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How to write a letter – an important skill

Letter writing is a dying trade; whilst it may have been popular in the days of our great grandparents, many people find it easier to simply write an email rather than write a letter. Yet knowing how to write a letter is crucial for so many parts of modern life. Knowing the right and wrong way to write it can impact on your job prospects, whether you get a loan or not and if you get the place at university or in the chambers of your choice.

Now this may seem a daunting prospect – you might think that it is impossible to write a letter without messing up somewhere. You’d be wrong. Writing it is about the nuts and bolts of language and once you grasp the dos and don’ts then you’ll face no problems. What you must always remember is that you should never be afraid to try and get to grips with what you want to say. Don’t worry if it isn’t right the first time – once you understand the mechanics of it then you won’t be daunted by re drafting or making sure that your letter is as perfect as it can possibly be. If you know what you want to say then all will be well.

 

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  • Keep it to the point. This goes for either a business letter or a more personal one. If you try and meander around the purpose of it, it will not have the same impact as if you keep it concise and easy to understand. Similarly, don’t try and cram too much into it or the reader won’t know what you’re talking about.
  • Don’t try and make it seem too artistic or try to make it into a great work of literature – this isn’t necessary. Whilst it might be nice that you’ve included as many metaphors as you can think of, if you are writing to apply for a job then that isn’t going to help the receiver of it understand why you should be chosen. Try to keep your language as straightforward as possible.
  • Don’t repeat information to try to beef it out. It doesn’t have to be twenty pages long – just because something is lengthy doesn’t mean that it is worthwhile. Repeating things that the reader already knows won’t help you or them.
  • Don’t stick to one draft and think it is acceptable. Make sure that it flows well and is logical – it won’t help you if your point trails off midway and doesn’t end concisely. Making sure that it is easily readable is one thing that re drafting can help with and that is ensuring that you don’t confuse your reader.
  • Finally, once you have redrafted and it is clear, smooth and gets your point across well, make a final check for any grammatical or spelling mistakes that could be lurking in it. It’s always good to ensure that everything is spelt correctly or else you can give off the impression of unprofessionalism or that you lack the judgement to ensure what you are sending out is of a high quality. This is a vital skill that you need to learn if you want to write a letter correctly.

Setting out a letter is a good way to ensure that the person who is reading it is taking you seriously. If you don’t know how to set one out, then it can appear unprofessional and may hurt your chances if you are applying to a job or university. You need to know that you must:

  • Write your name and address at the top left-hand corner of the letter.
  • Put the date of when you are writing it two lines below – so the receiver knows when it was written in relation to when they receive it.
  • Two lines below, write the name and address of the person you are writing to.
  • Skip another two lines and then write the greeting – this is usually something like “Dear Mr Smith” or “Dear Dr Smith”. If you don’t know the name of the person you’re writing to, put “Dear Sir or Madam”.
  • Leave a gap of one line and begin the main body of it.

Now this way of writing may seem too formal, but it is merely setting out how best to write a letter. If you are writing a more personal one, it is more appropriate to write something more affectionate such as “Dear Mum”. However, when dealing with someone you may not know, someone who may be an authority figure, it is best to make sure you follow the rules set out above.

Once you have set your letter out correctly and ensured that it opens in the right way, it is now best to move onto what is the most direct way to begin and to make sure that it has some spark to it. Regardless of whether it is a formal one or one to a friend or relative, you should make sure that it begins with introducing the subject. If it is a formal letter, then it is often easiest to begin by using the phrase “I’m writing to you regarding” before going into the subject of it. For example, if you were writing to a university professor about a particular subject, you would write ““I’m writing to you regarding your recent paper on the Roman consulship of 60BC.” This allows the receiver of your letter to understand both the formality of it and ensures that you get into the meat of it quickly without it appearing clunky.

If you are, however, writing a more informal letter, it is probably better to simply carry on from the salutation as you would with any normal conversation – asking how the recipient is, detailing what you have been doing, etc before going on to the point of it. This ensures that the recipient can quickly understand the tone and intent of it – whether it is formal or informal – and to ascertain how best to respond, whether verbally or by responding with correspondence of their own.

Once you have written the whole letter, it is often best to go back to the beginning and make sure that it is clear from the outset what the point of it is and whether it comes through clearly to the reader. This can help with editing and makes sure that even when it has only just been finished and needs redrafting, it is clear in its purpose.

Now let’s move onto the main point of your letter. Once you have made sure that the format of it is correct you know how best to address the recipient and have thought of the most suitable way to begin it, you know how to make sure that the point of it is clear and easily understandable for the reader. Whether it is for your bank manager or a future employer, you must make sure that its purpose is clear. This can be done in several ways.

Firstly, by planning out your letter before hand and making sure that it is clear in your plan what the point of it is you will find it is easy to transfer the point from your plan to it. Once you have decided what you want to say, and you’ve made sure that you understand the format of it you should address the recipient then introduce your main point as soon as possible into it. This should be done preferably in the first line or the first paragraph. This makes sure that the reader isn’t left waiting for half a page simply to learn what the letter is about. Make sure you keep referring to the main point of it as many times as possible throughout – this helps ensure that the structure is consistent and that you don’t stray into other areas of conversation and lose track of the main point. For instance, if you were writing to a university professor about a subject, like the example provided above, you would continually refer to “your paper” or “your paper on the consulship”. This is necessary to demonstrate you know how to write a letter. This also ensures that you can be in no doubt that the person who has received it understands the point that you are trying to make and isn’t confused or unaware of the reason you’re writing to them. Make sure your main point stands out and is obvious so that you can get the reaction you want.

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