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14.4 Writing Personal Letters

Learning Objectives

  1. Know the purposes of personal letters and what people expect from personal letters.
  2. Understand the typical formats of personal letters.
  3. Recognize typical components of personal letters.

Personal letters might seem to be a quaint form in the twenty-first century, and there’s no question they have an old-fashioned feel to them. But it’s precisely their unusual, almost rare nature that can make them so powerful. The very act of taking the trouble to find a stamp, envelope, and postal address elevates the importance of your message as the sender. As the recipient, when you open your mailbox and find a personal letter from someone, you tend to honor the care that person has taken to communicate with you in this medium. Imagine being the only job applicant who writes a personal letter of thanks for an interview, or the only former student who writes a personal letter of thanks for a letter of recommendation. Yes, it’s quaint and old-fashioned, but it can also be a very effective way of distinguishing yourself from the crowd. And sending a personal letter to a close friend in a time of need or celebration can still be just the right thing to do.

Personal letters are just that—personal. Hence you can create them in any way you like. You should, however, keep in mind that once you write and send a personal letter, it becomes a permanent, tangible written record, even more so than an e-mail or a post on a friend’s social networking site. So make sure you write information and use a written format with which you want to be permanently associated.

The following lists present some typical features of personal letters.

Typical Purposes for Personal Letters

  • to inform
  • to keep in touch
  • to share
  • to persuade

Typical Formats for Personal Letters

  • casual, conversational wording
  • correct spelling
  • casual use of punctuation, capitalization, and grammar
  • personal and interesting details
  • handwritten or typed format
  • traditional or electronic distribution
  • indented paragraphs

Typical Audience Expectations for Personal Letters

  • typing or handwriting is easy to read
  • messages is easy to understand
  • references are familiar

Typical Components of Personal Letters

  • date
  • salutationThe introductory connection with the person receiving the letter (e.g., “Dear Hank”).
  • introduction
  • body
  • conclusion
  • closingThe last word(s) of a letter before your signature (e.g., “Your Friend”).
  • signature

Key Takeaways

  • You are free to create your version of a personal letter, as long as your audience can understand it and you are happy with it as a permanent record associated with you.
  • Personal letters are written to inform, to keep in touch, to share, and to persuade.
  • People expect personal letters to be easy to read and understand.
  • Personal letters typically use casual, conversational writing with reasonably good mechanics. Personal letters include personal and interesting details, are either handwritten or typed, and use indented paragraphs.
  • Typical components of a personal letter include a date, greeting, introduction, body, conclusion, closing nicety, and signature.

Exercises

  1. Write a personal letter within a text box in a word processing program. Then label the components of the letter.
  2. Write a one-page personal letter. Exchange letters with a partner, and use the criteria in this section to evaluate your partner’s personal letter.
  3. How would you commemorate the following events in the life of a close friend who lives on the other side of the country? Would you send that friend a personal letter, an e-mail, or a text message or post a message on the wall of her social networking page? Discuss the implications of your choices of medium.

    1. the birth of her first child
    2. her wedding
    3. the death of her grandmother
    4. her big promotion at work
    5. her graduation from college