The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Antique tool for writing letters

In this electronic age, many things have been replaced with a faster, shorter, emoticon-ridden version of their former selves. The art of writing a letter is one of those casualties. Nothing irks me more than receiving an email – or worse, an actual letter – written as if it’s a Twitter post or a text message.

Here’s an example: OMG! I am so bummed by the service I got at ur store. U should totally train ur employees better.

Hard to take a complaint like that seriously, isn’t it?

by J.F. Purkis

When I was a child my grandfather used to write the loveliest letters, detailing all the things he and my grandmother had been up to. My grandfather happened to be the Principal Lecturer in English at Ware College in England, so it didn’t come as a huge surprise to discover that he had written a college-level book on communications. (Longman Group Limited published Assignments in Communication by J.F. Purkis in 1980.) In his book, there is an entire section on letter-writing.

As homage to my grandfather, from whom I inherited my love of grammar, this week I will do one of the assignments from his book. Assignment No. 6, on page 85 (you can click on the image below to read it), is all about writing letters. I’ve limited myself to questions 1 and 2 from the assignment so this post doesn’t get completely out of control.

Click for larger version

Question 1

Ms. Betty A. Ghast
Oldtown, Anyplace
D4E 5F6

November 28, 2012

Chocolate Confections Ltd.
Newtown, Anyplace
A1B 2C3

To Whom It May Concern:

Please find enclosed the half-pound box of Chocolate Confections’ Selections I recently purchased at the Supersales store in Sandsea. The box was my contribution for the funeral reception of my recently deceased aunt. You can imagine my horror when I opened the box and offered my grieving uncle a chocolate containing one of your employees’ fingertips! And while the remaining chocolates were appendage-free, every last one was stale and musty. I have never been so embarrassed in my life.

I am not sure what your company could possibly do to rectify this gruesome incident, but you could begin with an apology and a refund. I would also like some reassurance that the employee to whom this fingertip belongs has not left any other body parts in your boxes of assorted chocolates.

B. A. Ghast


Question 2

Chocolate Confections Ltd.
Newtown, Anyplace
A1B 2C3

December 4, 2012

Ms. Betty A. Ghast
Oldtown, Anyplace
D4E 5F6

Dear Ms. Ghast,

Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. First, allow me to offer my sincere apologies on behalf of Chocolate Confections Ltd. I cannot even begin to imagine the shock and distress you and your loved ones must have felt at what was already a very difficult time.

After some investigation, we were able to determine that the box of chocolates in question was well beyond its best before date. In fact, we sent that shipment out over a year ago. Supersales should not have had the box on their shelves and they assure me a thorough investigation is underway to determine how this grievous oversight occurred.

Regarding the fingertip, I am happy to inform you that one of our oldest employees admitted to losing a fingertip on the shop floor last summer. He thought it had fallen down a vent and was deeply sorry to hear of the circumstances under which it was discovered. He assured us that all his remaining appendages are intact – and an examination by our staff nurse has confirmed this.

While nothing can undo the distress caused by your experience, please find enclosed a full refund of your purchase, a refund of your shipping costs, a card of sympathy for your uncle and a one-pound box of our finest chocolates. I assure you they are both fresh and appendage-free, as I hand-selected them for you this morning.

It is my sincere hope that you will accept our deepest apologies and will consider purchasing Chocolate Confections’ Selections again in the future.

Warm Regards,
Billy Tonka
CEO, Chocolate Confections Ltd.


Those are my answers. I hope my grandfather would be proud.

Now, dear readers, I have a challenge for you. Answer the third question in Assignment No. 6 and send me your letters (email them to I will publish the best one here on my blog and the winner will have something to brag about at all those upcoming holiday events!

Image credit (feather pen): © Peter Hires /

2 thoughts on “The Lost Art of Letter Writing

  1. I write my mother on Mondays and Wednesdays every week. I have for years written at least once a week. I was pleased to see she had kept a lot of them when she moved to a senior living apartment. I could see the way I had developed as a writer, also the story of my 7 years as a single mother that started when my kids were only 1, 3 and 5 were really special. When I complained, I remembered my mother’s comforting words, “Time will tell” or “Things will get better.” And when I dated, “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” I had only kept a few of hers. She still writes and sends me enclosures of articles, about women’s progress, racial issues that she feels my being busy, I may not have seen them. Letters are wonderful archives of our lives!

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