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Writing a personal letter is quite different from composing a business or professional letter. It can be less formal in style, but should still contain thoughtful content and reflect one’s knowledge of the person addressed. Depending on the person to whom one is writing, informality of style and address can fluctuate.
The salutation of a personal letter can look like a business letter. It can list the name and address of the person to whom one is writing prior to writing “Dear Aunt Jane,” or “Hi Fred.” This rule is flexible especially when one is writing a personal letter to very close relatives or good friends. For those with whom one has a short acquaintance, consider the more formal inclusion of the address prior to the salutation.
The actual greeting of the personal letter can be quite informal too, depending on the audience. A good friend may be addressed as “Hey Pal!” or “Hiya Annie!” The more formal personal letter should begin with the traditional “Dear Uncle Rufus” followed by a comma. One can use the exclamation point in place of the comma for an enthusiastic, informal personal letter.
Following the greeting, one begins the first paragraph. It is fine to simply indent this paragraph. It does not need to line up directly under the end of “Dear” as is needed in a business letters. Keep paragraphs between five to seven sentences long.
Closing the letter does not require the formal “Sincerely” of the business letter. A personal letter may be close with “Thanks,” “Warmly,” “Love,” or “Stay cool!” This should be followed with one’s signature. The closing should be capitalized, however.
Debate exists about whether the personal letter should be typed or hand-written. Hand-written is preferable, and this should be done in blue or black ink. If one’s print or cursive is too messy, typing is acceptable. At the end greeting, space down about three to four times and type one’s name. Leave enough space for a signature in black or blue ink. Any type of postscript (P.S.) should also be initialed in ink as well.
Since most who type now do so on a computer, there are numerous fonts to choose from. Choose a simple font, and consider using a larger font for family members who might have slight vision reduction from age or other medical conditions. Consider a 14-point or 16-point font, instead of a 12-point font.
As with any written material be certain to check the personal letter for spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. Employ liquid paper to change a mistake, or use spell and grammar check on the computer. This will help eliminate obvious errors or typos that detract from the quality of one’s personal letter.
These suggestions above are merely guidelines. For example, two young best friends might correspond in purple ink. However, if a son or daughter is planning to write a note to a relative, consider having them write in the darker black or blue ink. Among close friends, however, anything goes providing it will not offend either party.
I've had international pen pals and that was always fun. We used to tell each other about the customs of our countries and how we celebrated holidays, that sort of thing.
I sponsor two children, one in Kenya and one in Indonesia, and I write them letters pretty often. It takes a while for our letters to reach each other, but I treasure every one I get. I have to send Christmas cards in October and birthday cards at least three months before they need to arrive. I always talk about customs, holidays, what's going on with my life -- it's a great way to connect with these children, and to understand what's going on in their worlds. It's a privilege and a blessing.
A high school friend and I used to write long letters over the summers. She was with her dad several states away, and we didn't see each other the whole summer. So, we wrote these letters, and we really told each other everything. I'd love to have some of those letters. We probably wrote each other once a week and that continued for several years.
We're in touch on Facebook, but I think I need to sit down and take pen in hand and write her an actual letter. I think it would be good for both of us to start that habit again.
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