In defence of round-robins


A round robin

Oh, the sneering! Oh, the superiority! Even Lynne Truss (Eats, Shoots and Leaves) is on BBC Radio4 broadcasting a series of witty ripostes to round-robins (RRs).

Now some RRs are painful: long-winded, which goes hand-in-hand with boring; poorly composed and/or typed; with scattered blurry photos; and produced with tight margins in tiny, coloured or weird fonts. But some gems are witty, near professional offerings, mostly photos with hilarious captions leaving you wanting more. The best ones make you grab the ‘phone or start bashing out an email to the sender immediately after reading.

In time-strapped, intense lives, the RR can reach many more people without the sender getting RSI, paying a fortune for individually printed photos or dying from exhaustion and insanity repeating the same stuff up to, and possibly beyond, a hundred times. How are RRs different from all the blog posts we chuck out indiscriminately into the digiverse?

But, like trying to avoid the slush-pile that many writers end up on, how do you write an RR that’s entertaining, informative and has that spark of something special? I’ve been sending them out for over twenty-five years, well before the time they became fashionable, so I’ve got some experience.

Keep these key points in front of you:

  • The recipient may only have a quick minute to scan your letter, so keep it snappy
  • Include lots of photos, but interesting, non-forced ones. Do not reduce them down to such a low resolution that they look like a blurry mess.
  • Do not witter on about Jemima’s first day at school. Most people have been to school, so have their children – we know. Just say J has started school and add a photo of her in her too large uniform.
  • Yes, a mention of holidays, but not a detailed description of the sangria night when you all got trollied. As above, we know this experience.
  • Achievements – careful does here. Of course, say that Jemima bagged a first in Icelandic or her sister passed her hairdressing apprenticeship and has secured a stylist job in a top London salon – these are great things. But don’t go on about it (Even I was reasonably restrained about the publication of my debut novel INCEPTIO on 1 March 2013. 😉 ).
  • What people in the family are doing now – as in the point above. A brief sentence or two is enough.
  • Try to inject some wit, but don’t force it.
  • And guess what? Edit it! An RR is like any other piece of writing and if you are sending it to recipients who are your friends and relations, they deserve the same courtesy as the rest of the reading public.
  • Lastly, make sure you leave a space at the end for a short, personal, handwritten message and signature.

Do you write or receive RRs? Go on, now, tell me your thoughts…

6 comments to In defence of round-robins

  • Alison

    A Twitter friend has reminded me of something: as well as the personal message at the end, do write a greeting at the top with “Dear Jane and John” or whoever at the top.

  • There was an absolutely hilarious piece on BBC Radio 4 yesterday purporting to be from one of the recipients of these RRs even though she hadn’t seen the family concerned in 20 years.
    I wish I could find it – the counterpoint between the recipient’s dreadful cirumstances and the pompous, self-aggrandised situation of the senders finished with the recipient saying that she was so grateful for their continued invitation to drop by as she was considering moving in with them.
    We don’t do them – in these days of Twitter and FB most of my friends and family already know our news and there is still the telephone!

    • Alison

      Hi Ailsa. Yes, it was listening to Lynne Truss that impelled me to write this post. She was hilarious, but I felt bound to reply. 😉

  • A very elegant riposte, Alison – and lots of great advice for round robin writers. The only trouble is, I’m still unconvinced by round robins, apart from a lovely friend who writes such self-deprecating, humorous ones that they are a delight to read.

    • Alison

      We always try to be humorous. I think it’s the key. I found an old one from 1999 with black and white photos – very advanced for then – and it made me quite emotional as I read through it.