3. End with next steps, stated with emphasis

It makes a simple kind of sense to end letters, memos, e-mails, and even some report sections by answering the question, "What's next?"

If the answer to the question involves action of the writer's part, then the ending might well be a summary of next steps and a reminder of when the next status update will be. If the answer to the question involves action of the reader's part, then the ending should be a clearly stated request for action.

Readers may be unenthusiastic when asked to do things; they are, after all, just as busy as you are. So you should use the space above the request to back up the need for the action you are asking the reader to perform. You should always consider, as well, the need for persuasion.

Endings of sections or of whole pieces deserve emphasis. If, however, the idea expressed has no particular importance in content, you might search for another idea nearby, an idea that has more fire power. The following ideas may give you some ideas of how to achieve rhetorical emphasis, that is to say, emphasis in the flow of the words rather than in the content of the ideas:

  1. Use periodic sentences, sentences which delay the main idea until the end of the sentence.
  2. Use concrete, active-voice verbs, as described below.
  3. Shorten sentences or, at least, shorten main clauses.
  4. Use parallelism for a series of like ideas. As an emphatic structure, parallelism requires that key wording be repeated before the two items of a pairing or before all the items in the series.
  5. Put minor ideas in modifiers and main ideas in main clauses.
  6. Use precise words, words your reader can easily connect with.
The most obvious check for effectiveness of endings is whether the ending is noninterchangeable--would fit only on this piece of writing. Interchangeable endings, like "If I can help you further with this, let me know," are the formulaic ways we have of retreating from the field, ways that indicate that our content has run out before our words did. They signify a waste of the most important place in a piece of writing. Even a slight addition of specific content can assure the reader that you are still thinking of him or her and the problem at hand, for instance, "If you'd like to discuss our returns policy in greater depth, give me a call."

Courtesy of John Mercer Associates,