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Ten Steps to the Perfect Letter Each and Every Time

Some people just seem to have a certain knack for writing great letters. You know the type – she never forgets an important event; never misses an occasion to let you know she’s thinking of you. And when you receive a note from her, she manages to get all the important points across in a meaningful and appropriate way, all while making you feel special and joyful. You can be that type of letter writer! Whether you are writing a casual note to a close friend or a letter of recommendation for a business acquaintance, follow these simple steps to perfect your correspondence competence:

1. Send your letter in a timely manner.
Late birthday cards and overdue thank you notes, while better than nothing, simply do not send the message you want them to send. In this fast-paced age, we have all become accustomed to immediate gratification (think emails, text messages, and cell phones). The difference (and the beauty) of sending a hand-written note is that you actually need to plan ahead in order to get it to the recipient on time. Do so, and you’ll make the type of impression you intend to make.

2. Address the recipient appropriately.
This may actually take some research on your part. First, find out whether the person uses an official title (Dr. for example). If so, and if you choose to (or neglect to) use it, you run the risk of insulting your reader before she has begun reading!

3. Include the proper salutation.
Presumably, you know better than to begin a formal letter with "Hey you!" But have you truly thought about how you will launch into your letter? "Dear," and "To," have become our faithful stand-bys for business letters, but you don’t have to stick to them for more casual correspondence, where you are allowed a bit more creativity and informality.

4. Make it clear why you are writing.
This is especially true for business, letters, but it also applies to everyday notes. Thank you notes should literally say "thank you," and you should not wait until the last line to do so, or you run the risk of making your gratitude look like an afterthought. Similarly, in a business letter, you need to make it clear fairly quickly what you want or what you need. Otherwise, the reader will likely put your important request down before he has even read the "important stuff."

5. Keep things short and sweet.
Refer to # 4, above. Save all the little details for a follow-up phone call.

6. Include the date and sign your name.
It seems obvious, but since email does both of these things for us, many of us have forgotten these two important steps! Imagine that the reader will be keeping your letter for years to come. They will want to know when they received it! And, your signature adds a personal touch as well as a level of authenticity.

7. Write legibly.
Easier said than done, we know. Even if you don’t remember to dot your "I"s and cross your "T"s, try to avoid errors in spelling and general messiness. You want the reading of your letter to be a pleasant experience, not a daunting task!

8. Get personal.
Now, we don’t encourage you to write every little detail of your daily life in every letter you write. But on the other hand, there’s nothing worse than receiving a stock letter that seems as though it could have been written by any random person to any random person at any period in time. The more you can make connections between your own life and that of your reader, the better.

9. Encourage the recipient to respond.
The most obvious way to encourage ongoing correspondence is to ask the reader to write you back. The most understated way is to include your return address somewhere on your letter so the recipient can write a return note if they wish, even long after the envelope has been tossed in the trash.

10. Use attractive stationery.
You don’t necessarily need a collection of colorful papery and professional stationery on which to write notes of all types (although what fun that would be!) The most important thing is to use high-quality, attractive paper (of any color or style) so your letters say what you want them to say…nothing more and nothing less.