Letter (message)

A letter is a written message from one person to another. Letters, especially a regular exchange between two persons (sometimes called pen pals), represent a kind of humanly communication and mutual friendship. The role of letters in communication has changed significantly since the 19th century. Historically, letters (in paper form) were the only reliable means of communication between two persons in different locations.

As communication technology has diversified, letters have become less important as routine communication. The development of the telegraph, telephone, fax and the Internet have all had an impact on the writing and sending of letters. In modern industrialized nations, the exchange of personal letters has become less common, being replaced by technologies such as the telephone and also e-mail. With the advent of the compact cassette, tape letters became a novelty.

By analogy, the term letter is sometimes used for e-mail messages with a formal letter-like format. Historically, letters exist from the time of ancient India, ancient Egypt and Sumer, through Rome, Greece and China, up to the present day. Letters make up several of the books of the Bible. Archives of correspondence, whether for personal, diplomatic, or business reasons, serve as primary sources for historians.


Letters are still used, particularly by companies and advertisers. This is because of three main advantages:

  • No special device needed - almost everybody has a home, which means he is easy to reach. A mailbox is all that the intended recipient needs - not like e-mail or phone calls where the intended recipient needs access to a computer and a telephone respectively.
  • "Catch-all" advertising- unlike e-mails, where the recipient needs an individual e-mail address to receive messages, addresses are not chosen (per se), and so with the help of a postal service, delivering an advertisement to all homes in a particular area is not hard.
  • Physical record - important messages that need to be retained (e.g. receipts) can be kept more easily and securely.

The letter-delivering process

Here is how a letter gets from the sender to the recipient:

  1. Sender writes letter and places it in an envelope on which he writes the recipient address.
  2. Sender buys a postage stamp, which he places on the front of the envelope.
  3. Sender puts his letter in a mailbox and does nothing more.
  4. The National Postal Service for the sender's country (e.g. the Royal Mail in the UK or the U.S. Postal Service in the U.S.) empties the postbox and takes all the contents to the regional sorting office.
  5. The sorting office then sorts each letter by address and postcode, and delivers the letters belonging to a particular area to that area's post office. Letters belonging to a different region are sent to that region's sorting office, to be sorted further.
  6. The local post office dispatches their letters to their delivery personnel (postmen) who deliver them to the appropriate houses.

This whole process, depending on how far the sender is from the recipient, can take anywhere from a day to 3-4 weeks. International mail is sent via trains and planes to other countries.

Letter layout

United Kingdom, Canada & Australia

The following is the normal way to set out a letter: (Note: This is the style in the UK, Canada and Australia. See below for the format used in the US.)
Sender's address here
24 Lambert Street
Date here
Formal: 3 February 2008 Informal: 03/02/2008

Recipient's name and address here
Mr Boris Johnson
25 Lambkin Street

Main body
Formal: Dear Sir or Madam, Acquaintance: Dear Mr Johnson, Informal: Dear Boris,
Formal: Yours faithfully, Acquaintance: Yours sincerely, Informal: Best wishes,
Sender's Name
Formal: Sender's Occupation and Enclosures Informal: Nothing (optional: P.S. / Post Scriptum = Afterthought)

United States

The following is the modified block format for a business letter, common in the United States:

                             May 20, 2008
your Address
Mrs. Jane Doe
25 First Street
Anytown, VA 10005
Dear Ms. Doe:
This is an example of a modified block letter.  The difference between it
and a full block letter style is that the date begins at the center point
of the page; therefore, if a letter has a 6 inch line of type, the date
begins approximately over 3 inches from the left margin.
The closing block also begins half-way across the page.  The complimentary
close and the keyed signature (first and last name of the writer) begin at
the same point as the date - approximately 3 inches from the left margin.
                                        Anthony Ferris

                                          Sales Representative
jtp  (the typist's initials appear at the left margin)

See also

Types of letters

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External links

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