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How Not to Write a Letter

E-mail: ewadams@designersnotebook.com

Phone: +44-7780-660753

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So, you want to write me a letter asking for information or advice, eh? I receive a lot of these, and some get answered a whole lot faster than others. I typically save up all letters from wanna-bes and answer them in a batch every two or three weeks, so please don't expect instant turnaround. There are a few things that will definitely speed up my reply, and others that will prevent it entirely.  If you want to hear back from me, try not to write a letter like this one:

You are such an idiot.4 I can't believe that shit5 you wrote about porno games. They are totally 133t.6,7

So anyways8 heres9 my qwestion.10 Do u11 think I should be a programmer or an artist?12 And where should I go to school?13

Write back really soon cause I need to know by Monday!14

RaaDICKl15 d00d16,17

1 For some reason people have recently stopped using the salutation "Dear," especially men. I think they're afraid they'll become homosexual if they call another man "Dear." But just starting a letter bluntly with a name is impolite. If you can't summon up the courage to call me "Dear," then just use "Sir:" and leave it at that.

2 If we are strangers to one another, then my name is Mr. Adams. I hate it when used-car salesmen and telephone solicitors assume a familiarity to which they are not entitled. If we've met in person, or after we've exchanged a letter or two, you can call me Ernest.

3 ... but not "Ernie." My name is not "Ernie" and has not been since the fourth grade. It is "Ernest," spelled E-R-N-E-S-T, not E-A-R-N-E-S-T.

4 I don't answer letters that are directly insulting, ever.

5 The only time it's appropriate to swear at strangers is when they've just totaled your car. For a first letter, keep it G-rated.

6 I seldom send SMS messages on my mobile phone, and when I do I spell out every word because that's the kind of writer I am. I can't be bothered to keep track of youth slang – it's expressive, but generally graceless. If you want me to understand you, use real words.

(For those of you not familiar with "133t," I got someone to explain it to me: it's an abbreviation of a mis-spelling of a slang word. "133t" is telephone-ese for "leet," which is a mis-spelling of "élite," which is slang for "very good.")

7 You're welcome to disagree with me, and I always appreciate corrections to anything that I've gotten wrong in my writing. However, if all you have to say is that you disagree, I probably won't reply. Make a well-reasoned argument, and I will.

8 What did I just tell you about real words? (Non-native speakers of English are exempt from this rule.)

9 I like proper punctuation, too, though I don't absolutely insist upon it. (Non-native speakers of English are exempt from this rule.)

10 And spelling. (Non-native speakers of English are exempt from this rule.)

11 This isn't a chat room. You don't have to type as fast as you can, so take the time to do it properly.

12 I can't possibly answer this question. I don't know how old you are, what kind of education you have,  whether you have any talent, skill, or interest in either one, or what criteria you would use to make the decision.

13 There are now hundreds of schools offering degrees in game development, and I can't recommend any one in particular. It depends on how much money you have to spend, what your interests are, and what country you're in.

14 This practically guarantees that I won't answer your letter at all. I don't mind a polite request for my help, but demanding that I hurry is arrogant and rude. If you've really got a terrible deadline, explain why and I might be able to help.

15 Clever double-entendres are funny; stupid ones are just, well, stupid. Save it for the junior high lunchroom.

16 In professional correspondence, especially if you're asking a stranger for a favor, it's polite to use your real name. I use my real name in all my letters and I expect you to do me the same courtesy. "Cute" nicknames don't tell me anything other than the fact that you're self-involved.

17  It also helps for you to let me know where you're writing from. If you ask me a lot of questions about how to protect your intellectual property rights, and I answer you at length only find out later that you're in South Africa, we've both wasted our time. It's called the World Wide Web, get it?

I'm sorry if this sounds like I'm talking to an ill-mannered 10-year-old, but in fact I get a fair amount of mail from ill-mannered 10-year-olds. Am I being picky? Definitely. Stuffy and old-fashioned? Probably. But old-fashioned formalities exist for a reason: they convey respect and consideration. They mean that you've taken the trouble to think about how your message makes me feel.

When you write me a letter requesting my help, you're asking me to give you, free of charge, the most precious thing I have: time. As a consultant, I normally charge handsome rates for my time, so if I'm going to give it to you for nothing, I'd like you to show me that you appreciate it. Or, to boil it all down to two words: be polite.

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