How to write an invitation
A good party starts with a good invitation, whether it’s a small get-together or a posh ceremonial ball. And a good invitation always starts with a well-worded message. Your invitation does more than get people to your place; it can set the tone for an entire evening. More than the design, it’s your writing that can make or break the big day.
So how do you write invites that get the message across? Invitations can take several forms, from quick notes to scented cards to fancy business letters. This article will cover everything you need to know.
First up, let’s talk about the basics.
The 5 W’s
Invitations are like news stories in that they both announce events. And like news stories, invitations should answer the five W’s: what, who, when, where, and why. You don’t have to cram them all into a page, but they should be visible—don’t make your guests flip ten pages to get to the date. Here’s a good way to order your information:
- Who: Name the host and/or celebrant. If you’re hosting for someone else, such as a friend’s bridal shower, their name should be more prominent. Just credit yourself as the host in the first or last line.
- What: Talk about the event itself. Make it detailed but concise: a 5th birthday party, a surprise bridal shower, a welcome party for the new CEO. Keep this part to one or two lines. You can provide details in the succeeding pages.
- When: Provide the date, time, and day of the week. Avoid vague phrases like “1pm onwards” or “Sunday afternoon,” unless the event is open-ended or lasts longer than half a day.
- Where: Some people are bad with directions, so make this section as helpful as possible. If you have guests coming from out of town, you may want to give driving directions or enclose a road map.
- Why: You can actually incorporate this in the What section, but some events need a bit of explanation. You could be celebrating an adoption, comforting a divorcee, or welcoming someone back from the hospital. If there’s an interesting story behind the event, this is the place to put it.
Most invitations fall under three main types: casual, formal, and corporate. These types define the tone and writing style you will need.
You’ll want to stay on the casual side if you’re hosting a birthday party, a baby shower, or some other informal event. Casual invitations are lighter in tone and may contain less detail compared to formal letters. General etiquette suggests using the third person for all invitations, but most casual ones use the first person “I” or “we.” Third person tends to sound impersonal and may ruin the casual tone of the letter.
Although they’re not as rigid, casual invitations still go by certain rules. The following are worth keeping in mind:
- Mention the host’s full name at least once, just so they can identify you. Keep it light by using a nickname for the rest of the letter.
- There’s no need to mention the year unless it’s different from the present (in that case, it’s probably too early for invites). “Tuesday, September 30th” is usually enough.
- If you’re not sure how to phrase it, write the way you normally talk. The best party invitations are smooth and conversational.
Weddings, proms, and exhibits usually require more formal invitations. Formal invitations are more “polished” and follow a strict set of rules, from the typeface down to the last punctuation mark. Here are some of the basics:
- Spell out every word in your date and address. An example of a formal date is “Tuesday, the thirtieth of September, Two Thousand and Eight, at four-thirty in the afternoon.” Only street numbers and common titles such as Dr. and Mr. may be abbreviated.
- Don’t include a zip code unless you’re expecting an RSVP via post.
- Use the third person throughout the invitation, except when you are quoting someone.
- There are two ways to capitalize: the first letter of every line, or every word except prepositions and articles. The latter is more formal, but the former tends to be easier on the eyes.
Corporate invitations take the form of full-length letters. Unlike the other two, their purpose is strictly informative: no fancy layouts or creative prose to get people excited. Events that require corporate invites include business socials, retirement parties, and opening ceremonies. Keep these things in mind when writing business invitation letters:
- When writing to customers, address them by their first name for a more personal effect. For in-house or inter-office invitations, use Sir, Madam, or any appropriate title.
- Write in memo style. Put the five W’s in bullet form to make it easier to read. If you need to provide additional details, use another page or an attachment.
- Keep it short. Your readers are most likely busy professionals who can’t spend more than ten minutes reading an invite.
- Talk a bit about the purpose of the event so they know what they’re coming for. Take care not to overword it—a three-sentence brief should be enough.