It's crazy to think that there once was a time when I exclusively corresponded with other people by handwritten letters: My distant cousins and I lived in different parts of China — she resided in a remote village; I grew up in the most crowded city in the world — and we'd share our vastly contrasting daily routines with one another via handwritten doodles. My classmates and I passed around notes between recesses for fun. There's a drawer in my childhood bedroom devoted to housing to these old letters and notes, but at some point, its contents have completely ceased to grow. Chances are, this has happened to you, too.
The rapid digitization of information has irrevocably transformed the way we communicate — with texts and emails effectively edging out pen and paper. According to data provided by the U.S. postal service, the volume of mail has decreased 26% from 2005 to 2014. Addressing an envelope was once second nature; now, we can barely manage without looking it up on WikiHow.
Despite its waning popularity, a handwritten letter is still one of the most delightful things you can do to correspond with another person. There's something beautiful about sitting down and putting your thoughts onto paper: It has the potential to become an heirloom down the line, instead of another thing that takes up memory space on your smartphone.
To help bring back the fading art form, we've asked Gina Wade, a lifestyle expert and special events planner based in Los Angeles, to share her cardinal rules for writing a proper letter. Now go forth and bless someone with you lovely penmanship.
Use The Right Stationery
Make sure that whatever sentiments you're sending, you're presenting it on a paper or card of an appropriate quality. "If you are writing a letter to a business associate, skip anything jokey or cutesy," says Wade. "Keep it classy, simple, and professional." The same rule of thumb applies to letters of a serious nature or a condolence.
Feel free to get creative if you're mailing a letter for a social reason or just for fun. There's a huge variety of cute designs out there, and feel free to spritz your favorite scent to amp up the fanciness.
According to Wade, “Dear” is always the best greeting for a letter. It's a classic that works for any type of relationship. This isn't like writing an email, so stay away from “Hello”, “Hey” or “Hi” as a way to begin your letter — it's a bit too casual even for a close friend.
It's very common to be a bit loss for words if you haven't written letters in a long time. Start off with a friendly opening statement to get the dialogue going. A nice broad statement is the perfect way to begin: Something like, I was just thinking about you, It’s been so long since we have seen each other, or thanking them for a recent favor would do the trick.
"If you are still having trouble, talk out loud to yourself — think about what you are trying to say," says Wade. Jot everything down on a note pad, and you'll be able to reorganize your thoughts with a nice flow. The one thing to avoid? Smiley faces and hand drawn emoji’s. "Those things are fine for a text, but they don’t really belong in a letter."
End On The Right Note
“Sincerely” or “Sincerely Yours” is the best way to end a formal letters or business correspondence. “All My Best”, “Kind Regards” or “Warm Regards” are all good for those letters that fall between formal and social. Save “Love”, “Yours Truly” and “As Always” for your nearest and dearest. As for signatures, both your first and last name should appear at the end of a letter to a business associate, someone you have never met, or someone you recently met.
Make sure to proofread your letter before sealing it. Besides catching grammatical and spelling errors, reading your words from top to bottom will help ensure that you've said everything you wanted to communicate.
Addressing the Envelope
The most important thing to keep in mind when you address the envelope is to have neat and clear handwriting. The post office uses computers to route your mail, so you wouldn't want your sloppy words to be the reason your letter ends up in the wrong pile.
Make sure that the recipient's address is placed in the center of the envelope. The best place for the return address is at the top left corner of an envelope, but the back flap also works — that way, the front looks less cluttered.
Label Your Envelope
The last minor detail Wade couldn't stress enough is the stamp, which goes on the top right corner of the envelop. Make sure that the stamp is neatly placed and not crooked. "It seems minor, but it will make an impact on the overall look," says Wade. "This is the first thing your friend will see, so you'll want it to set a beautiful tone."