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As communication technology has diversified, posted letters have become less important as a routine form of communication; they however still remain but in a modified form. For example, the development of the telegraph shortened the time taken to send a letter by transferring the letter as an electrical signal (for example in Morse code) between distant points. At the telegraph office closest to the destination of the letter, the signal was transferred back into a hardcopy format and sent as a normal mail to the person's home. This allowed the normal speed of communication to be drastically shortened for larger and larger distances. This required specialised technicians to encode and decode the letter. The facsimile (fax) machine took this one step further: an entire letter could be completely transferred electrically from the sender's house to the receiver's house by means of the telephone network as an image.
Today, the Internet is becoming (or has become) the predominant medium for sending letters. The term e-mail, meaning electronic mail, has entered into everyday speech. By analogy, the term letter is sometimes used for e-mail messages with a formal letter-like format. (And regular letters, since they take longer, are often called "snail-mail.")
Historically, letters exist from the time of ancient India, ancient Egypt and Sumer, through Rome, Greece and China, up to the present day. Letters make up several of the books of the Bible. Archives of correspondence, whether for personal, diplomatic, or business reasons, serve as primary sources for historians.
Due to the timelessness and universality of letter writing, there is a wealth of letters and instructional materials (for example, manuals, as in the medieval ars dictaminis) on letter writing throughout history. The study of letter writing usually involves both the study of rhetoric and grammar.
Letters are still used, particularly by law firms and businesses, for official (public) notifications, sometimes advertising. This is because of three main advantages:
- No special device needed - almost everybody has a residence or other place at which he or she can receive mail. A mailbox is all that the intended recipient needs - unlike e-mail or phone calls, where the intended recipient needs access to a computer and an e-mail account or a telephone respectively.
- "Catch-all" advertising- unlike e-mails, where the recipient needs an individual e-mail address to receive messages, individuals are not necessarily chosen, by rather can widely cover many or all addresses in a given locality.
- Physical record - important messages that need to be retained (e.g. invoices; government notification such as tax or immigration) can be kept relatively easily and securely.
Here is how a letter gets from the sender to the recipient:
- Sender writes letter and places it in an envelope on which the recipient's address is written in the centre front of the envelope. Sender ensures that the recipient's address includes the Zip or Postal (if applicable) code and often he includes his return address on the envelope.
- Sender buys a postage stamp and attaches it to the front of the envelope on the top right corner on the front of the envelope.
- Sender puts the letter in a postbox.
- The national postal service for the sender's country (e.g., the Royal Mail, UK; US Postal Service, US; Australia Post in Australia; or Canada Post in Canada) empties the postbox and takes all the contents to the regional sorting office.
- The sorting office then sorts each letter by address and postcode and delivers the letters destined for a particular area to that area's post office. Letters addressed to a different region are sent to that region's sorting office, to be sorted further.
- The local post office dispatches the letters to their delivery personnel who deliver them to the appropriate addresses.
 Letter layout
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The following is a common way to set out a letter:
|Sender's address here|
|24 Lambert Street|
|Formal: 8 August 2012 Informal: August 8|
|Recipient's name and address here|
|Mr Boris Johnson|
|25 Lambkin Street|
|Formal: Dear Sir or Madam, Acquaintance: Dear Mr Johnson, Informal: Dear Boris,|
|Formal: Yours faithfully, Acquaintance: Yours sincerely, Informal: Best wishes,|
|Formal: Sender's Occupation and Enclosures Informal: Nothing (optional: P.S. / Post Scriptum = Afterthought)|
The following is the modified block format for a business letter, common in the United States:
August 8, 2012
Mr Jack Brough
25 First Street
Anytown, VA 10005
Dear Mr. Brough:
This is an example of a modified block letter. The difference between it
and a full block letter style is that the date begins at the center point
of the page; therefore, if a letter has a 6 inch line of type, the date
begins approximately over 3 inches from the left margin.
The closing block also begins half-way across the page. The complimentary
close and the keyed signature (first and last name of the writer) begin at
the same point as the date - approximately 3 inches from the left margin.
 Letter of thanks
A letter of thanks or thank you letter is a letter that is used when one person/party wishes to express appreciation to another. There are two main types of thank you letters: business thank you letters and personal thank you letters.
There are numerous situations in day-to-day business that can warrant a thank you letter. Some typical situations include: appreciation for special consideration extended by another organization, thanking a speaker for a presentation at a board meeting, customer appreciation letters thanking customers for their patronage, thanks to employees for exceptional service or performance, thanks to an individual or organization for a customer referral, appreciation to volunteer service workers for their personal contributions to a public service campaign, etc.
As with business situations, there are many instances in day-to-day life that can warrant a formal thank you letter. Examples of typical personal thank you letter situations include: a follow-up thanks after a job interview or offer, thanks to a company or institution in appreciation for exceptional customer service received, letter to friends and/or neighbors for their support during a difficult period, letters for wedding gifts, thanks to a service club or agency for support given to family members, social occasion thank you letters for a wide variety of social situations, etc.
A thank you letter should be written as a standard business letter or personal letter, and should not normally exceed one page. Personal thank you letters can be hand-written in cases in which the addressee is a friend, acquaintance or relative.
Thank you letters are also sometimes referred to as letters of gratitude. These types of thank you letters are usually written as formal business letters.
 See also
- Carol Poster and Linda C. Mitchell, eds., Letter-Writing Manuals and Instruction from Antiquity to the Present (Columbia, SC: U of South Carolina Press, 2007).
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