Everyone writes letters but does everyone actually know how to write a letter? The short answer is that letter writing is a genre in its own right and many people don’t actually know how to write letters. I’m not saying there is a wrong or a right way to write letters. I am saying that there are a few conventions you should follow when writing your letters.
What makes a letter a letter?
Some people think if you send something to someone via snail mail (USPS), it’s automatically a letter. This is not true. While there are many mail genres that seem the same, they are all distinct in specific ways, primarily in purpose.
The purpose of a letter is to communicate anything with another person and encourage them to send a letter back.
This is distinct from a greeting card or a post card; Both are intended to relay a message to someone, but they are not meant to encourage action on the recipients part. When you send a post card or a greeting card the intent is to tell the recipient that you are thinking of them. The recipient does not need to respond to these, and you should not expect them to.
If your friend or family member didn’t respond to your letter consider that it might not have looked like a letter or it didn’t encourage them to write you back (aside from maybe they don’t like sending or receiving letters).
Basic conventions to follow when you write a letter
There are many types of letters (like thank you letters), and each type has their own set of conventions. I am going to focus on personal letters, which are letters you would send to friends and family.
Your letter’s content
Your letter can literally be about anything. In personal letters you might share updates on your life, talk about your plans, tell a story, etc. This is a staple of a personal letter. It’s a personal letter, so make it personal.
If you are sending the first letter these are the two things you should include: share something about you or your life and ask the recipient questions about theirs. Asking questions in your letter is your call to action telling your recipient that you expect a response. If you do not ask questions, your letter is a one and done. You have to give your recipient something to respond to. And people like it when you take an interest in them and their lives.
If you are responding to someone’s letter you should include the things stated above, but also respond to the questions from their letter.
If you are interested in a pen-pal type situation with someone then you must include those three things in order to maintain interest and continue getting responses.
How you should structure your Letter
There are no hard rules on how you should structure your letter, but there are elements that go into your letter that make it look like a letter and increase the possibility of you getting a response. Here are the elements I always include in my letters (in this order):
- answer their questions (if you are responding)
- share something about your life
- ask them questions about their life
There are more things you can or should include in your letter and I have a more detailed template here in google docs.
How to write a letter that is personalized and fun
The fun part about letters is how you can personalize them. There are so many ways you can do this. I will go over my favorite ways to personalize your letters.
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Decorate your envelopes
Don’t forget that your envelope is part of your letter too. Decorating envelopes is my go-to. I always send my letters in decorated envelopes and use Washi Tapes to decorate mine. I have an entire box full of Washi Tape. You can get crazy with Washi tape or keep it simple.
I love to use stickers on the outside of my envelopes too. I use them around my friends addresses or I place them on the envelope seal like a wax seal. There are so many fun and creative ways to use stickers in your letters.
I’ve never done this, but I’ve seen some of the cutest envelopes with hand drawn or painted art. If you love to draw or paint, envelopes are a wonderful place to put your art. Then when you send your letter, the envelope is also a gift.
Decorate your letter
You can also decorate the paper or page you wrote your letter on. You can always put fun doodles and images in the margins regardless of whether you letter is handwritten or typed.
A letter can be written on colored paper, a personalized letter head, or literally anything you can write on. No one ever said letters had to be on white paper. Sometimes we write letters on what we have available whether it be lined notebook paper, copy paper, the back of another document, napkins, you name it. If you can write on it and put it in an envelope, it could be a letter.
Slip something fun into the envelope
You can always include little gifts or added goodies to your letters. I am a fan of slipping Tea into my letters. As a tea lover, It feels really personal to slip a bag of your favorite tea into a letter. My best received teas were both from Stash Teas. My friends love their Breakfast in Paris and White Peach Wuyi Oolong teas.
I also have slipped in lists of things I was loving that month, dried flowers, and stickers. My cousin once received a letter full of confetti and while it was messy at the time, she will never forget receiving that letter. You could put a small original piece of art by you in there. Put something fun that you think your friend or family member will love. The possibilities are endless.
Stick to a theme
Give your letter a theme. It could be flowers, travel, or (again) anything. Write your letter to fit the theme, decorate your letter and envelope, give them something in addition to the letter that fits the theme.
For example you are writing a music themed letter, you talked about a song you love and you asked your recipient to share a song they love with you, then you decorate your letter and envelope with music themed doodles or stickers, and as a fun added surprise you slip little separate note in the envelope that has a list of your favorite songs on it.
Use fun stamps
I have a sheet of the cutest ice cream themed stamps that are scented and I love to use them. A really simple way to make your letters fun is to pick a stamp that is fun. USPS has a variety of stamp options to choose from and there are some really wonderful ones available. You should always buy your stamps from the USPS (if you live in the United States).
Letters are a deeply personal thing you can use to connect with a friend or a loved one. On top of that you can keep your letters for as long as you want and reread them as many times as you want. There are so many ways to write a letter and make it memorable.