Things worth learning: letter writing


A letter is a written message conveyed from one person (or group of people) to another through a medium. The term usually excludes written material intended to be read in its original form by large numbers of people, such as newspapers and placards, although even these may include material in the form of an “open letter”. The typical form of a letter for many centuries, and the archetypal concept even today, is a sheet (or several sheets) of paper that is sent to a correspondent through a postal system. Letters can be formal or informal, depending on the audience it is being written to.”



Letter writing is a useful skill, but an undervalued one. It takes time and thought to write a cover letter or thank-you note that expresses what you mean in a way the reader will understand and appreciate.

In my professional life I’ve found that the best software engineers are often good writers as well. They are able to express their thoughts coherently in different media. When I review job applications I pay attention to the way applicants’ resumes and cover letters are written, rather than solely focusing on the content.


I learned to write, and write letters, before I learned to type. Writing by hand and correcting mistakes by hand is much slower and laborious than doing the same things with a machine. The process encourages you to collect your thoughts and compose the text in your mind before you put pen to paper.

By the time I learned to type and acquired a computer, that way of writing was already ingrained. I continued to think about sentences and paragraphs, then apply them to the medium. I wrote long emails to people I knew online. Most electronic communication was not in real-time, and it was common for people to treat the medium like a faster version of the postal system. Now that we have chat, social media, video conferencing, etc. fewer people want to correspond, or see a need for it.

I still find that some things are best expressed in writing, and short messages are not always the best form for them. If I had to learn from scratch, starting today, I’d probably do it the same way I did decades ago – writing by hand.