Follow the Rule of First Reference

No matter how high you score on the Empathy Index, no matter how strong your reader focus, try to adhere to the Rule of First Reference, which says that your first reference should be to your readers, not yourself.

It's not always possible to do, but if you can, it's a good idea. Compare these two leads:

I am pleased to report that last year's numbers are better than expected.

versus

Thanks to your hard work, last year's numbers are better than expected.

Note that the first example isn't terrible or incorrect; rather, it's better writing to focus on your readers before you mention yourself or your organization. Sometimes avoiding the pronouns "I," "my," "our," and any other direct reference to you or your company forces you to be more concise and to the point.

For example, in reference letters, it's common to begin with a reference to yourself. Look what happens, though, when you avoid doing so.

Instead of "It is my great pleasure to recommend Gregory Jones as a member of your strategic team. His financial acumen will help the team calculate ROI and break-even, and his upbeat personality will help keep a smile on everyone's faces," say "Your strategic team will benefit in tangible and intangible ways if Gregory Jones joins the group. His financial acumen will help the team calculate ROI and break-even, and his upbeat personality will help keep a smile on everyone's faces. It is my great pleasure to recommend him."

The difference is subtle. It's not that the first lead is bad or wrong; rather, it is better to start with benefits.

There are three approaches to writing a lead that work well in business communications:

1. Start with a time-sensitive word or phrase.

2. Allude to a shared interest.

3. Pose a question.

No matter which lead style you use, it's important that you think about the beginning of your communications.

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