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Letters Versus Emails: Which One Should You Use?

Letters Versus Emails: Which One Should You Use?

Both letters and emails have their advantages and drawbacks when it comes to communication. Knowing when to use one over the other depends on the situation and what you hope to achieve with the message. Here are some key factors to consider when deciding between a letter or an email.

Letters Versus Emails: Which One Should You Use?


Letters are generally more formal than emails, and there many different types of formal letters. The act of putting your message on paper in a letter format lends an air of seriousness and professionalism. Letters are often preferred for more formal business communications. Emails tend to be more casual and conversational. If formality is important, traditional letters may be a better choice.

Some good examples of formal letters include:

  • Cover Letter - A letter of introduction attached to a job application or CV to express interest in an open position. Cover letters highlight relevant skills and experience.
  • Business Proposal Letter - A letter presenting a proposed business partnership, project, or agreement. Outlines the offer, terms, and benefits to the recipient.
  • Claim Letter - A formal complaint letter requesting compensation for damaged goods or unsatisfactory services rendered. Provides evidence to support the complaint.
  • Appeal Letter - A formal request to reconsider a previous decision, such as an insurance claim denial. Details reasons the decision should be overturned.
  • Recommendation Letter - A letter endorsing someone's skills and qualifications, usually for a job or academic programme application. Highlights relevant capabilities and achievements.
  • Thank You Letter - A formal show of appreciation following a job interview, business meeting, or other significant event. Expresses gratitude and reinforces interest.
  • Letters of Reference - Letters providing an evaluation of someone's abilities, character, or performance for an application. Usually written by teachers, supervisors, or community leaders.
  • Debt Collection Letter - A formal notice demanding payment of an overdue debt. Specifies the amount owed and terms to resolve the debt.
  • Resignation Letter - A formal notice announcing one's intent to leave a job. Provides details about departure date and reason for leaving.


Unlike emails, physical letters create a tangible artefact of the communication. Having the letter in hand can make it seem more “real” for some recipients. Letters can seem more sincere or meaningful when delivered physically on paper. They are also not subject to potential technological mishaps like emails accidentally going to spam. If you want to ensure your message is received and makes an impact, a printed letter may be preferable. You could also convert a letter to a PDF file and send it via email as well as in the mail. This ensures your recipient has two chances of receiving it, in case the posted version goes astray.

Record Keeping

Both letters and emails create a record of the communication, but emails have some advantages when it comes to record keeping. Emails are easy to locate in your sent folder and search based on keywords or dates. Letters would need to be photocopied or saved as a digital file before sending to have a reliable record. Email also allows easy forwarding of communications to others, plus they are automatically date-stamped. So, for record-keeping needs, email often provides better documentation.


Email is significantly faster than traditional post. An email arrives almost instantly, whereas letters take days to arrive by post. If getting your message to the recipient quickly is important, email has a clear advantage over standard letters. However, express postal services can sometimes deliver physical letters overnight at additional cost.


Sending an email is free, while posting letters requires paying for postage and stationery. If you need to send mass communications on a budget, email will be more cost-effective. However, for individual letters, a stamp may provide worthwhile tangibility. Email also requires both parties to have access to the required technology, whereas anyone can receive a letter.

Environmental Impact

Using electronic emails has less environmental impact than producing physical letters and transporting them. If sustainability is your aim, email is the greener choice. However, letter writing does avoid the energy costs associated with powering computers and servers. So, while letters use paper, they may be less energy-intensive in some cases.


Email comes with some privacy and security risks that physical letters do not have. Email can be more easily intercepted or seen by unintended recipients. Letters provide more control and security for sensitive private information. There are encryption methods to secure emails, but letters may still be preferable for communications requiring ultimate confidentiality and security.

While email tends to be the quicker and more convenient option, traditional letters have advantages relating to professionalism, tangibility and security. Consider the most important elements of your particular communication and recipient preferences before deciding between these different but complementary communication channels. With forethought, you can choose the right medium to optimally convey your message.

Letters Versus Emails: Which One Should You Use?



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