A Guide to Letter Writing in the age of social media
In the age of social media (which obviously I’m fully alert to, partly because it’s my job) is there still space for old fashioned letter writing and letters to the editor?
Certainly there is. The letter for publication (let alone the letter for other reasons which I also touch in below) remains an important part of effective communication.
The range of outlets is now less but the letters pages of publications where they exist remain standard bearers for reasoned discussion and disagreement, unlike below the line comments. Moderators do their best but letters’ editors are more effective.
As someone who honed my letter writing skills, such as they are, writing standard-ish letters in what was then a civil service department [long since privatised] I can offer a brief guide to letter writing:
1 Don’t write a letter at all if speaking someone face to face is possible. If it isn’t consider telephoning them and then summarising anything significant in a subsequent letter, or if you prefer e-mail.
2 Keep letters brief and to the point. Try not to make too many different points in one letter. If need be send separate letters.
3 The English language is a living one so a certain amount of flexibility with grammar and spelling may be OK. However basic spelling errors or rambling and never ending paragraphs aren’t
4 Letters are, mostly, of the moment. Respond as quickly as possible unless it really is a long term matter [for example, pensions]
5 Humour is not appropriate in official letters [because not everyone has a sense of humour..] but may help in personal ones
6 These days letters do not need to be physically written [my hand writing is illegible] although a hand written note can add a personal touch not available via e-mail
7 Don’t use management speak or academic phrases unless you happen to be writing in a specific context where they are accepted and understood. If your letter can’t be understood it is not doing the job it should do. Probably…
8 A tweet in particular may be a substitute for a short letter but the tweet is of the moment, a letter while ephemeral still has a longer potential viewing/reading life.
9 A Facebook post will reach the audience of your choice but thanks to algorithms, unpredictably so
10 Above all, if you don’t write letters to the editor, give it a go. Particularly if (unlike me) you are not an old white bloke in a jacket & trousers.