Introduction to Letter Writing
In the age of emails and social media, writing letters is still important because it shows a person’s social etiquette for certain formal interaction. Communicating in a defined format is important for some real life situations because it shows your intentions and clear messaging is crucial when trying to thank someone, request something or even complaining about something. By following the social conduct and still getting your message across, letter writing can be a very useful skill for professional and personal life.
The Importance of Letter Writing
There are different kinds of letters that you will have to write at different points in your life and each type has its own importance. You might have been thinking while learning how to write a letter whether it is even going to be useful but when you are living as an adult and encountering different kinds of situations with employees, landlords, government offices, etc., the communication needs to be clear and aligned with a certain format to avoid misunderstanding. This means that letter writing is a part of learning how to effectively communicate.
Application letters: These are usually useful when you have to request something from a professor, teacher, administrator, etc. The format of these letters is very important and the proper language needs to be used.
Official communication: Imagine having to write a letter to renew a document from a government agency or requesting something from your bank. It is all a formal communication format that you must follow in order to get your message across effectively.
Staying in touch: This is the informal kind of communication that people don’t use very often now. They are used to convey authentic emotions and connect with people. It is hard to find examples of this kind of letter but maybe for birthdays, anniversaries or even just catching up, letters can be a very thoughtful way to communicate and make the other person feel special on an occasion.
Business communication: Whether you own a business or work for one, there are interactions with other government and private bodies that you might need licenses, permits, etc. from in order to continue doing your business smoothly. For your company’s reputation, it is important to write thorough and clear letters.
Types of Letters: Formal, Informal, Business, Personal
In the section above, we saw the importance of the different kinds of letters. Now let’s look at the many different types of letters that you can encounter in your life that are important to familiarise yourself with:
Formal: These are business letters, letters of application and letters written to newspapers. It is important to distinguish between all the different types and then write them accordingly. For these letters, flamboyant language should be avoided as it destroys clarity. The receiver should be addressed appropriately. It is important to reference when writing applications and giving the details of the sender is mandatory. For newspapers, you would be addressing the authorities so you need to sound as authentic and professional as possible.
Informal: As is apparent, formal and informal letters are very different. You try to keep the formal letters short and crisp whereas informal ones can be longer and detailed to convey your emotions or descriptions of events. These are now replaced by phone calls and messaging but you still might want to write one for a close acquaintance.
Business: Abbreviations and business jargons should be avoided in business letters. The sender needs to address the receiver properly and the exact names of products and services should be used carefully because it can cause great loss if there is miscommunication.
Personal: Informal letters are the same as personal letters. These can be emotional and longer but these are usually not the mode of communication anymore.
Essential Elements of a Letter
There are a lot of rules you need to follow with letters, but most commonly with business letters that makes the communication easier. Having a neat format in place makes it easier for the receiver to read and understand it and then make the appropriate decision.
Choosing the Right Stationery and Envelope
This might be obsolete now because very few people write letters with their hands and usually write using a word processor and send the letter in a PDF format to the concerned person. Even then, if you have to write a formal letter, the right thing to be concerned about with formal letters is the font and organisation style of the letter.
The Art of Handwriting
Since texting and emailing is the most common mode of communication right now, the art of handwriting is slowly losing its appeal. No one really cares about improving their handwriting or making a good impression with it because it is not used in communication anymore. However, there are events like weddings and other personal celebrations where people want a more personalised thank you note or an acknowledgment of their presence. This is where you can write a thank you letter and show them your appreciation. There are many tutorials on YouTube to practise your handwriting’s improvement.
Etiquette and Tone in Letter Writing
While it is important to convey confidence and sincerity through your words, your words and tone should also have a balance of empathy and respect. There is always some work that is urgent but you can not pressure people or use condescending language. Be friendly and use an appropriate salutation. For example, if you are not going to hire a candidate, the wrong way to say it would be ‘We can not hire you because you do not fulfil our requirements’. You should say ‘We are very sorry to inform you that we currently do not have any position that fits your skill set’.
Addressing the Recipient
For different kinds of letters, the recipient is addressed in different ways.
For business letters:
- When the name is known but gender is not known: Dear John Brian,
- When writing to a professor whose name you know: Dear Prof Smith,
- Writing to a doctor whose name you know: Dear Dr Ezra,
- For a contact whose name is not known: Dear Sir/ Madam
- When you do not know who to address and you are writing to an institution: To Whom It May Concern:
For less formal business letters:
- When the name of the person is known: Dear Smith, or Dear Jane,
- When addressing a group of people: Dear colleagues,
For informal letters:
- When you know the person well: Hi,
- When you know the group of people well: Hi guys,
For all of these salutations, notice the comma and colon afterwards.
Closing and Signing a Letter
When closing a letter, just like the opening, your signing off has to have a certain level of formality or informality depending on the receiver.
For simple formal letters:
- Yours truly,
- Yours sincerely,
For slightly less formal letters, when you know the person:
- Best regards,
- Yours respectfully,
For informal letters:
- Warm regards
- Best wish
- With appreciation
For handwritten letters, leave four spaces below the signing off so that you can add your signature before your name. If the letter is typed, follow the following format:
Formatting and Proofreading
Formatting and proofreading of the letter is important because it should not have any disruption in the flow so that the reader can understand it easily. The simpler language you use, the easier it will be for the receiver to understand your message. You can follow the standard format for a letter which is given below
Your own information
Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name, (or any other appropriate salutation)
Body of the letter
Best regards, (or any appropriate signing off)
Tips for Effective Letter Writing
- In the first paragraph of the body of the letter, you should state clearly the purpose of writing the letter. Further paragraphs elaborate in your request and the last one should thank the receiver and express that the sender is waiting for a response
- Make sure the letter is not more than one typed page because that makes it very long to read and process
- Use plain fonts like Times New Roman or Arial
- Use single spacing and one inch margins
- When you are speaking to someone, the pitch of your voice and the body language sets the tone but when writing letters, your language matters more in doing this job. Do not sound cold and harsh and if it is an important letters have a friend or colleague read it first to get an impression of your tone so that you can edit it for effective communication
- Use an active voice so that the reader gets a sympathetic tone from your written words. This will enable them to connect with you and not see it as stone cold formal interaction to be ignored.