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Correspondence Tips & Etiquette

by Rachel Frenzel,

When we use the written word to announce a special occasion, express thanks or just keep in touch, it is important to pay attention to the details so that our message is conveyed the way we intended.

When writing personal notes and letters (including email) keep these tips in mind.

When your note is opened, the first thing the recipient notices is not what you wrote, but the paper it was written on. Use paper or stationary that is unique to you and expresses your personality with it. Maybe it has a soft color, interesting texture or a pretty border, but if you can, avoid plain white paper.

  • Natural language is easier to read and sounds friendlier. Example: "I do not know" use instead "I don't know".
  • Inserting the name of the person you are writing gives your note a touch of familiarity and affection. "And, Rebecca I found the most perfect Cinderella-like gown!" makes Rebecca feel as though you are really thinking about her as you write about yourself. People like you to use their names. (TIP: To get good service from a bridal store, etc., call the salesperson by her name a few times.)
  • Decide what you want to say and then write it as quickly as possible. That way it will sound natural, sincere and unscripted - like you are really talking to your friend.
  • Brevity is infinitely more interesting than lengthy ramblings. And you want to be interesting don't you!
  • To make your personal letter feel more personal, resist the temptation of using your word processor and write your notes by hand.
  • Share news and information that would be interesting to the reader. Your girlfriend would be interested in hearing about the awesome pair of heels that coordinates with your wedding gown, but your male co-worker could care less.
  • Mix good with bad news. It's depressing for your friend to read mostly bad news and makes them uncomfortable when they write a reply to your letter. It's often hard to know what to say to bad news. If it's not necessary, just leave it out of the letter.
  • Respond to questions previously asked and display curiosity in your friend's activities and interests.
  • Never write an angry letter. If you must write it, wait a day or two and then read it again and then either tear it to pieces or re-write it. Critical spoken words eventually fade away, but when the same thing is written, it is fixed on the page forever.
  • Include information you would be happy to have others see, even if your note is not intended for others. The written word whether a quick email or a lengthy letter have a way of resurfacing and eventually reaching the hands of others. This means absolutely no unattractive remarks about others (or yourself).
  • Writing about Jane Jones (a person the letter recipient does not know) who won the garden club award is meaningless. While writing about Jane Jones who is a significant person in your life is meaningful. No rambling allowed.

Closing Your Letter

  • Don't end a letter by saying "Well, I guess you've read enough of this." Or "You must be bored to tears". If you really think what you wrote was boring, rip it up and start over!
  • A few of my favorite ways to close a personal letter or note include: sincerely, affectionately, warm (or warmest) regards, kind (or kindest) regards, fondly, love, thinking of you, cordially and much love.
  • If you couldn't resist typing your letter, at least sign your name by hand. I like to use a pen ink in blue or some other color other than black - just for that final touch.

Thank-you Notes

The two most important aspects of a thank-you note is that it be sincere and written promptly. Do it right away after the gift etc. was received so that you don't put it off and possibly forget about officially thanking them - making the person you want to thank feel like you are ungrateful.

  • Use expressions most natural to you and write as enthusiastically as though you were talking.
  • Thank you notes for a gift of money should indicate the exact amount given and how the money will be used. "Your $50 is going into our sofa fund."

Sometimes it's difficult to write a thank you note for a gift that is ugly or unwanted. Some phrases you could use in this awkward situation include:

  • You have the most original ideas.
  • ______ has become a real conversation piece in our house.
  • ______ is simply fascinating, I've never seen anything like it.

The Envelope

  • The most elegant place for the return address is centered on the back flap of the envelope.
  • For US mail, zip codes should appear on the same line as the city and state.
  • Hand addressing the envelope makes it more personal for the receiver - like you took extra time out of your day to express your gratitude.
  • In my opinion, the use of Mr., Mrs., etc. is usually over the top for casual correspondence - not to mention old fashioned. Of course the use of those silly titles is still the preferred way to address wedding invitations and other formal letters.

In closing, a part of reputation is built on your correspondence or lack there of. Now get out your stationery and make an impression they can't forget!


Rachel Frenzel,


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