Letter Writing Basics

Letter writing is definitely a dying art, I think the only time anyone puts pen to paper now is when writing Christmas or Birthday cards. I must say I do like getting cards through the post instead of junk mail and bills.

Despite what many people suggest, I refuse to believe that the handwritten word is dead. With all the emails and instant messages flying around, people often need a refresher on how to write a good, old-fashioned letter. Nearly all writers in all levels find it sometimes hard to start writing what they have in mind.

Writing is a complex skill that requires time to develop as many elements are weaved together to form one final product. Writing is more than just putting words and sentences together. Creative writing allows you to vent a personal thought, subjective feelings and practically anything that comes to mind. To achieve a good piece of writing, there are some essential and well defined stages within the writing process that make sure you will actually end up with the piece of writing you intended to have.

A formal style of letter is required for professional correspondence, business letters and occasions when you must show respect to the person with whom you are corresponding. It is important to consider standard guidelines when writing a formal letter.

Choose stationery with a matching envelope. The paper should be a neutral color such as white, cream or beige. Avoid stationery with bright colors or distracting graphic elements. If the letter is for businesses purposes, use company letterhead.

Include your return address in the top-right corner of the letter. Add the recipient’s address on the left of the page just below the return address.

Skip two lines and write the date. Be sure to spell out the month. Always avoid abbreviations in a formal letter.

Skip two lines and begin the letter with an appropriate greeting. Include the name of the recipient if possible. If you are unable to determine the name, direct the letter to “Sir or Madam.” Be sure to include the correct title in the salutation (such as Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms. or Dr.). If the recipient is a woman and you are not sure how she likes to be addressed, use the neutral title “Ms.”

Skip two lines and write the introduction. The initial paragraph should state the purpose of the letter, whether to inquire about a job, file a complaint or request information. Do not be vague. The recipient should not have to guess at the meaning of your letter. This is also the place to introduce yourself if the recipient does not know who you are.

Write the main body of the letter. This should include relevant information that supports the purpose of the letter. Make sure your comments are organized in a clear and concise manner, and avoid unnecessary information.

Create a closing paragraph that communicates an action you expect the recipient to take, such as sending you information, contacting you for an interview. This is also a good place to make reference to future contact if you expect to see this person or talk to them at a future date. If the purpose of the letter was to make an apology or express appreciation, restate that intention.

Write closing remarks. Use “Sincerely,” “Yours” or “Yours Faithfully” if you do not know the recipient’s name and “Yours Sincerely” or “Yours Truly” if you do. Use “Best Wishes” if the recipient is a close friend. Skip four lines and include your name and title, if necessary. The four lines will allow you enough space to sign the letter before sending it.

Keep the letter to one page to increase the likelihood that it will be read by the recipient.

Do not send a letter without proofreading it for typos and grammatical errors. Your computer has a spelling and grammar check for a reason. Don’t be afraid to use them. 

Mistakes can distract the reader from the purpose of the letter.

Write clearly and choose words that express the point you are trying to get across. Make sure your reader can comprehend exactly what you’re referring about.

Write in a readable style. Command the attention of the reader being direct, emphasizing important points. Also it’s not good to use monotonous sentences because it does not encourage the reader to read any further and they will lose interest.

Remember that the last things you say in the letter are the last ones the reader will read.

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