1. Address & stamp the envelope before writing the letter
Shouldn’t I do this afterwards you ask? No. By stamping and addressing the letters beforehand you will avoid the rush of doing it at the end. “You will go on writing till the last moment, and, just in the middle of the last sentence, you will become aware that “time’s up!” In your dire attempts to make it to the post office or mail box before the postman comes you will write the address incorrectly or in such a fury that it’s illegible and ends up back in your own mailbox only to have to correct it and attempt to send it again. This includes writing your address in full at the top left on both the envelope and the letter itself.
2. If not destroyed, letters stand the test of time and serve for reflection
Unlike digital writings, letters are dearer because of the personal commitment one must make to sit and write them. Years from now, perhaps, if you’ve acquired yourself a pen-pal or a distant lover and have shoveled the letters into a box only to stumble upon them again by happenstance, you may want to re-arrange them in chronological order so you can follow the progression of the conversation. For this reason alone it is entirely appropriate to “put the date in full. It is another aggravating thing, when you wish, years afterwards, to arrange a series of letters, to find them dated ‘Feb. 17,’ ‘Aug. 2,’ without any year to guide you as to which comes first.”
3. Be cordial, begin by responding appropriately
In the words of Dogdson: “The best subject, to begin with, is your friend’s last letter. Write with the letter open before you. Answer his questions, and make any remarks his letter suggests.” This should be common sense; however, many overlook it and go straight for writing what they feel they should say as though their words are more important. It is hurtful for the receiver of your letter to see the comments and remarks in their letter answered at the end of yours. Put them first and if they’re savvy they’ll return the favor. Don’t take offense if they don’t, just share this article with them.
4. If arguing and you’ve failed to persuade the other party, drop it.
Dogdson leaves no room for misunderstanding in his tips for letter-writing. In this one, he encourages the writer to drop the argument if you’ve failed to persuade in your first attempt. “One is, don’t repeat yourself. When once you have said your say, fully and clearly, on a certain point, and have failed to convince your friend, drop that subject.” Otherwise the result will be wasted hours of penmanship for you and the other party who will no doubt return with why he or she disagrees until the subject is no longer written of.
5. Replace the pepper and vinegar with honey instead
In preparation of sending a letter to someone who you believe may take it offensively, finish writing the letter on the ‘morrow (put it off until the next day). Imagine it was addressed to you when you read it, which Dogdson believes: “This will often lead to your writing it all over again, taking out a lot of the vinegar and pepper, and putting in honey instead, and thus making a much more palatable dish of it!”
6. Keep a copy for yourself
Although not an explicit rule of Dogdson’s, this one should stand-alone. Unfortunately like the digital counterparts we utilize much more often in our contemporary world, there is often times only one letter that is written and sent when letters are used. “If, when you have done your best to write inoffensively, you still feel that it will probably lead to further controversy, keep a copy of it,” because it is “Far better to be able to write ‘I did not express myself so: these are the words I used.’”
7. Turn a negative into a positive
When reading the letter you’ve received, if you feel the sting of a sharp remark, make it a point to “make your reply distinctly less severe: and if he makes a friendly remark, tending towards ‘making up’ the little difference that has arisen between you, let your reply be distinctly more friendly.” The goal of writing these letters are to keep all conversation cordial and amicable. This is another way to do so which many who correspond in text need be reminded.
8. Oh! I forgot to send…
Dogdson must’ve done this on many occasions to write about it in his tips. When referencing another document that you’ve said you’re sending in the letter “leave off writing for a moment–go and get the document referred to—and put it into the envelope. Otherwise, you are pretty certain to find it lying about, after the Post has gone!” You don’t want to have to go through the hassle of sending another letter with the enclosed document you should’ve sent in the first place.
9. Exaggerate your jokes so that they are seen for what they are: jokes.
If writing a light-hearted letter to a friend or family member you may feel compelled to pass a joke. Dogdson states “My seventh Rule is, if it should ever occur to you to write, jestingly, in dispraise of your friend, be sure you exaggerate enough to make the jesting obvious:” Do this so that your friends do not take offense to anything that you say and do not misconstrue your intent with malice.
10. How to end your letter
Dogdson believes its good practice to respond with a slightly more friendly if not, at least as friendly of an ending as the other party. Utilize a Postscript (P.S.) to write off any little matter that you, due to your new courtesies learned of how to respond to letters, didn’t make any mention of it in the body of the letter.
These are all the ways that modern day letter-writing can be improved to a higher degree of skill. Some of the tips that Charles Dogdson (better known as Lewis Carroll) has left between the bindings of this work can and should be applied to other forms of written text that are more contemporary, such as e-mails, messenger services, or social media.