How to write a letter in 5 easy steps
There is no better feeling than receiving a letter through the post-box in an age where we communicate primarily by email and text messages. The simple excitement of opening the envelope to reveal who has written to you is an enjoyable novelty.
If you landed on this page, you probably have a letter you need to write. Maybe it’s for work, as a formal request, or you just want to send a personalised letter to a loved one to show them you care.
Either way, read on to learn the letter-writing essential tips and tricks that will impress the person opening the envelope on the other side.
Why should you choose to write a letter instead of sending an email?
Letter-writing is an art form of the past that is slowly making a comeback. Opposing the fast pace of the hectic modern lifestyle, it allows people to take a moment and be present with their correspondence.
There are two main types of letters: business and personal.
For businesses, it is essential to send letters to ensure your information gets read.
Just think of all the different websites you are subscribed to, sending you junk mail every day. If businesses rely only on emails, the vital information they have to relay may end up lost in a sea of shopping offers and Netflix updates.
For personal letters, taking the initiative and extra time to send a letter via “snail mail” is one of the most demonstrative ways you can show someone how much they mean to you.
Anyone can pop off a quick text or email, but it takes effort and care to go through the letter-writing process for someone you love.
You have to acquire the right equipment, write it out (because, of course, if you’re going to send a personal letter, it’s got to be handwritten!), source a postage stamp, and find your nearest post box to send it off.
Are you inspired yet? Time to start writing a letter then.
The magic ingredients of a letter
Every letter consists of a combination of five key elements. These are:
- Body of the letter
- Sign off
So let’s see how to marry these components in a way that will make even the toughest English teacher smile!
1 - The address
In your letter, you will need to write both your address (or your work address if it is a work letter) and your recipient’s letter.
The type of letter you write will determine whether or not you need to add your address. For example, if you are writing to a loved one or someone you are very familiar with, it isn’t necessary to add your address.
Likewise, if you know them well, you only need to write their address on the envelope. For formal letters, such as business letters, addresses are essential on the letter.
Your address goes in the top right-hand corner of your letter, with your name at the top.
Your recipient’s address goes on the top left-hand corner of your letter, with the name of the company or person at the top. If you are using an envelope with a see-through address box, make sure the address is aligned to show through it.
This will usually mean putting the address slightly lower than you have placed your own.
2 - The date
The easiest part of a letter is to add the date. This will always go on the right-hand side, usually a couple of lines below your address. If you haven’t added your address, make sure the date is in the top right-hand corner.
If you are sending an international letter, you need to be careful with how you format your date. Writing out the date in full, such as “25th September 2014”, is pretty straightforward, but countries may vary in how they write them when it comes to shorthand dates.
For example, in the U.K, we would write 25th September 2014 as 25/09/2014, but in the U.S.A, they would write it 09/25/2014 or September 25th 2014.
So to avoid any confusion, make sure you know how the date is written in the country your letter is being sent to. And when in doubt, remember that Google is always your best friend in these circumstances.
3 – Letter starters
Starting your letter on the right note is essential to set the tone and engage the recipient. Depending on your relationship with the person, there are standard greetings you may use. These vary in levels of formality.
To whom it may concern - Use this when addressing someone you don’t know the name of.
Dear (Mr X, Mrs Y, Ms Z) - Use this when you know the name of the person you are addressing but who you do not know personally.
Dear Sir/ Dear Madam - Use this when you do not know the person’s name, but you know their gender.
Dear Sirs - Similar to “to whom it may concern”, use this when addressing a group of people that you don’t know the name of.
Although outdated, this greeting is used regardless of gender, and you will find some businesses that still send letters addressed in this way.
Dear (Ian) - Use this when you know the first name of the person and have a cordial relationship with.
In some workplaces, this is used despite having no personal relationship with the person as a way of making the correspondence feel more personal.
To (Alex) - It works similarly to dear, but it is slightly less formal. Use this when you know the person well but still want to keep a degree of formality in your letter.
Hey (Maria) - When you have a very close relationship with someone and want to skip the formalities, a simple “hey” is an easy way to set your letter up.
4 – The body of your text
Finally! You’ve set your letter up with the correct format, and you’re ready to get to the point. The body of your letter gives all the details you want to let the recipient know.
When writing a letter, it is good practice to avoid big blocky paragraphs of text as this can disengage your reader, and they probably won’t finish reading your letter.
If you are writing a business letter, make sure you start your letter with the most critical information and develop the details in each of the following paragraphs. This way, you will keep your letter reader interested, and they are more likely to read until the end.
If you know the person well, like a friend or family member, you may want to start with a friendly “hope you are doing well”. Showing that you care about someone will warm their heart and make them want to continue reading the letter.
Similarly, if you are writing to a loved one, don’t worry about your tone or words; just write from the heart as you would usually talk to them. After all, anything you write them will be a hit.
You may want to make a rough plan of what you want to write so that you can confidently commit pen to paper.
5 – Signing off
Phew, we’re onto the final step. One last line to wrap this letter with a neat bow, ready to send off in the post.
Just like with our greetings, finishing your letter will depend on who you are writing too and the need for formality.
Yours faithfully - Use this if you don’t know the person’s name.
Yours sincerely - Use this for a formal letter where you have named the recipient at the beginning
Many thanks/ thanks - Use this in a business letter where you know the recipient and have asked them to take action on something in the body of the letter.
Best wishes - Use this in informational letters where you have a good relationship with the recipient.
Love from/ Love - Use this when you have a close relationship with the person, such as with a loved one. Putting your personal stamp on your letter writing
Congratulations, you now know how to write the perfect letter!
But your letter doesn’t have to stop with the content you write. So here are a few things to consider when writing your next letter, to give it that extra finishing touch.
Type of paper used
Think about how you want your letter to look. For example, do you want coloured paper, or plain, white paper?
Also, think about the quality of the paper used. Thick paper designed for letters often looks best and gives the best results.
Want to take it a step further? Why not invest in getting some letterhead paper with your name or company already printed on it in a design of your choosing to make a big statement and create a lasting memory.
Pens make all the difference
Ballpen, fountain pen, calligraphy pen, gel pen… there are so many different types of pens to choose from. And they all look and write differently.
If you are considering writing handwritten letters often, you should invest in a good pen that you enjoy writing with. Shop around for a pen that feels good in your hand and that makes your writing look great (yes, a pen can make all the difference).
And most importantly, make sure your pen ink doesn’t bleed through the page. This requires finding the best pen–paper combo that works for you.
Measure twice, cut once
If you are worried about getting your letter “right”, draft it on a rough piece of paper before committing it to your lovely letter-writing paper.
If you have a lot to say, you don’t want to forget anything. But, unfortunately, it’s not as easy as sending a follow-up email saying, “oops, I forgot to say….”
This is an especially good idea for perfectionists or people who struggle to collect their thoughts on the first go. Or for those that need to order the importance of their paragraphs when writing business letters.
This will also allow you to catch any mistakes before creating the final product (although I still recommend you proofread your letter before sending it!)
Don’t forget the envelope!
Most letter-writing sets come with matching envelopes to add to the aesthetic of your paper. If not, make sure you have the correct sized envelope for the size of paper you are using.
There are plenty of envelopes you can choose from. Apart from the colour and design, you can choose whether to use self-sealing envelopes or the type you lick and stick (or use Sellotape if you don’t like the idea of licking the envelope!)
And most importantly, make sure you get the right stamp for your letter! We’re no longer used to jumping through so many hoops to send correspondence, so getting hold of a stamp may have slipped your mind.
If it’s been a while since you last sent a letter, the rules on stamps and letter-sending prices may have changed, so make sure to do your research, so you know exactly what to ask for when you reach the post office.
And if you can afford to give that one final extra touch, you can buy special edition stamps to commemorate special occasions in history or culture.
The art of letter-writing may have suffered recently, but it is coming back with a vengeance. And with so many beautiful letter writing sets and pens to choose from, how could you resist the temptation to start writing letters again?
You may feel the memory of your old English classes worrying you about how difficult writing a letter is. But using the magic five elements from this post, you’ll find letter writing much more straightforward than you remembered.
Use this article to break down the process, and in no time at all, you will be a letter-writing pro!