Saturday, May 10, 2014

Netiquette - A Classice 1876 Business Letter - Some Things Never Change


Netiquette is based upon a number of principals, some many years old. As such we must not simply consider the ways we can communicate better, but also understand the value of Netiquette’s different forms. We can learn much from the lessons of yesterday and apply them to the lessons of today. It is astounding to me to see this letter and consider the value people placed in the ways of communicating well!

This excerpt is From the book, “How to write letters” by J. Willis Westlake


 How To Write Letters: A Vintage Guide to the Lost Art of Epistolary Etiquette from 1876
by Maria Popova From an article published on
“A letter should be regarded not merely as a medium for the communication of intelligence, but also as a work of art.” 

As letter-writing is the most generally practiced, so also is it the most important, practically considered, of all kinds of composition.
He makes a note on quantity vs. quality:
Take pains; write as plainly and neatly as possible — rapidly if you can, slowly if you must. Good writing affects us sympathetically, giving us a higher appreciation both of what is written and of the person who wrote it. Don’t say, I haven’t time to be so particular. Take time; or else write fewer letters and shorter ones. A neat well-worded letter of one page once a month is better than a slovenly scrawl of four pages once a week. In fact, bad letters are like store bills: the fewer and the shorter they are, the better pleased is the recipient.
He then goes on to list several guidelines for an excellent letter:
  1. Style of Writing. — All flourishing is out of place in a letter. The writing should be plain and, if possible, elegant, so that it maybe both easy to read and gratifying to the taste. The most fashionable style for ladies is what is called the English running-hand. A rather fine hand is preferable for ladies, and a medium one for gentlemen. A person who writes a large hand should use large paper and leave wide spaces between the lines.
  2. Skipping Pages. — After reaching the bottom of the first page, it is generally better to continue the letter on the second, instead of passing to the third; because the writer may find more to say than he at first thought of, and after having filled the first and third pages, may be compelled to go back to the second, and thence to the fourth.
  3. Crossing. — Many persons, ladies especially, have a habit of crossing their letters. It is better not to do it. If one sheet is not large enough to hold all you have to say without crossing, take an extra half-sheet, or a sheet if need be. Crossing does not seem to be entirely respectful to your friend; for it implies (though he may not so understand it) that you do not think enough of him to use any more paper on his account. Besides, crossed writing is hard to read; and you have no right to task your friend’s eyesight and tax his time by compelling him to decipher it. Cross-lining came into use when paper was dear and postage high. Then there was some excuse for it. Now there is none.
  4. Blots and Interlineations. — Of course no blots are allowable. Better rewrite the letter than send a blotted one. And avoid, as far as possible, interlineations and erasures. A few words my be interlined in a very small hand, but even a single interlined word mars the beauty of a page. A letter should be regarded not merely as a medium for the communication of intelligence, but also as a work of art. As beauty of words, tone, and manner adds a charm to speech, so elegance of materials, writing, and general appearance, enhances the pleasure bestowed by a letter. ===========================================                                                                                             

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