How to Write Direct Mail Letters

Debbie Carlson

First of all, you will need to forget a lot of things you learned about formal letter writing, grammar, sentence construction, paragraphs, etc. Your goal is to motivate people, not impress them with your grammatical skills.

The best letters are written in an oral style (Oral Copy): Not so much the way you talk, but with the ease with which you talk -the flow, the naturalness of conversation. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself, using different words to convey the same message. Don’t think that just because you have stated a fact you have

And then, a few other suggestions: Don’t try to be clever, or humorous, or play on words. Humor, as you know, is often disguised hostility, and what may be funny to you often is offensive to another person.

Don’t argue theology or philosophy. In mailings outside your church, steer clear of scripture interpretations. When you use religious words, select those words that are generally accepted by people of all faiths. It is vital that you define the purpose of your letter. If you are trying to change or convert an individual, you can use whatever words you like. Outside Fund Raising Note: Don’t confuse your purpose, You can seldom change an individual’s mind and raise money at the same time.

Forget formal grammar. Use run-on sentences. Avoid words that are difficult to pronounce. Avoid sentence construction that is grammatically correct, but sounds awkward. In our speech patterns we dangle participles and split infinitives.

Use connectives to start paragraphs. Never start a paragraph with an “A” or “The”. Use “And”, “so”, “then”, “until”, “even”, “if”, and other connectives.

Hook the paragraphs together by using connectives to start paragraphs so the letter is one long glorious paragraph. You were taught in school that a paragraph is a self-contained idea, with a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion. FORGET IT. In good oral copy a paragraph is broken from the next only to make the letter easy to read. Usually a paragraph is three to five lines. You break up the lines so the eye won’t become fatigued.

An easy device for remembering about paragraphs is the example that has been around as long as direct mail has been around — the bucket brigade. In a bucket brigade no one spills the water. It’s passed from hand to hand until it reaches the fire. This is what happens when you write a good letter. Don’t let the reader lose interest between paragraphs. You may want to break the paragraph right in the middle of an idea, just to keep the reader’s mind from wandering.

Let me repeat: A paragraph in oral copy is used to make the letter easy to read, not to separate ideas.

Don’t be afraid to use the word “I”. I realize that you have been taught that “I” is egotistic, and well-mannered gentlemen refer to themselves as “we”. This makes for a lot of pronouns, third-person reading. Start your paragraphs with “I” if you wish. Not all the paragraphs, but one or two in a letter. What’s wrong with saying, “I am writing you today because…”? That certainly beats saying, “We sat down with pen in hand…”

And along with “I” use “You”, “Yours”. A good letter will use “you” many times, if you are talking to an individual, not a group. Even though your mail is mass produced, you want the reader to feel that you are writing to him, personally. And you can’t convey this feeling unless you make use of “I”, “you”, “Yours”, etc.

Just a few more don’ts: Be careful with analogies. When you carry an analogy to its logical conclusion, you can be in trouble, Also, be careful with moralizing. This tends to block communications.

And moralizing gives the effect of talking down to the reader. Avoid verbal shorthand, seldom use professional terms or words that would not be in the vocabulary of the average person. The same for organization initials and abbreviations. Too much of that and you end up with alphabet soup.

When you do the actual writing, don’t worry about length. Write everything that comes into your mind. It’s easy to edit a lot of material, but difficult to put flesh on a skeleton. After you have written the first draft, put it away for a day. Don’t edit the copy until your mind has been involved in other matters.

What happens when you edit too quickly is that your mind may be thinking about certain ideas, and even though you don’t put those ideas in writing, your mind plays a trick by filling in the gaps of your copy.

Then, when you come back to the copy, edit it down… or maybe even rewrite it.

Now that you have your copy edited to size, read it over, at another sitting, and be sure it’s perfectly plain and simple what it is that you are talking about. Give it to an associate or a secretary, and if they are in the least confused by the letter, don’t defend your masterpiece… simplify it.

When you think you have it finished, go over a few check points:

Are the paragraphs short?

Are they connected with each other so the reader can’t lose interest?

Do you have too many technical words?

Are there plenty of “I”, “you”, “yours”?

Is it perfectly clear what you expect the reader to do?



A. Be Honest
1. About yourself
2. About your church
3. About your appeal

B. Be Personal
1. In your message
2. In the medium

C. Be Simple

D. Be Positive

E. Be consistent – Every publication from your church should continually project your assumptions.

F. Be Concerned About Your Reader


According to a Yale University Study… These are  the 12 most persuasive words in the English Language:
save, money, you, new, health, results, easy safety,  love, discovery, proven, guarantee.



A. Profile the recipients
1. What do you know about the reader? What do you have in common?
2. On what grounds do you have the right to Ask?

B. Define the project
1. Be specific
2. Think through the alternatives

C. Determine the steps necessary to accomplish the project.


A. Gather the input necessary
1. Giving calendars
2. Activity Calendar

B B. Prepare a planning calendar

C. Learn to use the proper forms

D. Keep accurate records



I. Paul was doing the talking- he had enough self-
confidence to say so.

A. Notice six “I’s” in the first eleven verses:
“I, Paul” wrote it…
“I thank God for you…”
“I’m praying for you…”
“I have you in my heart…”
“I long after you, …”
II. He spoke specifically to the reader. Look at all the
“you’s” – (ten)

III. He had a genuine concern for this person (s) .

A. He said so:
“I have you in my heart”
“I long after you, …”

B. He really prayed for them.

C. He remembered them.

IV. He was direct

A. Sometimes he said “we”, e.g.:
I Thess 1:2, Col. 1:3, II Thess. 1:3

B. For more personal notes, he said “I” e.g.:
I Cor 1:4, II Tim 1:3, Philemon 1:4

V. He was generally very expressive and personal

A. Asked God to bless them
B. Prayed specifically for them
c. Thanked God for them
D. Said that he wanted to see them face to face
E. Remembered them fondly

VI. Then he often got down to rather serious business of rebuking and instructing…but not without first expressing his LOVE for them.