Some might see writing letters as a dying art, especially as digital methods of communication continue to rise. It’s also fair to say that those who have grown up in a digital age may not be familiar with writing letters at all.
So, is learning how to write a letter really worth it?
Short answer… Yes. Letter writing is a great skill to possess, particularly when official correspondence is required professionally. There are also times where you may need to attach a letter in an email or even use some of your letter writing skills within the emails themselves. If your plan is to enter the business world or the company you work for needs you to expand your skill set, learning how to write a formal letter can be invaluable.
When writing formal letters, there are a number of unwritten rules that you might wish to follow to get the best out of the letter you’re sending. Some of these can easily be overlooked though, and missing out on a few key elements could be the difference between an OK letter and a great letter.
The Write Way
Here we’re going to take a look at some of the key elements of great letter writing on point can help add credibility and quality to what you’re trying to get across.
Accuracy: This might seem obvious but making sure the details of your letter are correct is paramount. Getting details such as the name of the recipient or the address the letter is being sent to incorrect can have a huge impact on how well received it is by the reader (if received at all).
Addresses: Your address should be written in the top right-hand corner of the letter. Your recipient’s address should be written on the left and should start lower down than your own.
Content: The content of the letter being sent needs to be simple and appropriate. The first paragraph should briefly and clearly summarise why you are writing. The following paragraph should expand on your reasons for the letter; adding further details, any background information to back up your reasons for contact, and what the desired outcome of the letter should be. Any further paragraphs should reiterate your initial summary and indicate what your next step will be.
Date: The date can be written on either the left or right-hand side of the letter. It should always sit below an address and the month should be written as a word not a number.
Ending: There are a couple of different ways to end a letter. If you don’t know the person’s name, you should end with “Yours faithfully”. If however you do know the person’s name, you should sign off with “Yours sincerely”. Both endings should be to the bottom left of your last paragraph and both should be followed by your signature.
Focus: Only include information that is relevant to and required by the recipient. Anything else can affect how the letter is perceived and may actually confuse the reader.
Font: If you’re writing a letter on the computer, choosing the correct font is crucial. Plain fonts are best for formal letter writing; this includes such fonts as Arial, Times New Roman and Calibri. The size of the font is also very important; the standard size to use when letter writing is between 10 point and 12 point. If the letter is intended for an ultra-conservative organisation/person, 12 point Times New Roman is the safest option.
Greeting: If you don’t know the name of the person you’re writing to, use “Dear Sir or Madam”. If you are able to find out the name of the person, it’s advisable to do so. If you do know the name of the person you’re writing to, use their title (so “Mr” or “Miss” for example) followed by their surname. Avoid using first names as this can be perceived as informal.
Language: When writing a letter, making sure you use appropriate language for the subject and its intended audience. This will help engage the reader. A formal complaints letter would use different language and keywords to that of an invitation, for example.
Layout: Probably the most important aspect visually, is the layout. When writing formal letters in English there are a few universally accepted standards that are advised. All of the writing in the body of the letter should be set to the left and each section of the letter should be evenly spaced apart.
Presentation: How you present a letter can also have an impact on how it’s received. If you’re writing a letter from a business to another business your company logo can add further professionalism to your message, for example. It also makes it easier for the receiver to recognise any correspondence at a glance. Further to this, the paper you use can also make a difference. Use a standard white bonded paper of a medium weight (not your average copy paper); using poor quality paper can seem lazy and may not go down so well with the reader. Choosing a speciality paper will also improve the quality of the printing. Avoid using coated papers as this may mean your letter is wrongly accused of being junk mail.
Proofreading: This may seem like a silly one but getting someone else to proofread your letter can go a long way. Ensuring your letter reads well and can be understood without the need to question or make assumptions about the content is very important. If the person proofreading the letter needs to question anything, you may need to add further detail or simplify the point.
Revision: If the letter you’re sending is of particular importance, don’t be afraid to create a few different drafts. This will allow you to see what works, what doesn’t, and will allow you to get opinions from others before sending.
Spelling: You must always remember that the content of a letter is a direct reflection of you, the writer, and by extension, the company you work for (if the letter is being sent in a professional capacity). Getting someone with an eye for detail to proofread your letter should help to eliminate any spelling or grammar issues.
Letter writing may not be something you’re too familiar with, but like most things, practice makes perfect. Your goal is to maximise the impact of the letter you’re sending; following our helpful tips will help you to achieve this!