by Janet Dunn
How to make your letter more readable.
Are your prayer letters the kind people read and toss? Or do they galvanize people to pray? A little know-how with words can make the difference. Next time you write, try these tips:
Make the tone warm and personal. Write with one person in mind, not a general audience. Choose your closest friend and actually write the letter to that person. The result will be a warm letter, easily suited to everyone on your mailing list. Remember, people don’t receive your letter as a group. They receive it individually.
After you have written and polished your first draft, set it aside for a day or two. "Cold" copy is easier to edit. Time makes us more objective, better able to see our world from the reader’s point of view.
Begin by weeding out all unnecessary words or phrases. Uncluttered ideas are easier to grasp and remember. Leave out say-nothing sentences like, "I would like to take this opportunity to fill you in on what I have been doing." Condense wherever possible. The seventeen words in "’It was kind of like the line I just read in Tozer’s book, Knowledge of the Holy" can be reduced to seven by saying, "In Knowledge of the Holy, Tozer writes. . ."
Keep your sentences and paragraphs short. Give the reader the feeling he is making progress as he reads.
At the same time, don’t leave out essential facts. "We love our work here" doesn’t tell the reader anything. Better to say, "My husband and I love the challenge of acting as parents to the 20 high school missionary children here at TEAM’s hostel in Nairobi, Kenya."
Add color and life to your letter by exchanging dull verbs for action verbs. Rewrite "I went" into verbs like, "I motorcycled," "I trudged I dashed." Whenever possible, use actual dialogue.
Show your reader, don’t just tell him. If you say, "I was privileged to work with this team for two weeks," the reader can’t picture anything. Instead, paint the scene. "For two weeks I teamed up with these 10 Mexican young people. Together we explored the Bible, staged puppet shows for children and canvassed the village, talking to 130 people about God."
In choosing colorful details, though, be sensitive to the nationals. Never write anything you wouldn’t be willing for your nationals to read.
Don’t assume everyone will want to read your letter. Capture the reader’s attention with a good opening sentence or paragraph. Leave out the salutation. Start with an interesting narrative, a good question, a provocative statement, or a stimulating quotation. Make the reader want to keep reading. Never start your letter with an apology. It sets a negative tone,
Good letters are usually centered around one theme, subject or incident. Covering one subject creates a lasting impression in the mind of the reader and elicits continued prayer and interest. Gifted educator Howard Hendricks often reminds teachers The less you say, the more you say." Decide on the one message you want to convey and design your whole letter to communicate that one message.
Art work heightens the appeal. Add a sketch, a decorative border, or a photograph. Use tastefully colored paper or colored ink. If you use a photo, choose one that includes you. Your reader will always look for you first. Create an attractive layout with wide margins and other open spaces for the eyes to rest on. Avoid crowding the page.
Before going to press, carefully proofread your final copy. Whenever possible, have at least one other person proof it. Misspelled words, typing errors and poor grammar tend to stay in the reader’s mind longer than your message.
Prayer letters are often passed from hand to hand. Someone who doesn’t know you may read your letter and want to help your ministry with a gift or prayer. Be sure your letter includes your full name and address, the date, and some reference to the organization you work for.
A good prayer letter takes work. Break the habit of writing your letter on the backstroke. Plan ahead. Collect clippings and facts from newspapers and magazines. Keep notebook and jot down anecdotes, conversations and seed thoughts for further prayer letters.
Your work will yield returns. Good missionary letters not only promote prayer, they also create interest in missions and recruit others to Christian work.
Start today by choosing the theme of your next letter.
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