How to Write Persuasive Personal Letters
Surprising as it might sound, there are still a high number of people who prefer personal letters to the more modern method of email communication. This includes things like letters of recommendation, complaint letters, and every regular old ‘how are you’ letters. A well thought out and properly executed personal letter creates a much different impression than many other forms of correspondence.
Considering how letters require a greater amount of effort to write and deliver, oftentimes they create the feeling that the sender took a great deal of care an concern to create them. This has the potential to, given the situation, highlight key concerns, or create a stronger bond between the sender and the recipient – such as the case with pen pals or holiday letters.
Writing Personal Letters – Where to Start
The art of letter writing may be considered lost on certain generations; however, it is a skill that can be relearned and applied without much expertise. For the most part, the practice of writing a letter is relatively straightforward – especially when writing personal letters. That being said, there are letters that are more complicated, which is why there are university courses designed around business correspondence that are aimed at teaching students how to communicate in the professional world.
Outside of that, personal letter writing is really about applying common sense and the rules of proper grammar. In addition, there are guidelines for style, arrangement, formatting and punctuation that help to set great letters apart from those that are just okay or down right painful to read.
Most conventional word processors offer templates and pre-set formatting for letters, but it is in good practice to know how to properly format a letter in case your preferred word processor doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles, or in case you ever want to write a letter by hand.
As with all other forms of writing, you may want to consider writing out a first draft so that you can add or remove portions later on – this is especially important if you are writing a cover letter for a job application or a project letter for an important presentation or project.
Despite there being multiple types of letters and communication, the standard rules are similar.
Punctuation, spelling and word choice should be looked at closely. Style is necessary in order to make a great first impression on the recipient of your letter. The fastest way to turn someone off of the message you are sharing with them is to forget to pay attention to little things like punctuation or common spelling errors.
Hand written letters aside, in the era of word processors, there are no excuses for spelling mistakes. Nothing expresses to someone that you don’t value their time quite like sending them a letter that you haven’t taken a minute to run through a basic spell checker.
That being said, if you’ve used a spell checker, make sure that you have the correct language for your country selected and that you’ve also taken the time to ensure that you are using the correct wording. Spell checkers will only verify that a word is spelled correctly – they won’t tell you if you are using the correct ‘male’ or the right ‘write’.
So, if you have a sentence that reads like “I hope you receive this male before your birthday” know that the spell checker on your word processor will show it as being correct, even though it clearly isn’t.
With respect to punctuation, a spell checker is a little more useful since they typically will indicate things like improperly capitalized words, missing commas or punctuation marks placed where they shouldn’t be. Some of the newest word processers also have grammar checkers, but they are not completely accurate all of the time.
Follow the universal formatting rules whenever possible. This isn’t to say that there is a hefty list of formatting rules that need to be followed. In fact, there practically aren’t any at all. However, it is still important to be aware of what a personal letter should look like so that you can avoid embarrassment later on.
Bright, creative and fancy fonts, for example, have no place in serious or formal communications. They might be okay in fun and personal letters, or even when used as part of a marketing campaign, but they are not suitable for serious tones.
One of the worst offenses in personal letter writing comes from using multiple font types and font sizes in the same letter. Even more so, you may not notice that the first line of your text is writing in Times New Roman 12pt and the next paragraph is written in Sans Seriff 8pt – this will only diminish the overall effectiveness of your letter and act as a huge turn off for anyone reading it.
Keeping on the topic of font, bold and italicised lettering makes parts of your message stand out from the rest. However, it is important to only bold or italicise small groups of words – the ones you want to emphasise – and not half of your letter.
Overuse of these elements is unacceptable in every type of letter, more so, it is annoying and distracting.
There are a number of ways that you might choose to open your letter, this will depend largely on the person intended to receive the letter and the overall objective of the letter itself. For instance, the word ‘Dear’ can be used in basically any setting or situation, since it does not convey any sort of intimacy or personal relationship between the writer and the recipient.
Other letter salutations, such as ‘Hi’, ‘Hello’ or even ‘Good Day’ are also perfectly acceptable since they are considered to be neutral. However, they are also much less formal than ‘Dear.’ If your letter is to be sent over the holiday season, you may elect to start by saying ‘Season’s Greetings’ or ‘Happy Holiday’.
Whichever salutation you prefer, you should next provide the name of the recipient. It is advisable to use either their surname or their full name. Remember to capitalize titles like Dr. Mrs. and Mr. That said, if you happen to be writing a letter to someone who is a professor or a religious leader, these titles are not capitalized.
Think of letter closings as the final remarks before the signature. Similar to letter openings, there are a number of options for closing a letter, each depends on the nature of the letter itself.
For example, a more professional letter might end with ‘Regards’ whereas ‘Sincerely Yours’ or ‘Until Later’ are more acceptable for a personal letter – one where there is some sort of pre-existing relationship between the writer and the recipient.
Again, if you are writing a letter to someone during the holidays, you might end by saying ‘Happy Holiday’ or if you are writing a letter to someone who has been unwell, you could choose to say ‘Get Well Soon’
Formatting of a Letter
Most personal letters have four basic components and the information written in these components will differ based on the context or purpose of the letter. These components are:
- The heading
- The opening
- The body
- The closing
The heading will vary depending on the purpose or objective of the letter. For instance, a personal letter may only have the date whereas a letter of complaint might have the date and a return address.
The opening of a letter includes things like the letter salutation and the name of the recipient. It may even include the address of the person who is to receive the letter.
The body of the letter will contain all of the information that is to be received.
And lastly, the closing will contain the closing remarks and the signature of the writer. If you are writing a more formal letter, your signature may also contain things like your job title and other affiliations.
Example of a Friendly Letter
123 West 54th Street
Anytown, USA 902341
August 10, 20XX
All the best to you and your family for the holiday season. How is life in the big city? I must say, I am really envious of all of the great music festivals that have been coming to Anytown lately. All that seems to come to Thistown are unknown folk festivals and the Blue Man Group.
I heard rumors that you might have gotten a big promotion? Okay, it wasn’t just a rumor – your grandma Ruth told me. What a lovely lady, I swear she makes the best baked apple ice cream this side of the Shrewsbury. She and my mom still meet weekly for coffee, she loves to talk about her grandson the bigtime money manager. You know, you are really lucky to have gotten out of this town and made something of yourself. You should be proud. You were always the smart one in our group.
Did you hear that Margie Patrick is marrying Fester Adams? I honestly thought that you and Margie would end up married after prom. But, Fester Adams.. I think that was a surprise to everyone. The folks around town speculate that she is marrying him for his family inheritance now that Old Man Adams has found his way into a nursing home and incapable of managing the family wealth. I don’t believe that for a second though, Margie never seemed to be the materialistic type.
As for me, I am still working away at the shop. Sales are down this year, and we’ve had to lay a few people off, but I suspect that things will turn around soon. We just put to market a new product that will soon be on the shelves of a pretty big store – I can’t wait. It is going to be so BIG! Who knows, maybe one day I might be able to join you in the big city when we are on every shelf at Target.
Are you coming home for the big town reunion? I hear they plan to have a town wide potato sack race. It should be pretty fun. Anyways, my friend, I hope you are well. Stay in tough.