The How To’s of Letter Writing

Here at Smythson we often talk about celebrating the art of the handwritten and in no medium is this more important than that of letter writing. However, in these days of quick fire emails and (dare we say it?) texts, letter writing is an art form that has been somewhat lost. To inspire you with the confidence to sit down with pen and paper once more, we spoke to our resident etiquette expert Henry Faber to discover some of the little-known nuances of letter writing.

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For Henry, what is most important is that letter writing is an art with creativity and entertainment at its heart and as such is not bound by horribly strict rules.

“It is about tradition and communication, and our own self-expression mixed with another’s. Variety is the spice of letter writing, and each of us has a chance to ‘perform’ every time we write a letter, in its style, form and content.” – Henry Faber

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How to begin…

Once you have selected the lucky recipient of your new found correspondence skills, it is time to approach the placement of the address. It is best to remember to write your own address on the top right corner with the date underneath. Your recipient’s address should appear opposite, on the left and slightly indented down from the top.

You will be pleased to hear that ‘Dear’ is an acceptable salutation for all forms of letter writing from family and friends to business associates and colleagues. Although, Henry does advise not to start a letter with ‘I’. A letter should not be about you, rather it is about the recipient and is all the better in the reading if the intent is discoverable further down the page.

When it comes to length, a letter should always go over the page and extend beyond a single line overleaf. There is no such thing as a letter that is too long. If you have previously shied away from writing due to poor penmanship, remember it is the content not the calligraphy that truly matters.

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How to conclude…

When you have finished telling your tales, making your introductions or sending your thank yous, there is one final stylistic decision to make. Signing off is a matter of preference. ‘Lots of love’ can be used for close friends and family (and lovers of course); however, ‘Yours sincerely’ is generally preferred for more formal acquaintances.

Stamp in hand, you are ready to send your letters to many fantastic and far flung destinations, but we should tell you that placement in the envelope is also important. A letter should be folded inwards, with the address appearing at the top and the fold at the bottom. This is a tradition that originated with the use of letter openers, as it ensured that the paper was never cut mistakenly, and those long lyrics lost.

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A little note on Thank You Notes…

Our final piece of advice covers one of the most oft turned to forms of correspondence, the Thank You Note. Whether you have just received a gift or attended a dinner party, one simple note goes a long way. Convention states that you should never start directly with ‘Thank you’. You should instead keep your reader guessing until the second paragraph…Who would have thought?

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