From the August 1999 issue of Startups

Forget about starting a letter with "Pursuant to your request" or "Enclosed herewith"--at least if you expect your readers to get beyond the first line without falling asleep. The same goes for cumbersome phrases like "would like to take this opportunity," "along the lines of" and "in view of the fact."

While "write it as you say it" sounds easy enough, it can be surprisingly hard to pull off, particularly if you're trying to use stuffy, overblown language--also known as 50-cent words--to impress a potential customer. If you intimidate or fail to impress your customer, the only sure thing you pull off is losing that customer, says Bob Lang, training manager with Pinnacle Bay Resource Group, an organization that trains businesses in customer service, business communication, change management and telephone equipment.

"One of the most important things to remember about business correspondence is you don't want to sound arrogant," says Lang. "Instead, think about being conversational, about how you might start if you were actually talking to that person."

In the beginning, Lang suggests improving correspondence by taking a look at every sentence in your pitch letter. "Nine times out of 10, you'll be able to take out wasted phrases," he says, pointing out that "at this point in time" and "in view of the fact" can be replaced with "now" and "because" to make your message more concise.

Concise . . . and active. For example, never end your letter with passive phrases such as "hoping to hear from you," or "thank you in advance." Be proactive. Tell your customer you'll call to follow up and when you plan to do so. Then, of course, do it.

You can reach Pinnacle Bay Resource Group at http://www.pbrg.com or (916) 851-1085.

Julia Miller is a Los Angeles business writer specializing in sales and marketing.