How to “Tell Time” in a Letter

Posted on: March 1, 2010

What do you do when you need to write a letter that describes a sequence of events? A letter that describes a medical procedure, or something that happened to you, or the development of a product, or the steps in a manufacturing process? As these few examples indicate, you must figure out a way to arrange the material in your letter by order of occurrence, that is, by chronological order.

As you begin to write your letter, many ideas probably vie for your attention. Which to include? Which to exclude? One helpful approach to the selection problem is to consider your audience and your objective: to whom are you sending the letter, and what action do you want that person (or company) to take? First, define your audience and objective. Second, make a list of ideas for inclusion, based on your definition of audience and objective. Finally, select the most relevant ideas from the list.

Sort those ideas by chronological order to establish the flow of paragraphs. When the sequence of paragraphs correctly presents your story, from start to finish, then write the text. Begin each paragraph with a subject sentence, which states the main idea. Subsequent sentences within the paragraph must support the main idea presented in the subject sentence.

Use chronological linking words and phrases to transition from one idea (or paragraph) to the next. The purpose of these words is to connect your ideas in a logical way and coherently move your story forward to its conclusion. This allows your audience to interpret the sequence of events in the proper order and place your statements in a timeframe. Without a clear chronology, your statements would be a confusing jumble.

Some example chronological words are: final, seconds, minutes, before, while, then, in turn, intermittently, later, next, previously, immediately, initially, first, second, after, occasionally, soon, meanwhile, last, afterward, and subsequently. What other words can you think of to indicate chronological order?

As you can see from these examples, chronological words help create a coherent pattern for your audience to follow. They also work as transition points, which explicitly show how the ideas in your letter relate to one another.

Blessed be the ties that bind. To “tell time” in a letter, use the glue that connects one idea to the next within a given timeframe: chronological order.  Elizabeth Lexleigh  The Write Ideas  lexpower


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