“Packaging” Your Message

Easy writing makes hard reading, but hard writing makes easy reading. — Florence King, U.S. writer (b. 1936)

When both the content and the mechanics of your composition are as good as you can make them, you are ready to make your final copy. Unless you are writing an extremely personal message to a family member or friend, you should make every effort to type your piece. (If you have put your work on a word processor long ago, you have greatly simplified your revising and editing. If you are doing it now for the first time, be sure to save your work often and to create one or more back-up files.)

Be sure to select a font that is large enough and plain enough to be read easily. For the main part of your message, a font with serifs (the short lines that finish off letters) is easier to read than a font without them (called “sans serif”). “Times” is an especially legible font. Although critics say that Times has been overused and is boring, the fact is that Times has been used so much because it is effective. Do you want your reader to be admiring your lovely font or to be absorbing your message? A sans serif font can provide an effective contrast for headings, captions, and other special typographical features.

Occasionally people write messages entirely in capital letters, perhaps thinking that this provides emphasis. Such is not the case. Messages in all caps are difficult to read. Capital letters are more uniform than lowercase letters and lack the additional cues that ascenders and descenders provide. Capital letters can be fine for headings.

Proofread your final copy — when you are reading from paper rather than from a screen. This should be another slow, deliberate read — one word at a time, aloud. It is likely that you will find one or two little things that you want to change. Remember that each change necessitates the reading of the next print-out.

Submitting for Publication

If you are submitting your composition to someone who will decide whether or not to publish it (as an article or a Letter to the Editor, for example), observing these guidelines will increase the chance of your piece being accepted:

1. The most important point is to have a well-written message. You have been working on that for seven weeks. Editors need copy for their publications. If you submit a piece that effectively addresses a timely topic — and requires little, if any, editing — your submission will be welcome.

2. Check with the publication to learn the name of the person in the best position to accept your composition. Find out whether the person prefers submission by mail, e-mail, or fax. Try to submit in the preferred way.

3. Recheck the publication’s guidelines for submission, and follow them to the letter. One thing the guidelines are likely to mention is word count. Remember how painstakingly you have crafted your composition. Don’t risk having your message compromised by submitting something that someone else is likely to have to cut. If your name, address, and phone number are required, provide them. Adhere to deadlines.

4. Be sure your final copy is neat and easy to read. Single spacing (with an extra space between paragraphs) is fine if you are sending a letter to an individual. If you are submitting for publication, however, you should double space (this facilitates editing). Be sure to have a margin of at least one inch on all sides of your paper. Pages should not be fastened in any way unless the publication’s guidelines direct otherwise.

5. If your piece is longer than one page, pages after the first should be numbered (usually at the right-hand side of the top line). On the left-hand side of the top line you should identify the piece with your last name and a brief description of the subject. This will be helpful if the pages become separated. Identification for this particular lesson could read Hamilton/”Packaging” Your Message. At the bottom of each page except the last you should put -more-; put -30- at the bottom of the last page.

Personal Messages

A heartfelt message from someone you love is almost certain to become a cherished keepsake. Nevertheless, packaging can enhance the eloquence of such a gift. You might write your message on a piece of special stationery or on a blank note card. You might frame it or otherwise prepare it for display. You might pair it with a photograph or other memento. Many creative ways of sharing messages are described in From Me to You: The reluctant writer’s guide to powerful, personal messages (mentioned in Lesson 2). The real key is to think about your message, the recipient, and perhaps the occasion, and to find an appropriate way to make your gift even more special.

A small handmade book is an effective way to package many kinds of messages, such as family stories, for example. You can get a kit for making your own handbound books at

Mass Mailings

If you are sending a mailing to people who may not know you, a number of things can contribute to the success of your message:

1. Select the recipients of your mailing as carefully as possible.

2. Catch your audience’s attention with the envelope. Consider a bright color — such as solar yellow or hot pink — that will make your envelope stand out in a pile of mail. (You might want to select a color that relates in some way to your message.) You can spark your reader’s interest with a “teaser” on the envelope — a few words that hint at the content and kindle curiosity.

Perhaps you decided to bypass the hurdle of the envelope by putting your message on a postcard or on a piece of sturdy paper that will become a self-mailer with much of the important information on an exposed panel. Even in this situation, it is good to use a teaser between the address and the stamp.

3. Send your mailing first class rather than bulk rate. Obviously each type of mailing has points in its favor. The advantage of bulk rate is its reduced cost. Bulk mailings must meet requirements, though, that increase their preparation time. In addition, their delivery can take several weeks.

Considering only the “packaging,” first-class mail, which appears more important and more personal than bulk-rate mail, is likely to receive greater attention from its recipient. Direct mail gurus report that stamped mail gets a better response than metered mail, and that setting the stamp slightly askew nudges the response rate even higher.

4. Once your reader opens your envelope, your well-crafted message has the opportunity to do its job.

Letter to an Individual

If you are sending your letter to an individual — an elected official, a customer service manager, a prospective employer — your letter will probably be opened (perhaps by a member of the addressee’s staff) and at least partially read. The appearance of the letter and the appeal of the message are likely to determine the attention the letter receives.

If you are sending your letter to someone who receives a high volume of mail, colored paper or a gimmick can garner additional attention. Be sure, though, that the additional attention will be favorable. A successful lure is likely to be cleverly suited to both the recipient and the message. Cautions abound here. While this could be very effective, in most situations it is unnecessary and could be counter-productive by generating a negative response. If you think you have a great idea, talk it over with a few people whose opinion you value. In appraising your gimmick, put yourself in the place of your recipient: How would you respond if you received the message as you are planning to send it?

Writing “Assignments”

Teachers who make writing assignments are usually obligated to read them and grade them. As noted in the second lesson, this is “artificial” writing, which operates differently from writing in the real world, where a piece that does not command attention will, in fact, lose its audience.

The amalgam here is the admission essay. It is artificial in that its content is probably totally divorced from its real purpose (to gain admission for its writer). It is real, however, in that the recipient is not obligated to read it thoroughly. In fact, the admissions officer who receives it is looking for a way to reduce the number of applicants under consideration. Although the admission essay is only one part of the application process, if other parts of the application package are weak, an essay that is also weak (or carelessly prepared) may receive only a cursory glance and may mark the end of that applicant’s consideration.

For either the school assignment or the admission essay, the most important parts of the “packaging” are

1. following the requirements of the assignment

2. meeting the deadline

3. submitting a neat, attractive composition with ample margins and an easy-to-read font

Final Comment

I hope this course has been helpful for you. I hope you will complete your writing project and send your message out into the world. Making your voice heard on topics of importance to you is an unparalleled way to contribute to the world around you.

Not all messages will take two months to complete. Although the writing process can be compressed, I hope you have recognized the value of breaking it into segments so that you can focus on one part at a time. There is also value in setting your project aside for a few days — sometime during the revision process and again in the editing process — so that you can return to it with a fresh perspective.

I hope, too, that you have recognized the value of conferring during the writing process. It provides valuable feedback about how your piece comes across to someone else. In addition, when you serve as conferee to another writer, you are developing skills that will help you evaluate your own work.

The more you write, the easier the process will become. You will become more fluent. You will probably organize your ideas more easily. You will become more familiar with some rules of usage and punctuation, and you will sense which areas remain troublesome for you and require careful attention.

Don’t count on this happening overnight, however. Developing skill as a writer is similar to developing skill in any other field. It takes regular practice, and you should expect the progress to be gradual. Celebrate the process of writing — each small step in each piece that you write.

If you have found these lessons helpful and the explanations clear, you would probably like Hands-On English, a concise handbook written by Fran Santoro Hamilton, instructor of this course. Hands-On English includes many additional explanations and makes grammar visual by using icons to represent parts of speech. Hands-On English is appropriate for fourth graders through adults. Consider ordering copies for

• any student 4th grade or older
• anyone who teaches English at any level
• an education student, student teacher, or beginning teacher (in any subject)
• a homeschooling family
• any family with school-age children
• people learning English as a subsequent language
• people trying to strengthen basic skills in order to improve their employment options
• anyone wanting quick access to English fundamentals

Think of your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, friends, neighbors, employees, baby-sitters, dog walkers. The list is endless! To order:

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A. Prepare your final copy, giving attention to margins, font, type size, and other relevant features discussed in this lesson. Seek feedback on any element about which you are uncertain.

B. Carefully proofread your copy, making corrections as needed. Repeat the cycle of printing, proofing, and correcting until you find no errors.

C. Decide how to best package your message — envelope, frame, etc. — and prepare your package.

D. Send your message!

E. Consider what other messages you would like to send. To whom would you send them? You might set up a notebook or card file with possible topics and pertinent addresses.

F. If you found feedback from writing conferences to be especially helpful, consider meeting regularly (perhaps weekly) with your conferring partner or establishing a writers’ group in your community. Being part of a group that meets regularly will gently encourage you to keep writing. The following link offers suggestions for starting a writing group; however, it provides for written rather than oral feedback.

Lecture 7 Quiz