“Mediocre writers borrow; great writers steal.” -T. S. Eliot
Much of what we learn in the business world is through a process of trial and error. Smart businesspeople learn as much from the things they screw as they do from their wild successes. But it’s not enough to learn from your own foibles and victories — the world is your classroom and you should take every opportunity to learn from the gaffes and triumphs of others. That’s where Eliot’s wisdom comes into play.In our recent review of business letters, we addressed each component in turn. Each of these pieces is crucial to completing the puzzle successfully, but individually none of them outweighs the complete impression you leave with a business letter.
So don’t steal outright, but use the techniques and devices that others employ. The next time you receive a business letter or email that you think is good, take a pencil to it and mark it up line-by-line. By conducting an autopsy, you’ll begin to see why the letter works and you can put that analysis to use next time your author a business letter.
Learning from good letters is great, but you should also learn from bad. Analyzing the truly awful ones will teach you what not to do — just as important. For example, look at this analysis of a pitch that a publicist sent to a blogger. There’s some quality “no no” learning here.