“You write a fabulous letter,” I was once told by the MD of a well-known company, as she interviewed me for a then-dream job.
Fabulous or not, I've always loved the ritual and anticipation of letter writing. I sought penpals from all corners of the globe as I was growing up, amassing over fifty of them in my teens. You could definitely say that spending hours in my bedroom preparing reams of letters to people I would never meet was a great way of honing my reading and writing skills (you might have guessed that I was also something of a loner back then!)
These days, actual letter writing is usually confined to more formal occasions. Have a think about when you’d be most likely to sit down and write a ‘proper’ letter to someone, and it’s likely you’ll imagine a job application or resignation letter, or maybe a complaint about a misused apostrophe in a supermarket display – a letter one of my family members actually did write to our local superstore!
As we’ve established, it’s not all that often most of us will need to write a formal letter, and when we do it’s usually about something that really matters. This means that beginning and structuring your letter can be a daunting task.
In this situation I find it really helpful to remember that all I want to do is to give someone I (most likely) don’t know some information, and that when I’m giving that information it’s important to keep to the point and stay relevant. A little bit like when I was writing to introduce myself to my new penpals all those years ago!
So if you’re struggling with a letter, start yourself off by scribbling down a sentence that sums up its purpose and tone. For example, if it’s an application for a job you might write “Introduce myself in a personable way while showing that I’ve got the skills needed to do the job.”
Then, outline how you’re going to do achieve your purpose in three steps. For the job application this could be, “introduce myself and why I’d like to work for the company, explain my skills and experience, and talk about why I’d be a good fit.”
Finally, make a start! No matter how formal it’s supposed to be, if you see some elements of your personality creeping into your letter, then as long as it feels right let them stay. I’m convinced it was writing genuinely from the heart about why I wanted that then-dream job that inspired the ‘fabulous’ comment from that interviewer all those years ago.
Need help with an important letter? Get in touch – we’ll create something just as fabulous for you.