The Art of Letter Writing: Polishing an Old Skill in a Digital World

In a world ruled by abbreviated text-talk, typo-riddled emails, and playful emojis, have we lost the skills needed for quality letter writing? There’s no arguing that digital correspondence has incredible advantages. It allows us to connect with people all over the world, share new ideas and information almost instantaneously, and even work remotely. The possibilities are endless, and the implication seems to be that going digital saves time, money, and frustration. But, what are the ramifications?

Call Me Old Fashioned, But…

Digital communication is fast; it’s easy. We do it multiple times a day, often without even thinking about it. And therein lies the rub. We’ve become so captivated with an ephemeral form of communication, that the very messages we’re sending are beginning to lack meaning. Digital correspondence is impulsive and often inane. A thought that we wouldn’t waste paper on, we think nothing of putting into an email or text. Fountain PenWe use auto-correcting software to handle typos and emojis for emphasis. There’s no craft anymore; it’s simply a transmission of information.

Letter writing, on the other hand, still possesses a sense of mystery, of romance. Novelist Jon McGregor writes in a piece for The Guardian that, “There is a waiting – a forced patience – built into the mechanics [of handwritten communication]. You wait for a letter to arrive. You wait for a reply. In the time it takes for the letter to reach its destination, anything can happen: minds be changed, lives lost, loves discovered.” Actual written correspondence is tangible. You can hold it, feel it, even smell it. It’s a testament to someone’s hard work. The drafting, writing, and editing that person did are all present. Maybe there are even little doodles or marginalia to make it more personal.

So Why Bother?

Letter writing has now become a skill—some even say a lost art. And honing this ability will not only show people (and employers) that you possess actual writing skills, but also that you are thoughtful and courteous. Who knows? A professional thank you after an interview could provide just the edge you need over another applicant.

Informal letter writing has its merits, too. Because, does it get any more indifferent than sending an E-card for someone’s birthday? Pick out a real card, write a short but heartfelt sentiment inside, put a stamp on it, and send it snail mail style. The same goes for congratulatory notes, get well soon wishes, and condolences. As if getting real mail wasn’t nice enough, finding a considerate message inside could be just the thing to make someone’s day.

Recently, our team received a handwritten thank you note from another marketing agency, personally thanking us for a specific project referral. It was kind, and thoughtful, and smart business. Details matter, and such a gesture will be remembered.


Begin at the Beginning

We get it, teaching a new dog old tricks can be tough. Here are some tips to help get you started on your letter writing journey.

Pick Up Some Stationary

High-quality professional stationary—does it get any classier? The next time you find yourself in a gift shop or card store, check out the paper products aisle and see what jumps out at you. And if you’re looking for something a little more personalized, sites like Minted or Etsy are sure to have something that catches your eye. Pick something that represents you: whether it be your personality (sturdy card stock), your style (wild watercolors), or your beliefs (recycled paper). If you’re a business owner, spend a little extra to brand your own letterhead or thank you cards—people will take notice…

Brush Up on Etiquette

Reacquaint yourself with some common openings and sign-offs used in letter writing. Maybe even keep a small book of popular phrases or sentiments to help you when you get stuck. Research some famous quotes that you can use when your own words fail you, especially when constructing something delicate like a sympathy note. Real Simple offers some great tips and examples to help serve as prompts. For fellow business owners, incorporating your company tagline into the context of the letter is important as well. It can be something as simple as part of your signature.

Buy Some Stamps

What? Yes, stamps. Go down to the post office, greet the often cranky government employee behind the counter, and buy yourself a book of stamps. A book of Forever stamps will currently run you about $10, but they’ll stay valid even if the price of postage changes. Consider them an investment.

Get Sentimental!Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash

Dig deep, and don’t be afraid to get a little emotional. Have you ever read an historical war letter? It makes you wonder about the future of the English language. Pull out your two-point vocabulary words, and make use of some adjectives. While a handwritten letter is delightful, one full of trite platitudes feels like a waste of time and paper.

If you’re looking for more letter writing tips, we recommend this hilarious piece over at Deadspin or this step-by-step guide at Grammerly. Happy writing!


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