. 

© SOFII Foundation 2010-2014.

About the author: Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger was revered in direct marketing circles as the ‘dean of direct mail’. Many years ago, Jerry gifted his archive of direct mail tutorials to SOFII. All 57 of them are gems. Together, they add up to a complete ‘how-to’ guide that covers everything you need to know about direct mail fundraising. Sadly, Jerry passed away in August 2023. 

These tutorials were edited and presented to SOFII by Gwen Chapman. Gwen 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 of these tutorials here.

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