Typing messages on fancy-shmancy personalized stationery?
June 27, 2021 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Gratitude by way of text messages, emails, and sticky notes are the norm for my profession. Last week, however, I received a hand-written thank you note on personalized stationery from a graduate student whom I had helped get an internship at the NIH Clinical Center. The message itself was nothing special, but the high quality paper (pearl white with a navy blue border) elevated the overall impression to old world, charming, classy heights.

That same day, on impulse, I spent several hundred dollars on stationery that cost $3.13 a sheet (bulk order= trivial 6% discount), and $2.20 per envelope. Problem is, I have horrible handwriting, even compared to other doctors, that frankly would embarrass me were I to put fountain pen--I bought one of those too--to fine paper.

My only alternative is to use a cold, impersonal Microsoft font to say what I want to say. I think that would defeat the purpose of personalized stationery. Do you agree? Should I return the the stationery, or can I pull off a personal touch with the typed word?
posted by BadgerDoctor to Grab Bag (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
A typed note done up on a manual typewriter might make for a lovely happy medium.
posted by mochapickle at 4:05 PM on June 27, 2021 [11 favorites]

I would find it charming and appreciate actually being able to read it. I find it hard to read even “good” handwriting and not having to struggle and wonder would be well worth the lack of personal touch. You can always sign and address it by hand for flair.
posted by brook horse at 4:05 PM on June 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you're ok dropping a lot of money to send special, personalized notes, you can spend the extra time to send special, personalized notes.

When you're writing, take an extra moment to leave an intentional space between each individual letter. Even if your handwriting technique is imperfect and your letters are shaped poorly, simply having each letter distinct and not joined up will increase the legibility immensely. It takes longer to write like this but give it a try and I swear you'll see a difference.
posted by phunniemee at 4:06 PM on June 27, 2021 [14 favorites]

Absolutely. I am someone who sends and received notes like this. Hand address and sign and you are FINE doing this. That said, if it's something very short, just write large "I appreciated your work on this project so much" can probably be hand written. If you have multiple sentences, yes, print and sign.
posted by jessamyn at 4:07 PM on June 27, 2021

My friend's cursive was pretty mediocre, so he always printed his handwritten stuff and just did cursive for his signature. It looked fine that way. How is your block printing? (I would not bother with the fountain pen, if you do decide to keep the stationery.)
posted by gudrun at 4:09 PM on June 27, 2021 [4 favorites]

The middle ground I often see is a typed letter, with "Dear Name" and "Sincerely, Name" handwritten.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:18 PM on June 27, 2021 [4 favorites]

I don't even know how you would use a computer to do this task. I am pretty sure you shouldn't, even if you find a way.

Print from a typewriter with a cloth ribbon (not a film ribbon in a Selectric, which looks almost computerized) looks just as personal to me as handwriting. But if you don't already have the machine, it might be a lot of trouble. In that case, just write carefully, and know that it doesn't have to be beautiful, it only has to be legible.

I bet your writing is plenty good enough to make people smile and think warmly of you and your kindness when they get your notes. That is the goal here, not some kind of art installation.
posted by fritley at 4:24 PM on June 27, 2021 [4 favorites]

Getty-Dubay have some very non-judgmental and short workbooks to help with illegible handwriting and lack of confidence that comes with it. They even have (or had, last time I looked in detail) a special set of resources for doctors to help communicate via handwriting.

You don't need a fountain pen, but you do need something with a bit more presence than a cheap ballpoint. A thick gel pen or even a hardpoint brush pen will leave a bold line with character
posted by scruss at 4:24 PM on June 27, 2021 [9 favorites]

I had terrible handwriting growing up, until I took a calligraphy class. My calligraphy was terrible, but I learned the letter forms and became more conscious of what each one should look like, and gradually my handwriting developed into a nice looking, personal script. You've invested a lot into the raw materials. Why not give your brain a chance to learn a new skill?
posted by Scram at 4:34 PM on June 27, 2021 [13 favorites]

Hand write with your own handwriting, even if you think it’s terrible. The point of notes like these is that they’re personal. And your handwriting is a large part of what makes it personal - it’s completely unique to you. Typewriting is standardized and what it gains in legibility it loses in authenticity in this context. I have written, and received, this kind of note professionally, as well as ghostwriting them (content and penmanship, sigh) for others, and I promise it’s the personal effort and thoughtfulness that carries the weight, not the penmanship or legibility. On preview, it’s fine to print! As long as it’s your hand-pen-paper you’re good.
posted by t0astie at 4:36 PM on June 27, 2021 [5 favorites]

I have GODAWFUL handwriting, but I can't imagine spending several hundred dollars on personal stationery and then typing on it. Typing is inherently impersonal.
posted by praemunire at 5:15 PM on June 27, 2021 [5 favorites]

You can turn your handwriting into a font. That seems backwards I know, but I have bad handwriting and even when I try to slow down, it's barely readable. However, I can write a few letters at a time nicely. So, take your time to write out the alphabet in both upper and lower case, maybe 3-5 letters at a time. If you don't like a letter, erase it and try again. Then do as suggested above and print out the main letter and add the greeting and closing by hand.
posted by soelo at 5:21 PM on June 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

Hand write with your own handwriting, even if you think it’s terrible. The point of notes like these is that they’re personal. And your handwriting is a large part of what makes it personal - it’s completely unique to you. Typewriting is standardized and what it gains in legibility it loses in authenticity in this context. I have written, and received, this kind of note professionally, as well as ghostwriting them (content and penmanship, sigh) for others, and I promise it’s the personal effort and thoughtfulness that carries the weight, not the penmanship or legibility.
posted by t0astie at 5:22 PM on June 27, 2021 [4 favorites]

I totally agree that writing your note by hand, even if you don’t like your own handwriting, will impress the recipient with the personal aspect. I also totally agree that typing your note on the fancy stationery and signing it will also be well received. In other words, I think you can’t go wrong here! And you can practice writing with the fountain pen just for fun!
posted by ejs at 5:35 PM on June 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

I would find a personal note on nice paper charming, regardless of the method of writing but there is something personal about script.

FWIW, I had terrible handwriting until I sat down and taught myself Palmer cursive. Took a couple months and ongoing practice to get it. I would get a comfortable pen and just go for it-- it's worth it to be able to handwrite notes, labels, addresses on packages, ideas on napkins, etc.

Definitely try Getty-Dubay or Zaner-Bloser before Palmer. Palmer is a "copy hand" that is intended to be read more than it is to be written efficiently, like Spencerian. I've heard good things about the "Handwriting without tears" workbook system. More modern handwriting systems are still lovely while being less calligraphic and more functional. You could also try italic print-- it's pretty easy to learn, and since a lot of millenials/gen z can't read cursive, it might be more useful.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:24 PM on June 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Yeah, the answer here is to take some effort and improve your handwriting. This doesn’t even mean your everyday fast note-taking hand has to change, more that you learn how to take your time and form good letters in a coherent style. My handwriting used to be abysmal, but I’ve always loved fountain pens and so I started using stub and italic nibs, read/watched some online tutorials on italic hand (a non-cursive writing style) and developed my own italic-esque hand over the course of around a year. It’s by no means calligraphy, but people think it looks great. Moreover, as you experienced yourself, there is something special about receiving a handwritten letter or note that simply can’t be matched with machine lettering, no matter how nice the paper may be.
posted by slkinsey at 6:32 PM on June 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

My handwriting has gotten terrible because of arthritis. I taught myself to block print years ago, and that is reliably legible. There are lots of nice, handwritten-ish fonts on free sites. If your printer will handle it, that would be fine. Really, you took the time. Typewriters are not hard to source and have their own charm.
posted by theora55 at 6:34 PM on June 27, 2021

The middle ground I often see is a typed letter, with "Dear Name" and "Sincerely, Name" handwritten.


I’m old, but my understanding of the etiquette of typed personal correspondence from the days of typing is that salutation and complimentary close were handwritten (degrees of formality e.g. yours sincerely vs. love, Bill depending on circumstance) — in formal correspondence it was only the signature. Typing/printing is not really a big difference.

Whether or not your recipient would get the nuance I don’t know, but it looks more personal than all printed, but has the advantage of legibility — but then again I’m old enough to have spent time trying to decipher handwritten letters.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 6:34 PM on June 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think you can be personal and handmade with typed words, but you need accessories! Stickers, little extra drawings, rubber stamps, decorative washi tape in spots you want to draw attention to. One year I made some handmade winter solstice cards with a collage on the front but then inside I printed out the same greeting, cut it down, and taped it to the decorated card with metallic tape on the corners and signed them by hand. Use your word processor to make blank areas where you can add art or tape in a tiny printed photo or make decorative flourishes between paragraphs. Also, use a nice font intended for print (my favorite is Garamond) instead of something intended for screens. Basically, make it obvious that you spent a chunk of time creating the object you’ll mail to people.

Working on your handwriting is also a nice idea and a good skill to have. I don’t think it’s the only way to go but unless you have pretty specific mobility issues you should be able to improve with a little dedication. If you do decide to go this route, always write out your letter on a cheap piece of plain paper first, to hash out what you want to say and for error checking, but also to practice writing the specific words you’ll need that time.
posted by Mizu at 7:14 PM on June 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think hand-writing in printing rather than cursive is fine. There's something beautiful about written out words, no matter how scrawly, but legibility is important too. Lots of kids never learn cursive these days, and some people find even well-crafted cursive hard to read because it's so uncommon to come across now. I think the kind of printing I learned in drafting class is gorgeous. Don't be afraid to try different things and see what looks good to you.
posted by rikschell at 7:20 PM on June 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

You can buy nice paper and envelopes but use your printer to decorate them, keep the files and use them over and over again. Your particulars can be a part of the print job. Anyone can improve their handwriting, mostly by making the writing a ritual in which you pay attention to the act and intent. Having a relationship with self in which you plan what to say is also soothing in this distracting world. Find an ink color you like that matches or compliments the design of your stationary. You can even print out somenstock reples for you that are well organized enough they work with minor changes, then you write the greetings from sort of a template.
posted by Oyéah at 9:37 PM on June 27, 2021

I read, in an old compendium of Readers Digest jokes and anecdotes, about a writer who hand wrote his letters “but to save you the effort of deciphering my handwriting, I am enclosing a typewritten copy”. I’d type the copy on onion skin paper for full effect.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:10 AM on June 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

I have horrible handwriting, even compared to other doctors

I admire the incredible work Doctors perform, but one of the greatest benefits of Electronic Medical Records was the all the time saved trying to decipher written physician orders.

If your writing is harder to read than the average Doctor, I would suggest typing the letter. Receiving a snail mail letter today is already a special event. A letter with unique stationery is a momentous event that feels like it happens as often as an eclipse.
posted by mundo at 6:50 AM on June 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

My grandfather used to do typed letters on stationery, and these days does "typed" letters printed off his computer on stationery. Yes to the handwritten sign off. This is absolutely still old-school and charming.

If you do want to give handwriting a go, one trick is to first draft the whole message on scratch paper, then copy it on to your nice stationery. This lets you focus on writing semi-legibly and not on composing the content, and saves you scratch-outs or white-outs, and gives a sense of how much space you will need.
posted by february at 6:50 AM on June 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

I would be gobsmacked to get a personal letter, note or card in the mail. Life is short; do what works best for you. Do what makes it most likely that you will use what you just bought. I promise no one will open that gorgeous stationary, read your words and think, “That asshole didn’t bother to hand-write this letter.” Whatever you decide, have fun with it!
posted by Bella Donna at 9:45 AM on June 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

I have found a way that helps me and may be worth trying. I first hand-write what I want to say on some scrap paper. Then I translate that to the card or note. I may change something, but it seems to make me focus more on the actual task of writing.

You could try this before giving up on the idea.
posted by mightshould at 10:07 AM on June 28, 2021

The common engineer solution to this problem seems (in my experience) to be ALL CAPS HANDWRITING. Seems to work for them! To me, it always comes across as endearingly nerdy.
posted by nosila at 2:18 PM on June 28, 2021

1) I got into good paper via fountain pens, so yay pen nerd!
2) I have godawful handwriting too - embrace it, type the note, or my favorite is the onionskin inclusion suggestion!
3) Keep the content short - you're more likely to write notes if the hurdle is low and if they have to do some squinting to decipher, you're making their life easier too!

Don't save the good stationary, pens, or ink for "after my handwriting is nicer". Do it today where you are, even if you also decide to do some remedial handwriting work.

Check out different pens or nibs too - you might find broad or medium nibs let you write as fast as you're accustomed and you don't end up with dry scratches or stops and starts like you might with a fine or EF nib. Speed of writing is more important to me than fine lines so I tend towards a large print-based scrawl in a wet medium or broad (or a flex, but that's a different animal).

I second the stub suggestion - they're fun, and are special enough that if you write a few words in large print on nice paper, it makes the impression you're looking for without being onerous.

Also, ink samples are crack and might be all you want of a color (jet pens, ghoulet), but will let you try out shading (yay) or shimmer (I find it distracting though beautiful) and different properties (I use FPs for everything including my grocery list and I resent impermanent ink if I splash it with water so I only buy water resistant or waterproof inks or mix my own).

A surprising aid to lovely letters is blotting paper - one sheet works for months.

Remember that unused pens dry up and are miserable to clean out, so I would suggest using your inked up pens as often as possible so you don't end up with blue sand in the nib instead of your nice blue ink.
posted by esoteric things at 4:32 PM on June 28, 2021

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