Digital media has run rampant, with Americans opting to send e-cards, e-vites, and emails over traditional cards, invitations and letters. Snail mail is inconvenient, expensive, and generally unwanted in a world where clicking a button gets immediate results. One major exception to this rule is important events, such as business functions or weddings. Though it may be convenient to put together a quick event on Facebook, digital medium cannot yet reflect the importance and formality expressed by receiving an invitation in the mail. At the same time, first birthdays, pig roasts, and holiday celebrations still have a strong hold in the paper invitation world.
If you are sitting down to compose the invitation wording for your latest event (whether you are printing them yourself or having an online retailer print it for you), you may feel uncertain about what to include and what to avoid. Here is a comprehensive guide to the top 10 mistakes made by invitation novices and experts alike.
- Information to Include:
Leaving off information is without doubt the biggest and most consequential mistake. Forgetting to include the date or RSVP information can result in wasted money, time, and paper. So, when you have all of your wording compiled, take a quick look at this checklist to make sure everything you want to be on there is included. Your specific event may not require everything below, or it may even require a bit more.
- The type of event: Bridal Shower, Birthday, etc. Make sure you say what your guests are attending, even if it seems obvious to you.
- Person of Honor: Make sure to include the name of the person who the event is for! If it is a business event, you will want to include the name of your business both for informational and marketing purposes. (Last names are optional for informal events, and are extremely uncommon when referring to children’s parties unless there is any chance of ambiguity.)
- Date and Time: There are a must! BOTH should be included without fail. It is best, when giving the date, to list the day as well, so your guests can make an additional connection (ex. Sunday, May 9th). The time should always follow the date.
- Location and Address: You should always have the location of the event. Whether or not the address is also needed will vary depending on the nature of your event and the guests you are inviting.
- Hosts: Be sure to give yourself a little credit! You don’t need to emphasize your name; in fact, the host name generally appears smaller than the other information. But, it is important that your guests have no doubts on who is throwing the party or event.
- RSVP Information: This can include a phone number, an email address, a name, and even a date by which a reply is needed.
- Additional Instructions/Information: Anything additional that your guests absolutely must know should be included. This could be dress style, registry information, warning that the party is a surprise, admittance fees, or any other variety of tidbits specific to the nature of your event. If including directions, those are generally put on a separate insert and not on the invitation itself. However, with the ease of access to address mapping on the internet, directions are rarely needed. One major exception would be for offsite parking.
One of the biggest faux pas of invitation wording is using inappropriate abbreviations for the event. The rule of thumb is: The more formal the event, the less abbreviations used. This extends to ALL abbreviations, even ones that are so commonplace you might not even realize you are using them.
Here are some common abbreviations to avoid in a highly formal invitation (e.g. a wedding):
- Use in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening instead of a.m. and p.m.
- Write out the name of the state in which your event is located instead of using the two-letter abbreviation (NY becomes New York).
- Never use slang like through or ’til, and avoid all contractions (don’t, it’s, won’t).
- Substitute words for symbols whenever possible. Use the word until instead of a dash (-) for the event time. Use at instead of “@.”
- Write out all numbers. If your event is April 23, 2010, write the twenty-third day of April, two thousand and ten or April the twenty-third, two thousand and ten, the former being the most formal option.
Generally, the only acceptable abbreviations for highly formal invitations are those of titles (Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc.). On less formal invitations, all of the above abbreviations are okay in varying degrees. You may want to consider the message you are sending to your guests before using slang. If your event is a laid-back get-together, it will put your guests in the mood for a relaxing and casual time. If your event is more business casual, you might want to avoid some bits of it.
- Correct Spelling:
Another common confusion, especially when looking at dozens of examples, is the appropriate spelling for certain words. With spelling varying between dialects, it can sometimes keep the correct usage up in the air.
Here are some of the errors I see most often:
- Honor vs. honour – This one is easier than you think! Honor is the American spelling, and honour is the British and Canadian spelling. Stick with the spelling for the country in which you and your guests live. This is also the case with color and colour and several other words that end in -or or -our.
- Till vs. ’til – In this case, only one choice is technically correct. Till is a preposition that can be used interchangeably with until and has a nearly identical meaning. It is not an abbreviation of until, but rather its own separate word. Both words have co-existed in English for some time. Oppositely, ’til is an abbreviated form of until, and has become an accepted (albeit slang) part of the English language to some, though many still consider it a spelling error.
- Its vs. It’s – Found incorrectly interchanged on far more than just invitations, these two similar words should not be confused! It’s is a contraction generally meaning it is and occasionally meaning it has. For example: It’s (It is) three o’clock in the morning!; It’s (It has) been discontinued. The appropriate use for its is as the possessive form of the pronoun it. For example: The duck gingerly plucked its feathers.; Please, put the dresser on its side to move it.
- There, their, and they’re – Perhaps the three most confused homonyms in English. There distant refers to a place: over there. Their is a possessive pronoun used most often with they: They threw their caps in the air. They’re is a contraction meaning they are: They’re (They are) all coming to our party on Saturday. Because these words are all used so commonly, it’s easy to confuse them if you don’t analyze the meaning: They’re over there with their friends.
- Proper Punctuation:
Punctuation is always up for debate. Though you may not be writing an article or a brilliant work of fiction, there are still rules that need to be followed for punctuation. When it comes to invitation wording, there can be multiple options for specific situations.
Some basic guidelines:
- The elusive period – When it comes to invitation wording you can either include it or exclude it at the end of your sentences. In general, when you have a complete sentence (not just time and place information) it deserves punctuation. However, you may elect to leave ending punctuation off of your entire invitation. They key to success is consistency: either include it or don’t.
- Commas in a date – A date can have as many as three commas in it. These commas go after the day, after the date, and after the year. If you do not include the year, then you do not need to put a comma after the date. However, if you include the year then it must always be followed by a comma. The exception is if the date appears on a line all by itself: Saturday, March 27, 2010 2:00 p.m. or Saturday, March 27, 2010, at 2:00 p.m.
- Time markers – The correct form is a.m. and p.m. Always lower case and always with a period after each letter. (The alternative A.M. and P.M. are sometimes accepted.) There should be a space after the number, but not between the letters: 1:00 p.m. or 11:00 a.m. In case there is any confusion, 12:00 a.m. is midnight and 12:00 p.m. is noon. Also, instead of writing 12:00 noon you should always give one or the other as providing both is redundant: at 12:00 p.m. or at noon.
- RSPV – These letters should always be capitalized and without periods. It is an abbreviation for repondez s’il vous plait meaning please reply in French. Therefore, it is redundant to say Please RSVP as it is the equivalent of saying “Please please reply.” Some sources will find R.S.V.P. an acceptable abbreviation as well.
- Let us (or Let’s) – Don’t forget to put the apostrophe! Lets is incorrect, though your spell check will not pick up on the mistake as it is a conjugation of the verb “to let” (ex., My mom never lets me eat cookies before dinner.).
- Asking for Money or Gifts:
Regardless of the circumstances, mentioning an expected gift in any way is unacceptable. The one exception is when you are hosting a bridal/baby shower. In these situations, saying that a monetary gift is preferred is still considered inappropriate and a major breach of etiquette. Putting aside what is expected by societal norms, it is important to remember how sensitive an issue money is for most people. Although a monetary gift may be the end result, such information can be spread by word of mouth instead of being printed.
- Typos & Misinformation:
Check, double check, and triple check your invitation. Look for minor typos and incorrect spelling, particularly in the names. Be sure the day and date are correct. Confirm times and phone numbers. Take your time in looking it over, as minor mistakes can cause bigger issues. (Accidentally typing that your event starts at 4:00 instead of 7:00 could be disastrous!)
- Too Much Wording:
Take a look at the size of your invitation. Smaller invitations can house less wording than larger ones, and likewise more decorated invitations should reflect less wording. Keep your invitation short and sweet while still including all the information needed. A line or two of introduction wording is more than sufficient (ex. “Please join us for…”). Long and wordy poems may sound nice when read, but end up jumbled and crowded in print. Also, turning your entire invitation to a large poem is in general a bad idea, as it hampers visual emphasis and comprehension.
Certain events lend themselves to the inclusion of a small quote on the invitation (i.e., Graduations, First Communions, Weddings). When including the quote, be sure that you have it word for word accurately from the source. Many online quote websites have been copied multiple times from other sources, and minor mistakes have been carried through. If you have the time, try to head to a library or bookstore and copy your quote directly from the original.
- Matching Formality:
There are a ton of invitations out there, in every variety of style, theme, and shape. There are layered, die-cut, embellished, slim, and textured options to name a few. With so many options, you will want to be certain that the invitation you have selected is appropriate for your event as well as your budget. For example, it might look ridiculous to have a fun, trendy design for a formal business event (even if the theme fits). Further, no matter how beautiful the sparkling aqua invitations you found at a bargain price are, it is unlikely that the layers and bows would be appropriate for a pool party.
Visual emphasis is an important part of designing any invitation. The name and event generally want to be given more emphasis (larger size, different font, bolded), while the RSVP and host section should be given less (smaller font, off to the side). Putting extra emphasis in the wrong place can make your guests confused and can leave the wrong impression. A general ordering of importance is as follows:
- Name of Honoree
- Date & Time
- RSVP Information
- Registry/Other Info.
If you have followed all the points above, your invitation is likely perfect and ready to go. If in doubt, do not hesitate to get the advice of a friend or colleague. In the end, remember that your eyes and ears are your best judge. Take a glance over your paper and try reading the invitation out loud. If there is anything sill amiss, your senses will likely catch it.