sábado, 22 de febrero de 2014

Reading test: 10 old letter-writing tips that work for emails

In our reading comprehension activity we are going to do a heading matching activity , a kind of reading task very much favoured in all kinds of exams these days.

It is based on the BBC article 10 old letter-writing tips that work for emails by Simon Garfield. I have had to simplify the original text a little bit to adapt it to the rubric (as a matter of fact, there's just nine tips on the activity), so make a point of reading the full article once you have done the activity.

Read 10 old letter-writing tips that work for emails below and match paragraphs 1-8 with the headings A-J. There is one heading you don't need to use and 0 is an example.

A - Be more polite than you really want to be
B - Be spontaneous, be free
C - Don't be afraid to adulate
D - Don't forget the paper clip
E - Emotional blackmail may work with your progenitors
F - Keep it brief
G - Tell it like it is
H - The young get all the blame
I - Write as you speak
J - Write back swiftly, but carefully

Before email, letter-writing guides were best sellers, the faddy self-help books of their day. There are still many things that we can learn from them before pressing "send", says Simon Garfield.

0. Heading G
In the guide Cupids Messenger of 1629, the anonymous author told his readers how to write to an unfaithful partner. There was really no point being polite. Far better to be bilious and vengeful. "Leprosie compared to thee is all health... neither thy bodie nor thy soule are free from the disease of shame and disgrace of the world." Try this ancient advice first, and only then revert to the more modern solution of a letter from a solicitor.

This advice first appeared in a Latin tract somewhere between the 4th Century BC and 4th Century AD. A letter should be "restricted", it advised. "Those that are too long, not to mention too inflated in style, are not in any true sense letters at all but treatises." Correspondents were told to be both graceful and plain. "A letter's aim is to express friendship concisely and set out a simple subject in simple terms. The man who utters sententious maxims and exhortations seems to be no longer chatting in a letter but preaching from the pulpit."

This advice, much favoured by Jane Austen, is believed to have been initially promoted by Aristotle in about 360BC. His precise instructions do not survive, but Artemon, the editor of Aristotle's letters, maintained that "a letter should be written in the same manner as a dialogue".
Aristotle carrying the morning's post.

Want to say thanks for dinner? Look to the writing manual by Hugh of Bologna from the 12th Century. One of Europe's epistolary masters, Hugh's compliments knew no ceiling. In a letter to another scribe, he observes how, under his guidance, "the uneducated are immediately cultivated, the stutterers are immediately eloquent, the dull-witted are immediately enlightened, the twisted are immediately made straight". May also do the trick when applying for a job or a loan.

In 1686, Philip, second Earl of Chesterfield, wrote a book of instruction for his eldest daughter. Some of it concerned the layout of a letter ("If you write to a Queen, begin your first line within three fingers breadth of the bottom of the paper"), but there was also advice we may heed today. He advised his daughter to carefully re-read what she had written before sending it, checking her spelling with a dictionary and making sure not to repeat words. But above all be prompt. "It is a very great incivilitie not to answer all the letters we do receive, except they come from our servants or very mean persons."

The Ladies Complete Letter-Writer of 1763 offered "polite and improving" advice on all matters "that usually interest the Fair Sex". There were template letters about the lasting impact of scandal and the dangers of over-flirtatious behaviour, and details of how to write to a woman who had lost her beauty to smallpox. But within the 275 pages there was also something that may be emailed today (albeit with slightly modified language) to an overbearing parent determined to match-make. "Punish me by any other means provoked authority can invent," an unidentified daughter pleads with her mother. "Condemn me to pass the whole remainder of my days in lonely solitude; shut me from all society, or banish me where only lions and tigers dwell. Fate cannot reach me in any shape so horrid as the embraces of Andrugio."

Lewis Carroll loved letter-writing so much that in 1888 he patented something called The Wonderland, a special case with a pocket to house every denomination of postage stamp. You bought the case and you got a free booklet entitled Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter-Writing, some of it concerned with not missing the last post. But there was also something we can use today - advice on showing restraint. Carroll warned his readers to think very carefully before getting involved in a Trollopian war. "If you have written anything that may offend, put the letter aside for a day and then read it as if you were the recipient," he wrote. "This will often lead to your writing it all over again, taking out a lot of the vinegar and pepper, and putting in honey instead." Carroll's other rules:
•    if your correspondent makes a severe remark, either ignore it or soften your response
•    if your friend is friendly, make your reply ever friendlier

Carroll had one more piece of wisdom, as applicable now as 125 years ago. If you write that you're enclosing a cheque or someone else's letter, "leave off writing for a moment - go and get the document referred to - and put it into the envelope. Otherwise, you are pretty certain to find it lying about, after the post has gone!" For "cheque" read "email attachment".

In All The Year Round, the Victorian journal "conducted" by Charles Dickens, a contributor wrote a letter-writing guide that contained the one nugget common to almost all the guides that had preceded it - write legibly. But what of those who can write but don't? "This is more generally the fault of young people, and arises chiefly from thoughtless selfishness. Their thoughts and their time are engrossed with their own pleasures and pursuits. It is more amusing and interesting to write to young people of their own age than to write duty letters to parents and relatives." Do these terrible people not write at all? "A shabby, ill-considered, stilted letter is written at wide intervals to those whose whole life has been spent in their service, while folios of trash are lavished on bosom friends to whom they owe no duty whatsoever." Texting was only a century away…

photo credit: BBC
1F 2I 3C 4J 5E 6A 7D 8H