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Described by The Telegraph as ‘the empress of etiquette’, Jo joined The English Manner in 2019 from Debrett’s, where she spent over a decade as a tutor and the editor of more than fifteen acclaimed books on etiquette and modern manners.

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Published

16 May 2024

Category

In an age where the majority of our correspondence is digital, don’t underestimate the impact of a physical, handwritten letter. 

Basic rules

Always try to use the best quality stationery; a note scrawled in biro on a piece of printer paper will not have the same gravitas as a letter written in fountain pen on a sheet of heavy watermarked wove.

Use a diamond-flapped envelope that is suited to the size of your paper. It should fit with just one or two folds. 

Keep things neatly aligned: a lined undersheet will help to keep your writing straight, and take care when addressing the envelope – first impressions count, and this is what the recipient will see first. Try to write the address straight, and make sure it is not too cramped. 

Use a proper stamp (stuck on as straight as possible), and avoid using the office franking machine.

Page layout

Addresses are positioned in the top right-hand corner. Remember that for social correspondence, this is the only address that is included (only business/official letters also include the sender’s address).

The date is written under the address, also on the right-hand side. Remember that the British format for a date is number, month, year – so 1st June 2024.

If a piece of letterhead writing paper is being used (a form of personal stationery, where the address is already printed on the paper), then the address is written underneath the printed address, on the right-hand side.

Openings 

There are some simple rules for starting your letter.

If you know the name of the recipient, then you would open with “Dear Harry”. 

If you do not know their name, then “Dear Sir/Madam” is the standard choice. 

Note: It is be much better to take the time to find out the name. A quick internet search or phone call is normally all that is needed – addressing the recipient by name significantly improves the standard and personal feel of your letter.

Styles

Remember that for formal letters, it is still customary to style the recipient as “Mr Potter” or “Ms Granger” etc.

If you know the recipient very well, or it is a social letter, then “Dear Harry” or “Dear Hermione” is fine.

Special attention should be paid to people with different forms of address.

Endings

There are also rules for ending your letter, which are a touch more technical.

Traditional sign-offs

If you have addressed the recipient by name when opening your letter, then you would sign-off your letter with “Yours sincerely”. For example:

“Dear Harry” = “Yours sincerely”

If you do not know their name and, for example, have used “Dear Sir” for your opening, then “Yours faithfully” is correct. For example:

“Dear Sir” = “Yours faithfully”

Informal sign-offs

These are largely a matter of personal choice, and dependent upon how familiar the sender is with the recipient. Popular choices are “Best wishes”, “With all good wishes”, “With love” etc – the choice is yours.

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