Get Results by Following the Five C’s of Writing

When you’re buying diamonds, you need to know the Four C’s (color, cut, clarity, and carat). That little trick tells you what to look for, or at least what to ask about. Diamonds aren’t the only things that can be discussed in terms of C’s. Writing has some C’s of its own.

Maybe you’re a business person trying to get a reader to buy your product, agree to your terms, or meet your deadline. Maybe you’re with a charity, non-profit, or political group that seeks contributions or involvement in a cause. In any case, when you need results, your job is to convince your reader to take action.

To make that easier, I suggest following the Five C’s of writing. I hope they help you create business letters that are worth their weight in diamonds.

Case: When your purpose is to sell products, services, or ideas, you need to build a case. Line up a strong set of arguments – your selling points – to convince the reader that what you’re saying has merit. Give him good reasons to buy what you’re offering or agree to what you’re asking. You’re trying to create desire, need, or consensus. No matter what you want the reader to do, you have to address the thought “Why should I?” The better you know the answers, the better you can express them. So think carefully about the points that support your goal, and use them to build your case.

Choose: Be selective about what you write. You don’t need to include everything you can think of. If you’ve got many selling points, select the best ones. Overkill works against you. Choose your strongest, most convincing arguments, and present them effectively.

Clear: Your message should be completely clear. Usually the simplest way to say something is the best, so go for the straight- forward approach. Misunderstanding and misinterpretation are your enemies. It’s to your advantage when the reader knows exactly what you’re asking for.

Compel: This one may be the most difficult. People are busy, or lazy, or they just don’t care about the same things you care about. When you want your reader to take action, you’ve got to compel him. Give him a reason to write the check or head for the store. Push him out of his inertia. If you can’t think of a compelling reason, you’re not ready to write the letter. A deadline may work (limited time offer, on sale Wednesday only, penalty for late payment); so may a call to conscience (we need the roar of a thousand voices, if each of you sends just one dollar). Your reader has choices: the garbage pail, the “later” pile, or taking action. If you want results, it’s not enough that he agrees with you. You’ve got to give him a compelling reason to act.

Correct: Find and correct your mistakes. Mistakes are distracting and undermine your credibility. I talked about a few of the most common writing errors in my last post (Ten Common Writing Mistakes Your Spell Checker Won’t Find) and will feature more of them in future posts. Many mistakes occur simply through haste. If you write or type quickly, that’s great. But proofread slowly, and do it more than once.

Remember, you can influence the response by carefully controlling what goes on the page. Applying the Five C’s should increase your influence, and help you get the results you want.


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  1. I like the list a lot, but in the interest of parallel structure, I’d have amended it to read “Convince, Cull, Clarify, Challenge, and Correct.” That way you get five verbs and keep the alliteration without forcing two of the original terms (“case” and “clear”) to act like verbs when they’re usually other parts of speech.

  2. Good point, Patrick. You’re even more of a stickler than I am.

  3. Erm, I may be wrong about this but shouldn’t that be the “Five Cs”, not “Five C’s”, ie without an apostrophe? They’re not belonging to C, nor a contraction of “C is”, just plural hence no apostrophe needed. Another example is “1980’s” which really should be 1980s or ’80s.

  4. Dear Old Lady: The University of Washington (St. Louis) Style Guide indicates that it is correct to use an apostrophe for the plural of a single letter as I did in my title, or for indicating grades (A’s, B’s, C’s). It is an exception to the rule, since these plurals are neither contractions nor possessives. You are correct that no apostrophe should be used with numbers.

  5. 9. Imply/infer (or be careful who you call fat!)
    Shouldn’t this be “or be careful whom you call fat”?

  6. Hi M,
    Technically, you’re correct. It should be “whom you call fat.” But that parenthetical comment was intended as humor, and it doesn’t sound as funny when you use the word “whom.” It just sounds pedantic. So I took artistic license and went for the humor instead of the grammar. You may question my judgement for doing that in a post about common errors, and after seeing your comment, I’m questioning that myself. Good catch! But I’m leaving it the way it is.
    (By the way, I’m presuming you meant to put this comment on the post about common mistakes. I don’t know how to move it over there.) Thanks for reading my blog.

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