As we watch digital communication evolve into a new language, it is important to understand how to communicate effectively by a letter in many situations. Though we may now find ourselves sending letters via email in the case of career advancement or civic communication with our government, it’s crucial to uphold the formality of a letter even when sent by email. Below are four tips to ensure your letters are not only effective, but enjoyable for the audience.
Know the format
Your address and the date should be at the top of the page. Let your reader know immediately who is reaching out and how you can be reached. Under your name block, add the recipient’s information and salutation.
State the purpose of the letter first.
Your audience wants to know what you’re writing about and you don’t have to be clever to be effective. Start your letter with the purpose and follow with the supporting information. “I’m writing to you today to ask for a letter of recommendation…” It might feel more comfortable to compliment or cajole the reader to make them more open to your request, but it reads like the writer cannot get to the point. Keep that first sentence short and even terse while writing (you can go back and polish the beginning later) because a strong opening draws the reader in. Sometimes we’re drawn in by shock of bravado, but we keep reading and that’s the goal.
Close your letter.
I have found that thanks to digital communications, we are less familiar with a professional closing in a letter and depend on a single “Thanks,” to end our conversations. I prefer to use this section as a way to continue talking to my reader. Try using the phrase,
“Thanking you in advance for your time and attention to this issue, I remain
This phraseology, while a little over formal, imparts a feeling of importance and understanding to our readers. I’ve watched people read that line in a letter and their body language changes. They sit up a little straighter, square their shoulders and elongate their neck as though that formality and respect of position slips through the letter and into the reader.
Walk away from it.
Apart from the structure and focus of the letter, which anyone can learn, a great letter isn’t the first letter we write. Nothing brings errors in tone or typing to the surface quite like walking away from the letter for an hour and reading back over it. If the situation is formal enough to write a letter, it is formal enough to let the letter rest before sending. I cannot stress enough how important it is to let this rest especially if the letter has any negative information. Reviewing work immediately keeps us in the writer’s mode. When we return after a time, we’re looking in reader mode and every slip and error is laid bare. You want to see those issues before you send your letter.
Proper formatting, direct speech and a gracious ending make the reader feel good and ensure they’ll remember the letter and writer. Or you can just hire me, Erin@positionglobal.com to write it.