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Dare to Be Different–Write a Letter

Near the end of the year, I read a Danny Westneat column in The Seattle Times, “Offline Deserves a Right On.” 

Westneat mentioned that a column he had written had inspired 700 emails and online comments in response–and one handwritten letter. He said he used to get about one handwritten letter a week. Now they average one a month.

For the handwritten letter he mentioned, he knew the writer’s name and even called him on the phone to talk about why the man had written by hand. Westneat did the same thing with another correspondent.

What does that tell you about the difference between hundreds of emails and single letters?

The single letters get noticed. They are singular–remarkable, extraordinary, even odd.

Do you want to get someone’s attention? Send a letter. Better yet, send a handwritten letter. It may be the only one your someone receives all month.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

6 comments on “Dare to Be Different–Write a Letter”

  • I couldn’t agree more about the power of a written letter. Maybe the most important one is the thank-you letter. A a simple thank-you note will do more for you and your business than a lengthy presentation. It shows you care about the other person. It’s also good manners. Dashing off a perfunctory email doesn’t begin to measure up.

  • Traditional mail frustrates me; it clutters my desk (maybe, that’s my fault) and takes longer to open and to trash or file.

    But it does get my attention. Because I carry it with me to read before meetings, I am more likely to discuss it with a colleague, if it’s appropriate for me to do so.

  • Lynn,

    When I receive business correspondence that is packaged in a lovely envelope, or clearly has a greeting card inside, I’m immediately intrigued and open it right away. I agree that a personal handwritten note rises above email and standard business stationery in terms of being interesting.

  • Jeanette, I agree about the power of a thank-you. I am always pleased when I receive one. I don’t think ill of someone who doesn’t send a thank-you, but I am always impressed with people who do. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    Hi, Alfredo. Like you, I am frustrated by the papers cluttering my desk. That is the definite downside of personal letters. But still, if they get our attention?

    Hi, Paula. Yes, a classy envelope is intriguing. Thanks for mentioning greeting cards. How could a person ignore one?

    To all: I appreciate your input!


  • We’ve gotten calls and referrals years after sending handwritten letters to people we’ve met or done business with.

    Plus, I like the feeling I get when I write them. I know that the letters will get noticed. I know that I’m showing someone that I’m listening to them. To me, that’s very cool.

  • Hi, Ben. (Please forgive me if your name is Bencurnett.) Thanks for mentioning that your handwritten letters have resulted in business–and that it feels good writing them. My experience matches yours.


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