Most everyday writing is casual. Tweets, Facebook updates, holiday cards, friendly emails — these have their own simple etiquette, and we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about them before we lick that stamp or hit send.
大部分日常寫作都比較隨意。社交網站碎碎念,節日賀卡或電子郵件都各有一套,寫起來根本不費什么心思。

Sometimes, though, the occasion calls for something more formal. Whether it’s a letter to your political representative about an important issue, a cover letter to a potential boss, or a business proposal letter, these require a bit more care if you’re going to be taken seriously. Here are a few points to keep in mind when you’re writing your own formal letter, whether it will go through the mail or via cyberspace.
但有些場合,寫作就得正規點。無論是寫信給官方代表討論重大問題,還是向企業老板提交求職信或業務建議書,你都應認真對待。在寫正式信函或電郵時,以下幾點可以借鑒。

1. Understand your purpose
明確目標

Why are you writing? What do you want the reader to do after reading your letter? Do you want to change her mind or convince him to take a specific action? Are you seeking forgiveness? Do you mean to complain about bad service or a faulty product? Are you trying to get hired? What’s the “ask”?
為何寫信?你期望收信人看完后做什么?你想改變她的決意,還是希望他采取具體措施?抑或你在尋求寬恕?你要投訴糟糕的服務、劣質的產品,還是要謀取職位?你的“請求”是什么?

Once you know this, you can — and should — cut everything out that doesn’t serve that purpose.
一旦你明白以上問題,就能撇清所有無關痛癢的事了。

2. Identify your audience
定位對象

Knowing your audience helps you choose your language and target your ideas more precisely. I write differently in a letter to another lawyer than I do when the addressee is a non-lawyer executive or even an elderly “pro bono” client. In a letter to the editor, your real audience is the publication’s readers—who are they? Don’t use jargon that your reader won’t understand.
明確收信人身份有助于更精準地表達意愿。同一封信,我寫給律師是一種措辭,寫給非律師出身的總裁、甚或年長的慈善客戶,又會是另一種措辭。寫信給編輯部,刊物讀者才是最終收信人——那么,他們是什么樣的人呢?千萬別用讀者看不懂的術語。

3. Keep it short
短小精練

Most of us endure a constant flood of written communications, and we have a limited amount of time to spend reading it. You therefore have a better chance of being read if you keep your letter to one page. A multi-page letter with long paragraphs and complex sentences looks overwhelming. The busy reader will be tempted to set it aside for when she has more time—and she might never get around to picking it up again. Use short paragraphs, short sentences, short words.
多數人周圍文字泛濫,根本無法全部讀完。因此,人們傾向先查閱較短信函。厚厚一疊長篇大論看上去真的很恐怖。忙碌的人一般會先放一放,等有空再看——而這一等可能意味著石沉大海。所以,寫信要簡潔精練。

4. Use simple language
言簡意賅

It’s the writer’s job to be understood. Even if your audience is highly educated, you should avoid big words and long, complex sentences. People aren’t stupid; they’re busy. Make our job easier, and we’re more likely to give your letter the attention it deserves. Formal writing does not require the use of big words. Don’t try to sound sophisticated; try to be clear. Use “ask” instead of “request.” Say “buy” instead of “purchase.” Instead of “enclosed herewith please find,” just say, “I’ve enclosed” or “Here is. . . .”
信要讓人讀懂。哪怕收信人水平很高,也應避免使用行話冗句。人家又不傻,工作這么忙,干凈利落點,事情都好辦。正式信函不一定要講套話,不必故作老練,講清楚就行。用“請”,別用“懇請”;用“買”,別用“購置”;用“附上”或“以下是”,別用“隨函附上,請查收”。

5. Lead with the most important point
挑明重點

As journalists say, don’t bury your head. Find a way to open with the idea or information that you most want your reader to focus or act on. The first paragraph might be the only one he reads, so don’t hide the “ask” in the last paragraph.
如記者所言,不要埋頭當鴕鳥。要設法亮出你最希望收信人注意到的信息。收信人可能只瀏覽第一段,所以,千萬別把你的“要求”放到最后一段。

6. Follow the rules
遵循格式

There are rules for formatting a business letter. You ignore them at your peril.
商業信函有其自身格式,你若無視,一切后果自負。

7. Proofread. Then proofread again
檢查再檢查

No matter how grammatically gifted you are, errors and typos can creep in. When you think you’ve finished writing, read your piece slowly and attentively, watching for those typos. Don’t trust spellcheck. If possible, print a hard copy of your letter and read it—out loud—with a pen in hand, marking those typos, awkward sentences, confusing lines. If it’s really important, have somebody else read it and let you know if you’ve missed something.
就算你語法再好,也還會犯個小錯、打個錯字。信寫完后,一定要慢慢細讀,查缺補漏。別依賴拼寫檢查軟件,最好對著打印稿檢查——讀出聲來——同時圈出錯詞爛句。如果信函尤為重要,最好請別人替你再檢查檢查。

8. Let it cool before sending
三思而后“寄”

Especially if you are writing to persuade or complain, you probably are motivated by some pretty strong feelings. Absolutely write your first draft in the white-hot heat of passion. Express your feelings. Get it all on paper. But then . . . before you print and sign, or hit send, walk away for awhile. Go do something else. Let that heat of passion cool. Then come back and re-read what you’ve written. Is it fair? Is it smart? Is it true? Is it kind? Would you regret having it read on television, in front of your boss and your grandmother? Make the changes that seem appropriate after your emotions have settled.
寫說服信或投訴信時,你的情緒想必很激動,甚至忿然作色。你洋洋灑灑、一吐為快。但是……在你打印、簽名或寄出前,還是先放一放吧。先干點別的, 冷靜冷靜。回頭再讀剛剛寫的東西,你覺得判斷公正么?分析可否理智?是否言如其實?語氣妥當與否?如果就這么在電視上、老板或祖母面前讀這封信,你會不會后悔?情緒穩定后,做些適當潤色吧。

Then, and only then, hit send.
然后,也就是萬事妥當后,你才可以點擊發送。