How to write a great letter that gets a response!

by Patricia Gilliam

Letter writing is a skill that has declined over the years as other forms of communication have developed – like the telephone, text messaging and email. However letters are still a powerful form of communication and a personal letter from one person to another can be a source of great joy and a great way to start and develop a friendship/relationship. We all love it when someone takes an interest in us and makes an effort for us – and a letter is a certain sign of this.

Many members tell us that they just don’t know how to write a letter to another member (especially when they don’t know them and have only received their profile). If you feel like this and would like some guidance on how to write such letters, click here to read on.

When you write a letter to someone you don’t know, first impressions count. So start by buying some decent writing paper. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but should look ‘nice’. If you use a scrap of paper perhaps torn from a ring bound book, the impression you give, irrespective of what the content of your letter is, will not be favourable. Remember your letter is saying something about you AS WELL as making contact with the other person.

Secondly, think about your hand writing. It’s much more personal to write a letter by hand – and it shows you’ve put effort into it – but only do so if other people can read what you write. Ask a friend – “Can you read my writing?” If they say No, then type your letter instead if you can. If you can’t type or don’t have access to a typewriter/word processor then write by hand but make a big effort to make it legible.

Before you start your letter, consider carefully the profile of the person you are going to write to. Let’s take an example. Here is Caroline’s profile – she is aged 50 and lives in London. I’m going to pretend I’m a 53 year old man living in Leicester who is writing to her.

“Caroline was born in Surrey, and lived in Canada until aged 8, until her parents divorced, when she returned to Surrey. She trained first as a Secretary then as a Nursery School Teacher. In 1992 she was widowed, and she has 3 children aged 18, 16 and 11. Caroline describes her faith as strong and she attends a C of E church. Until recently she was chairman of a church based group, Wimbledon Wives. Caroline describes herself as kind, affectionate, well-bred and versatile. She enjoys Scottish Country Dancing, theatre, opera, ballet, swimming and walking her dog. Over the last 7 years she has restored her Victorian house. Last year she got a beginner sailing certificate, and this year is doing an IT Diploma Course. She dislikes being let down. Caroline would like to meet someone who is charming, well educated; an all round “good egg” like herself!”

From reading this profile, there are various things in it I might mention in my letter to her. It’s interesting that she lived in Canada as a child – I might ask her if she remembers any of that time – and if I had been to Canada myself I would perhaps mention where I’d been and what I thought of the country. I haven’t, but I’d like to go – I’ll mention that. Her job sounds interesting – I’ll comment on that and perhaps ask her if she likes it. I’ll ask her how busy her role as Chairman makes her and if I’m involved in anything similar I’ll mention that. She sounds very active – someone who does lots with her life – reading her profile makes me wonder which activity she is most keen on – perhaps it’ll be something I like doing or would be interested in taking up as an activity. If I ask her this I’ll gain further information about her. I see she wants someone who is charming and well educated so I’ll tell her about my schooling and try and show her that I’m a good egg. In writing to her I want to illustrate that I’m interested in her from what she’s said in her profile and also let her know more about me. This is important as I have to write my letter in such a way that ensures she writes back to me. I must tell her about myself and try and find some common ground between us.

Now all of this takes some time – you can’t write 10 good letters in one sitting if you are going to do it properly. Although it is important to contact as many people as you can, the quality of your initial contact is very important. Quality is more important than quantity and there are no shortcuts.

Based on Caroline’s profile, here is the letter I would write to her.

Dear Caroline,

I was pleased to receive your profile in my latest mailing from friendsfirst. I joined the organisation in February – I don’t know whether you have received my profile yet so I’ve enclosed a copy of it so you can read a little about me (or refresh your memory if you did get it!)

How interesting that you lived in Canada as a child. I have never been there but I believe it is a very beautiful country – did you live in a city or in the countryside. I would love to go there one day. Do you ever go back? I don’t think Surrey is quite as beautiful but perhaps you’d disagree with that!  I myself grew up in Devon and after A levels decided not to go to University as I loved working with wood, so I went to College to learn my trade – I now work as a restorer of antique furniture – it’s a solitary role compared to your teaching but very satisfying. Occasionally I have clients who are very difficult – probably like some of your pupils, but by and large I really enjoy the interaction I have with the people who bring me furniture to repair or restore.

I was interested to read of your role as Chairman of Wimbledon Wives – I wonder if that is a large role and what it involves?  You sound as if you are very active in your life and interested in lots of different things. You must be very interesting to talk to. I really love my job but do find time to read (I love detective novels and art history) and I’m also very keen on going to our local theatre which puts on some great plays. I saw a play called Skirmishes by Catherine Hayes recently – it was excellent and very thought provoking. You are lucky to live in London with such an array of choice of theatre, opera and ballet. Mind you Leicester does have good choice too.

I am divorced myself (10 years ago) and have 2 lovely sons who have both now left home but work locally. I am now hoping to make some new friends which is why I joined friendsfirst so it would be really good to hear back from you – or perhaps a telephone call would suit you better.  Let me know which.
I trust this finds you in good health,

Yours sincerely

Peter

Once you have written your letter, consider whether, if you received it, you’d want to reply to it. Don’t just think that because you’ve made an effort in writing that’s all it takes. It comes back to quality again. I heard of one person who wrote one letter telling people all about himself and asking them to reply. It was totally impersonal and worse, photocopied with the person’s name written in ink after the word Dear…..   Unsurprisingly this person got very few replies. He probably thought he was making lots of effort and was left wondering why no-one bothered to write back to him. Would you?

If you are not used to writing letters (and most of us are not) then remember that as with everything else in life, practice makes perfect. It might feel hard at first – but you do have the other persons profile to help you say thing in your letter about them. And as time goes on, you will find letter writing gets easier and easier – and when you start receiving letters back, you’ll realise that they are well worth making the effort for.

There is more advice and guidance on writing letters in the ‘Top Tips’ guide that you received with your membership pack from friendsfirst – you can find these on pages 14-19.

I hope you’ve found this article helpful. Now do make a start on writing to someone today. And if you’re reading this and want some people to contact and you’re not already a member, click here to join.

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