Friendly letters are quickly going out of style — to the point that this once familiar art is now so seldom used that you find yourself in need of a guide. Feeling intimidated? Don’t worry. We’ll get you up to speed, so that you can write with confidence and style.
Basics of Writing a Friendly Letter
A friendly letter can be defined as an informal, cordial, piece of correspondence. For the purposes of this guide, we will add that a friendly letter is not interchangeable with a friendly email and most certainly not with a friendly text message or social media message. We’ll define a friendly letter as a physical letter sent through the postal service.
You may write a friendly letter to:
- A pen pal — someone you have agreed to correspond with via a mutual friend or acquaintance, or a pen pal program. The purpose of a pen pal relationship is typically to have fun, as well as to learn something. When you first start corresponding with a pen pal, you will not know that person. As you become acquainted, your letters will become easier to write.
- A relative, often an older person, such as a grandparent, aunt, or uncle.
- A friend who has moved away.
- A retired colleague.
How to Format a Friendly Letter
Friendly letters may be typed or handwritten. Because friendly letters fall into the category of informal correspondence, getting the format right is not quite as important as it would be if you were formatting a business letter, a letter to a judge, or a letter to your bank — but the recipient may appreciate it.
Friendly letters usually contain five distinct parts:
- The letter’s heading is left-aligned and features the recipient’s name, address, and the date on which you are sending the letter. You may choose to skip the recipient’s name and address if you are writing to a friend, but should still include the date. That way, the person who receives the letter will know when it was written.
- Next, address your recipient with a greeting. “Dear Name” still works, but depending on the level of formality you are aiming for, you may also choose “Hey Name”, or “Hi sweet sister”, or any variant thereof.
- The body of the letter. If your letter is long, it is best to divide it into clear and structure paragraphs. This will make it easier for the recipient to read your letter.
- A closing line. You can get as creative as you want in a friendly letter. “Can’t wait to see you”, “All the best”, “Keep up the good work, bro, you can do it,” and “Until next time,” are all examples. This line ends with a comma.
- Finally, you sign the letter with your name. Instead of your name, you can sign off with variants like “your one and only pen pal” or “your loving grandson”.
What to Write in a Friendly Letter
That’s the tricky question, isn’t it? The content of your letter, or the “meat”, is entirely up to you — but it will depend on the content of any previous letters and on how well you know the person you are penning a friendly letter to.
You can choose to follow this order, if you like:
- Immediately after your greeting, inquire how the recipient of your letter is doing. If you are writing to a brand new pen pal, this may feel strange, and you may choose to wait until your next letter to ask how your pen pal is doing.
- If you are replying to previous correspondence, pick some aspects of the recipient’s letter to pay special attention to. Perhaps your grandmother told you about some new flowers she’s introduced to her garden; ask how they are getting on. Maybe your pen pal got a kitten; comment on how cute it is and ask if it’s grown a lot since last time. You get the drift, but this part should focus on the recipient.
- Next, you can share how you have been doing. Share some interesting details about your life that you think your friend, relative, or pen pal might like to hear about. Keep their own interests and passions in mind as you share.
- When replying to a previous letter, it is likely that your correspondence partner asked you some questions in the letter they sent you. Answer them next if you want to.
- You can ask the person you are sending a letter to about their plans, or talk about upcoming events, next.
- You’re done. Sign off.
- Got something else to add? A PS message always adds a nice personal touch to a friendly message. If the person you are corresponding with sent you a small gift, or included a photograph, you can thank them or say that the picture looked great.
Examples of Friendly Letters
Are you still clueless? We’ve put together these two examples to help you craft a friendly letter of your own.
In the first example, we are writing a letter to our favorite chemistry teacher, who has just retired. We know this person, but not very well, so the letter is slightly more formal.
Dear Mr. Walker,
This is Patrick, writing on behalf of class 1A. We are writing this letter in your old classroom, because we’re missing your presence. I was not that interested in chemistry when you became my teacher, but we all agree that you always managed to make the lessons alive and interesting.
We all hope that you are doing well and enjoying your retirement so far. We wanted to thank you for teaching us so much and being so passionate about your subject.
All the best,
Patrick and the rest of the class
The second example will be a first letter to a pen pal — something most people find notoriously difficult.
My name is Anita — the pen pal Mrs Rogers probably already told you about! I am so excited to get to know you, but I immediately have to warn you that I have never had a pen pal before and I have a lot to learn about writing letters, too.
Mrs Rogers told me a bit about you, like that you are a bit of a math wiz, that you love cats, and that you enjoy watching Marvel movies. I’d love to find out more about you, but for now I already know that we have some things in common. I am not very good at math, but I do have two cats. Mittens is seven years old, super sweet, and needs to lose some weight. Buzz is a one year old who still behaves like a kitten, and he’s actually trying to stop me from writing this letter right now. I love taking pictures of the two of them, so I’ll show you what they look like!
Maybe we could do a “day in the life of” list to break the ice? Here’s what my day was like so far:
- I had oatmeal with strawberries for breakfast, after feeding the cats, of course.
- I got ready for school and found out that I forgot to do my English homework! Oops!
- Next, I met up with my friend Rose. We take the bus to school together every day.
- I think I did quite well on my geography test, but we’ll have to wait and see.
- Lunch was awful, by the way.
- Had soccer practice before coming home to write to you!
Well, I’m not really sure what else to say, but I think this is pretty decent for a first letter, so I’ll hope to hear from you.
Tips on Writing a Great Friendly Letter
If you have made it this far, you are nearly ready to get started with your own friendly letter. Before you do, though, keep a few tips in mind:
- Handwritten friendly letters are special, but commit yourself to using only your best penmanship!
- If you are writing a letter to an elderly relative, it may help to use extra large letters to compensate for poor eyesight.
- Friendly letters are meant to be entertaining, so add some interesting anecdotes or facts that will be fun for the recipient to read, as well as giving them something to ask more about in their reply to you.
- Always show interest in the recipient’s life — don’t just write about yourself!
Why a friendly letter? Can’t I just send an email?
Letters have become especially special in an era where everyone uses email. You really have to think about what you are going to say, and that turns your correspondence into a nice ritual.
I still don’t know what to say. What now?
When you’re writing a letter to a far-away friend or an elderly relative, remember that the act of writing a friendly letter is meaningful in itself. Start by saying that you are thinking about the person. Share some nice memories, if you like. Talk about your day and ask about theirs. Just by doing this, you already show that you care — and the recipient of your friendly letter will appreciate that very much.