What is a letter? Well, obviously enough, it is a written communication-a means of giving information or exchanging ideas. Even in a visual age that is additionally dominated by the telephone and e-mail, people still write many letters, and many kinds of letter.
The trouble is that it is easy to write a poor letter: fashioning a good one takes a lot more care and effort. But such conscientiousness is essential, because if you write a poor letter the point of sending it is lost. This is bad enough if you're writing to friends, even though they'll forgive you and give you a further chance to make yourself clear. No such tolerance should be expected from a company or any kind of officialdom: if your first letter is inadequate, you may not get an opportunity to redress things.
Regardless of type, function or length, a good letter exhibits these qualities:
|• it is clearly set out and comfortable to read |
|• the writer's 'voice' is properly audible |
|• the tone and register are appropriate to |
|(i) the relationship with the recipient |
|(ii) the nature of the subject matter |
|(iii) the letter's overall circumstances |
|• it gives a sense of enjoyment or satisfaction |
|• the points are made with impact and 'rightness' |
|• it makes the reader want to write back |
It may occur to you that these qualities should attend any and all good writing, and of course you are right. But letters are an especially direct form of writing. As the last point implies, a good letter presupposes a kind of conversation with the reader, or sets out an agenda to be discussed. Letters are usually addressed to just one person (or to a family or committee as a unit, which amounts to the same thing), and they are written and sent for a precise, 'one-off reason. It is therefore very important that the writer gets as many things 'right' as possible.
The first thing to get right is the basic layout. The following three considerations apply to all letters: