Monday, August 25, 2008

How to Write Letters to Politicians and Other Power Brokers?

Letters to people in power do have an effect. Ask any politician. These letters should be
  • Concise. Put the heart of your message at the very beginning of the letter.
  • Unemotional. Don’t carp or bluster. State your position and the reasons for it with as little emotion as possible.
  • Identifiable. Say whom you represent. You may be speaking for a group or organization, or you may be writing as a father, businessman, or just concerned citizen.
Dear Senator Fulton:
I am writing to oppose the proposal to drain the wetlands in the Westphalia section of your district. As you know, wetlands are a critical part of the ecosystem in that area. Draining would not only damage the environment there, but would bring in the sort of development that would put great strain on the area. I am writing as a resident of Westphalia, as well as someone concerned about the dangerous erosion of the environment through overdevelopment.
I hope you will vote no on SB 188 when it comes before your committee.
Yours truly,
Elizabeth Gordon

You can be even more terse when writing to the White House. The president almost certainly will not see your letter. However, staff people keep a careful tab on how many people are writing with opinions on each issue, and these tabulations are passed along to the president.

Dear Mr. President:
I strongly oppose the idea of sending American troops to Bolivia. In fact, I oppose military intervention in the affairs of any nation in the Americas.
Robert Anderson

Writing Dear John Letter

The overriding objective in this case is to end a romantic relationship with as little pain to the other person as possible.
  • You have to start with a straightforward statement giving the reason for the letter.
  • Apologize and offer an explanation that does not blame the other person, something—if possible—that is beyond the control of either of you.
  • If there is blame involved, blame yourself.
  • Don’t lie.
  • Don’t leave the door open—not even by a crack.

Dear Robert:
After a lot of thought and soul searching, I have come to the realization that it is time to bring our relationship to an end. Our personalities, interests, and backgrounds are so different that conflicts and unhappiness are inevitable for both of us. I am firmly convinced that I will never be the sort of woman who would fit into your world. I am sure that you will come to realize that as well. I recognize that the reason for this is a lack of flexibility on my part, but I can’t seem to help it.
I think we should make a clean break and not try to contact each other again. I wish you nothing but success and happiness.

How to Write Apology Letters?

If you’ve offended someone and are sorry about it, the best thing to do is apologize in person and follow up with a letter. In any case the letter must say clearly and humbly that you are sorry. If there is some way in which you can make amends, promise to do so.

Dear Mrs. Fitzhugh:
Please accept my sincere apology for having failed to attend your dinner party after assuring you that I would be there. I know how the unexpected absence of a guest can upset the plans of a hostess and am deeply sorry for any distress I may have caused. My guilt is even greater because I do not have the excuse of a family emergency or other crisis. I simply got the date wrong, and forgot to check to make sure.
Once again, I most humbly apologize and hope that you will forgive my carelessness.

How to Write Congratulation Letters?

The congratulation letter is one of the easiest and happiest of letters to write. It is also the sort of letter that a family may keep for years.

Dear Mark:

Congratulations on receiving the fellowship and study grant from Princeton. It is not only a tribute to your brilliance and hard work, but it will give you the opportunity to explore some of the avenues of investigation we have been talking about so wistfully. All of us here at the lab share the joy of this moment with you. We will miss you during the term of your studies and look forward to welcoming you back.

With best wishes,


Writing Condolence Letters

A letter of condolence should do three things:
  1. Acknowledge what a terrible loss the death is for the bereaved and that you sympathize with his or her suffering to some degree
  2. Convey a sincere desire to help in some way during this time of grief
  3. Praise the accomplishments, character, and devotion of the deceased Remember that many people may read this letter, and it may be saved as part of the family archives. Therefore, although it will be personal, the style should be at least somewhat formal.

In a condolence letter, avoid stressing how much you feel bereaved. The purpose of the letter is to comfort others, not to have them feel sorry for you. Writing after you have heard some bad news about a friend or acquaintance is a different matter. In this letter, you want to convey not only support but also a bit of optimism.

Dear Mrs. Thompson:
Please accept my deepest sympathy on the terrible loss of your fine husband, George, even though I know no words of mine can ease your grief.
I met George on my first day of work at MicroTech, and I will never forget his kindness to me, a confused newcomer. He helped me to get settled and to understand how things worked there—all out of the goodness of his heart. George had that rare combination of kindness, good humor, and competence.
I think you know that we live just a few blocks away, and if there is anything I or my family can do to help during the days ahead, we would consider it a privilege if you would call upon us.

Dear Margaret:
We just heard that Tom was among those laid off at MicroTech. I know it must be a shock for you and your family. Joe and I will be home all weekend in case you and Tom want to stop by for a drink or dinner or just to chat.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Thank-You Letters

These notes can be boring—boring to write, boring to read: “Thank you for the present. It was nice of you to think of me.” To avoid this sort of letter, you can follow my foolproof, three-step formula:
  1. Be sure to thank the person for the specific gift and mention the gift by name.
  2. Acknowledge the effort and energy the giver put into selecting, purchasing, or making the gift.
  3. Let the giver know how you have used or will use the gift. When thanking someone for a gift of money, don’t mention the amount in your letter of thanks. A reference to “your generous gift” will suffice.
When you refuse a gift, a letter, or at least a note, is required. It should say that you don’t feel you can accept the gift (perhaps in the case of a woman receiving expensive jewelry from a male acquaintance) but that you appreciate the thought.
Dear Helen:
Tom and I and the two girls want to thank you very much for the handsome Deluxe Edition Monopoly game you gave the family. I happen to know that you can’t get this beautifully produced version of the game at most stores, and you must have had to do some shopping around to find it. The four of us spent last night playing the game. (Tammy won.) Your gift has made this familiar game very special for us.

Letters and Children

It’s never too early for children to learn the importance of writing letters. Even before children can write, you can let them know that you’re writing to Aunt Margaret to thank her for the dollhouse she sent them. Remember that a thank-you letter from a first grader does not have to be spelled correctly or look just right. Just don’t let your child get away with sending a preprinted thank-you card without adding a personal message.

Perfecting Letter Grammar

A letter on the best stationery, properly organized and beautifully presented, can be utterly ruined by one grammatical error. These errors can also have a nasty effect upon your reputation. Grammatical traps like to lurk in lengthy sentences. Brief, direct sentences are generally safer and have the added merit of being easier on the reader.
Here’s a reference list of some of the most common grammatical errors:
  • Between you and I. When you and I follows a preposition—such as between, to, or for—it becomes you and me.
  • Avoid the phrase I, myself. In fact, use myself only for emphasis.
  • Fewer refers to items, things you can count. Less refers to quantities such as water, effort, and time. (Yes, those supermarket signs that read “12 items or less” are ungrammatical.) Similarly, farther refers to actual distance, as in a mile farther, whereas further indicates an extension, as in further discussion.
  • Don’t use irregardless when you mean regardless. Irregardless is not a word.
  • Avoid writing that you feel badly. It means you aren’t very good at feeling things, in a tactile sense.
  • Capitol is the building. Capital is everything else.
  • The speaker implies; the listener infers.
  • Make sure that nouns and verbs agree; for example, a group of employees is (not are) arriving.
Needless to say, there’s a lot more to grammar than just the information contained in these tips. If you’re unsure of a rule, take the time to look it up or ask someone who knows.

Letter Do’s and Don’ts

Over the years certain customs dealing with how the elements of a letter should be organized on the page have evolved and have been pretty much universally accepted. Knowing how the skeleton of a letter should look allows you to concentrate on the essential message you want to convey. Accordingly, here are some general rules for writing business or social letters:
  • If your address is not printed at the top of the page, write it in the upper-right corner. (Don’t bother if the person you’re writing to knows perfectly well where you live.)
  • The date goes under the address at the upper-right or at the bottom-left corner. Write out the month in more formal letters or if you think the letter might be preserved for posterity.
  • The salutation goes flush left.
  • Leave a space, indent, and begin the body of the letter.
The complimentary close goes to the right, and it can take many forms:
  • Love is a wonderful thing and you can use it to close a letter if you’re writing to a family member or close friend. You can also use fondly and affectionately.
  • If you don’t know the person very well, try closing with as ever or as always or all best wishes. A stalwart standby is sincerely, and you can soften it by putting very or yours in front.
  • Cordially is considered to be out-of-date, but I like it and still use it because it is correct and, I think, warm.
  • Gratefully is great for letters of thanks.
  • Respectfully and respectfully yours are reserved for the clergy.

123 Margo St.
Hartford, CT 93433
Aug. 11, 2008

Dear Mr. Petersen:
Thank you so much for your letter of August 9. It certainly brought good news. We have had no difficulty organizing the workers according to your instructions, and I am certain you will be pleased with operations when you arrive for your inspection tour in January.

Horace Grant

  • Fold letter sheets vertically with the fold on the left, somewhat like a handwritten brochure. Start writing on page 1 and go to page 3 if the letter runs to a second page. Go with the usual sequence (1,2,3,4) if the letter requires all four pages. Number the pages as you write.
  • Dear Madam and Dear Sirs are outdated if you are writing to a store, for example. It is better to use To whom it may concern if you are writing to an unknown person.
  • If you fold a letter twice, fold the bottom third first and then the top third. The letter should be inserted into the envelope so that when it is removed and unfolded, it is ready to be read—right side up and facing the reader. A letter that is folded only once doesn’t require special treatment. Leave letters unsealed if they are to be hand delivered unless they are of a highly personal nature.
Postcards are useful for sending out notices of meetings or confirming appointments. They can be used as thank-you notes for casual parties, but never for dinner, gifts, or for being a houseguest.

The Proper Letter Format

Some people have trouble starting a letter but, once started, can continue comfortably. It’s a good idea to mentally go over the main things you want to say before starting. You can begin with a bit of good news:
“You will be glad to hear that ….” You can describe what you have been doing that day or depict the room in which you are writing. You can also refer to the most recent correspondence or the last time you met the person to whom you are writing. Don’t open a letter by apologizing for not writing sooner. You can say something like “You may have thought I’d forgotten all about you, but really, you have been in my thoughts often lately. It’s just that there’s been a lot going on. For instance ….” Letters, by their nature, convey news. Therefore, in the body of the letter, talk about what has been happening to you and to those you both know. Talk about shared interests. Keep the tone conversational and let it flow.
End formal letters with a sincerely and progress toward familiarity with yours truly, regards, best wishes, affectionately, love, and so on. The most informal and affectionate letters may end with miss you or write soon or more later.

Arranging Personal Letters

Simplicity and clarity lend grace to what we call plain language. The thoughts and ideas that touch another person most profoundly should not be hidden by or entangled in convoluted phrases and unfamiliar words.
The best letters reflect the personality of the writer. In a way, the letter is a gift of that personality to the reader. This idea is reflected in a letter cited for its virtues in Etiquette Letter Writer, published by J. P. Lippincott and Co., Philadelphia, 1875.
To her I very much respect—Mrs. Margaret Clark—Lovely, and oh! that I could write loving, Mrs. Margaret Clark; I pray you let affection excuse presumption.
Having been so happy as to enjoy the sight of your sweet countenance and comely body sometimes, when I had occasion to buy treacle or liquorish [sic] powder at the apothecary’s shop. I am so enamored with you, that I can no more keep close my flaming desire to become your servant. And I am the more bold now to write to your sweet self, because I am now my own man and may match where I please; for my father is taken away, and now I am come into my living.
If you think well of this notion I shall wait upon you as soon as my new clothes is made and hay harvest is in. Your loving servant till death.

Mr. Gabriel Bullock

The virtues of this letter include
  • Mr. Bullock’s intentions and his reason for writing are made plain. There is nothing ambiguous about his feeling for the comely Mrs. Clark.
  • He makes his situation clear. He is obviously a man of substance presenting an honorable proposal.
  • He does not discuss the weather, his health problems, or nasty local gossip. Keep these qualities in mind the next time you write a personal letter to someone.