How to Write a Good Letter

The art of letter-writing, the ancient practice of communication through the written word, is largely lost on this generation. With the advent of electronic mail has come the imminent neglect of the world of pen and paper and stamps and postmen. Ours is now the world of the instant message, a world that has no time for waiting, no time for anything slower than what can take place in a moment. And while the speed of this new form of communication has increased the number of people who correspond by means of written communication, we have in the same breath lost the depth of relationship that writing and receiving letters used to symbolize. Therefore, we must reclaim that which is lost to us, relearn its subtlety and nuance, and reintroduce letter-writing into our expansive repertoire of communication.

There are four essential items that are absolutely necessary to have before you even begin writing your letter.

(1) A black or blue pen that will last the duration of the letter-(to avoid running out and having to switch half way through). I would discourage the use of pencil due to the increased risk of rub marks and decreased legibility of your words.

(2) A lined piece of paper. Depending on the audience and register of your letter, you may choose to use stationery or a thicker paper than regular binder paper.

(3) An appropriately sized envelope into which to place your letter. Whether a letter to an old buddy or to the President of the United States, be sure to also choose an envelope that matches the paper on which you have chosen to write and that is appropriate for your audience.

(4) A stamp. Believe it or not, it now costs 39 cents to send a letter in the United States. There are many different styles from which to choose, the most basic being the classic stamp with the American flag. This is up to your choosing entirely.

Now it is time to begin thinking about the content for your letter. Some questions to ponder before you begin writing are the following:

(1) Is the recipient of your letter older or younger, a close friend or a mere acquaintance?

(2) Will you be writing a short note or a long, multiple-page letter?

(3) Will the letter be sentimental, personal, informational, romantic, or persuasive? The answers to these questions will help you plan more clearly how you will go about expressing yourself. They will help you to use a formal or informal tone, high vocabulary or slang, whether to have an introduction or just get right to the point.

Once you have taken these preliminary steps in preparation, it is finally time to begin writing. Addressing a letter is the first task, and it can be a significant indicator of how the rest of your words will be written. You can use the traditional “Dear______,” to address the recipient of your letter, or you can be creative and use your own greeting. Some examples could be, “My dear friend John”, or “Sweet Emily” or “Dignified Senator Boxer”, etc. Be sure to include a cordial greeting to get your letter off on the right foot.

Remember, a letter is a tender, powerful, informational, instructional, living and moving thing. When you begin to express your feelings, tell stories, and relate certain events, you need to be sure to remember the following rules of letter writing:

(1) DO NOT write in the same way that you talk!

When you write, you need to show that you have taken the time and care necessary to express your message in a well thought out and concise manner. This is not just a written phone conversation, but a chance to reveal things in a more eloquent manner.

(2) DO use all the appropriate grammar and spelling!

Once again, if you have all kinds of mistakes or if there are a bunch of awkward sentences, you are showing that you haven’t taken much time to craft your letter! Do your best to write clear and concise sentences that express your message carefully! The more time you take, the more meaningful the letter becomes.

(3) DO NOT begin or end a long letter abruptly!

When beginning or ending a longer letter, you have to be sure to do so gradually by way of an introduction and a conclusion. Without the proper symmetry, a letter can lose some of its meaning and craft. A bit of structure goes a long way in organizing your thoughts.

(4) DO describe where you are both physically and emotionally

It is extremely important, (especially when writing to s close acquaintance), that you pay close attention to the details of your surroundings and describe them to your recipient. This draws the reader into your setting and makes a deeper connection in the communication process. Also be sure to describe your emotional landscape, being honest about your pains and joys.
(5) DO NOT reveal or express some deep emotion like love or hate for the first time through a letter.

This, my dear friends, is a cop out and shows that you are afraid of expressing said emotion face-to-face. You must be sure to express such depth of emotion when you are actually in the presence of the other person, or you risk too much. Don’t take the easy way out!

So, you have finished your letter, and all you have left to do is end it with style. It is up to you to decide whether you wish to end with “Love, ________”, or “Sincerely, _______”, or “Your Friend, __________”. There are many ways to end your letter, just be sure that it is fitting with the rest of your content and the nature of your relationship to the recipient. Always end your letter with respect and high regard for your reader, even if you have expressed some hard feelings throughout.

It is finally time to place your letter in the envelope, address it, put on a stamp, and put it in the mailbox to be taken off to its final destination. Your address is called the return address, and this goes in the upper left hand corner of the envelope, while the address you are sending your letter to, the mailing address, goes directly in the center of the envelope. The stamp should be licked and placed in the upper right hand corner. Now you have finally completed the steps necessary to send a letter. The only task remaining is to wait in eager anticipation for a response in that little black mailbox out in front of your home or apartment.

There are few experiences that compare with receiving the correspondence you’ve been waiting for from a loved one far away. There is a deep poetry in all of the writing and waiting and writing again. Now that you have the tools to participate in this old tradition and art, it is my hope that you take out your favorite ballpoint and begin to scratch away of life and love and experiences and wait for the power of letters to carry you away to far off worlds through messengers dressed in blue.

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