How to Write Letters
1, 2. What good purposes can letters accomplish?
1 In the early Christian congregation letters were put to good use in a number of ways. They were a means of keeping in touch with congregations. (Phil. 1:1) They were used to encourage those who had taken on special responsibilities. (2 Tim. 1:1, 2, 6) Letters upbuilt those who had recently become believers or who were faced with hardship. (1 Thess. 1:1-7; 3:1-7) And the early Christians used letters to keep in touch with those who had become close to them in the service of the Lord.—3 John 1, 14.
2 Theocratic ministers of today also have many reasons for writing letters, and these letters can accomplish much good. Business letters may be necessary at times. Public officials may have to be written to with regard to the Kingdom work. Tenants who live in exclusive apartment buildings, as well as those who live in isolated places, often can be contacted with the “good news” only by means of letters. Some publishers in your congregation may have moved away, or relatives may live at a considerable distance, and you may wish to show your loving concern for them by writing a letter. Also, there are times when you send a letter to express thanks or condolence.
3. To be worthy of our ministry, what should characterize our letters?
3 Our letters should be worthy of our God-given ministry. They should be friendly, tactful and show loving consideration for those who read them. They should be positive and upbuilding, rather than negative and expressing a spirit of complaint, which tears down faith and depresses the reader. “Love builds up,” says God’s Word. (1 Cor. 8:1) Consider, too, the overall appearance and impression the letter will give. For the sake of neatness, it helps to have a fairly uniform margin around the sides and bottom of the letter. Smudges do not give a good impression. Also, good spelling and sentence structure deserve attention. However, if you are not skilled at these, do not let it discourage you from writing to friends. Warmth, interest and enthusiasm usually more than make up for errors in spelling and sentence structure. But spelling can be improved by using a dictionary, and sentence structure can improve as we note how others put words and phrases together. With these points in mind, let us now take a closer look at the various types of letters we may have occasion to write in connection with our ministry.
4. Outline the proper form for a business letter.
4 Business letters. When you write a business letter, it is advisable to put your name, address and the date at the top of the letter. This is called the heading and it appears on the right side of the paper. (In letters to the Watch Tower Society, the heading should also have the name of the sender’s congregation, if it deals with congregation matters.) The “inside address” is on the left side of the paper but slightly lower than the heading. Here you provide the name and address of the firm or person to whom you are writing. Next in order comes the salutation. When writing to firms or individuals not connected with Jehovah’s witnesses, salutations such as “Dear Sir,” “Gentlemen,” “Dear Mr.——” and the like are appropriate. When writing to the Society and others who are Jehovah’s witnesses, it is customary to use salutations such as “Dear Brothers” or “Dear Brother——.” Finally there is a concluding phrase such as “Sincerely yours” or “Yours very truly.” When writing to those within Jehovah’s organization concluding phrases such as “Your brother” or “Your fellow servant” are appropriate. This begins halfway across the page and is followed by a comma. Immediately below, sign your name. When the letter is written to the Society in behalf of a congregation or a circuit, the writer might also show his office, such as “Presiding Overseer” or “Circuit Overseer,” immediately under his signature.
5, 6. What should be attended to first in the letter, and what usually helps to bring a favorable response?
5 At the very beginning of your letter, state its purpose. Then the receiver will immediately learn why you are writing. If the letter is following up on previous correspondence, it would be good to mention that previous letter and the specific topic with which it dealt. And when the correspondence is with a large organization having many departments, it is also helpful to indicate any identifying symbols appearing on the last letter you received from the organization. As for the body of the letter, you will find that good results come from using a separate paragraph for each specific matter or line of thought. This helps to make the various points in your letter stand out distinctly and often results in better service. If the letter is part business and part informal, it is best to attend to business matters first.
6 Brevity of expression is always valuable in letter writing, yet the information you want to convey must be clear and complete. But if unnecessary words or repetitious thoughts are pruned out, your letter will be more effective. It helps to make the purpose of your letter plain if you leave out material that does not have a bearing upon your subject. Also, a sincere expression of appreciation for the effort of others is usually fitting. Even with a business letter detailing some difficulty, the response is usually better when you use some such expression as, “I do appreciate very much what you are doing (or may be able to do) for me in this particular matter.”
7-9. What might be said in a letter that is intended to give a witness?
7 To give a witness. Letter writing has also proved valuable in preaching the Kingdom message. In some areas there are large apartments or residence hotels that cannot be worked freely, but we can write letters to the occupants. Then, too, some persons repeatedly are not found at home in the house-to-house work, but they do pick up their mail. And, for a publisher who is confined to his home, writing letters to these people may be the only way he has of sharing the Kingdom message with others.
8 When writing a letter to give a witness concerning God’s kingdom, it is good to introduce yourself first. You may also want to state why you are writing instead of making a personal visit. It will impress the recipient as to your earnestness. Then set out what you wanted to tell him personally if you could have visited. It is not difficult to do if you apply the principles that you have been learning in the ministry school. You may use a Scripture presentation from a recent copy of Our Kingdom Ministry or put in your own words a portion out of a recent issue of The Watchtower or Awake! or the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth. You might also enclose a tract, magazine or booklet and encourage the person to read it. Explain why this information is so important. As you do in the house-to-house work, you might suggest that he look up the scriptures in his own Bible. Then, with a view to your cultivating interest that may have been aroused, tell him how to get in touch with you and invite him to do so. Clearly give your name and address so that if he wishes to thank you or to subscribe for The Watchtower or Awake!, he will know where to write.
9 On the outside of the envelope, always show your own return address. Check to be sure that you have used sufficient postage, especially if you have enclosed literature. If the postage is not adequate, the householder may be charged for the amount due, and this may detract from your effort to give a good witness.
10, 11. Why are letters to family members and friends beneficial, and what might they include?
10 To family members and close friends. In daily life we give our time and attention to those activities we consider most important. But do we take time to keep in touch with loving relatives and close friends by mail? Parents deeply appreciate letters from their children, and children benefit from letters written by their parents. The interchange of “conversation” by means of letters does much to keep the family members together, even when physically far apart. Your friends and relatives would surely be upbuilt by receiving some evidence of your well-being, a cheerful, newsy letter from your pen or typewriter. Do you doubt it? Then just think of your own experience. Few things are so delightfully received as a fine letter. There is usually a pleasurable excitement about it. It makes you happy that someone has thought of you, does it not? Remember, the outstanding quality of Christians is that they love one another; and one way to show this is by keeping in touch even when far apart.
11 But what will you write about? Do you enjoy interesting experiences? Those that bring you pleasure will usually be enjoyed by others. It may be a personal experience you had in the ministry, or an experience you heard from others. (But it is not wise to pass on items that have a note of doubtful reliability about them.) At times you may wish to reminisce about pleasant experiences that you shared with the one to whom you are writing. This draws friends together. You can also write about new things that you have learned. And what about the things you personally have been doing of late, perhaps the places you have visited? Such items are always of interest to friends. Is the one to whom you are writing ill? Provide some note of encouragement. Show concern and express hope for his early recovery. You might also mention something of special interest that happened at a meeting in the congregation, something that was encouraging and that will help to brighten the day for the one who is ill. And in connection with things to write, if you have difficulty remembering details of what happened recently or what you were thinking about, why not jot things down on a memo pad when they come to mind? Then when you sit down to write, the information will be readily available.
12, 13. How might our letters encourage others in the way of the truth?
12 Also in connection with what to write, could you think of anything of more value than encouraging the one receiving the letter in the way of the truth? Perhaps someone with whom you used to study the Bible has moved to another town. If you write a letter expressing your personal interest and giving encouragement, might this not help to keep alive his interest in the truth? Then, too, think how parents feel when a son or daughter away from home writes and expresses appreciation for the parents’ faithfulness to Jehovah over the years and for bringing up the children to appreciate Jehovah’s ways. Also, what of those who have moved out to areas where the need for Witnesses is especially great, or who have taken up assignments in the missionary work or in Bethel homes? What an encouragement it is for them to receive letters that commend them for their faithful service to Jehovah! (Judg. 11:40) And they will appreciate it if you include in your letters items that tell what is happening in the congregation where they used to be.
13 Add to the quality of your letters by not focusing all the attention on yourself. Show interest in the one to whom you are writing by including questions about his well-being, his plans, how matters turned out about which he wrote earlier, friends that you have in common, and the progress of those with whom he is studying the Bible. Such interest in the other person has a wholesome, upbuilding effect and it stimulates a further interchange of news.
14, 15. What can be done to make the conclusion to your letter meaningful?
14 When you finish with the body of your letter, how will you bring it to a close? Meaningful conclusions are surely desirable. If we only say, “I must close now as I have run out of space,” it does not reflect well on the writer. Why not think of something more meaningful? The apostle Paul used a variety of interesting ways to conclude his letters. For example: “The undeserved kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ be with the spirit you show, brothers.” (Gal. 6:18; 2 Cor. 13:14) The apostle John concluded one of his letters in this way: “May you have peace. The friends send you their greetings. Give my greetings to the friends by name.” (3 John 14) Use a conclusion in keeping with the general subject of your letter and appropriate to your relationship with the individual.
15 Letter writing is not difficult if you observe the things happening around you from day to day. Much is going on in fulfillment of Bible prophecy. This old system of things, including its religious element, is rapidly deteriorating. Yet, Jehovah’s work prospers wonderfully because of his blessing on it. Your brothers delight in hearing news of theocratic expansion in your area. No matter who you are, there are other persons who would be happy to receive in a letter your warm, personal expressions of interest. And showing this concern for others is really part of our ministry, for our brotherly love should not cease just because we are separated by distance. Indeed, it can be enhanced by writing a letter.