We have covered a lot of material over the past six weeks in this class, and we’ve written in different modalities: exploratory essay, critical reflection, pro-con debate, advice pamplet. I want to add one more, the formal letter.
There are norms to formal letters. The introduction and closing is highly routinized; yes, there are different styles of formal letters, but within those styles the rules are pretty specific. The writing style within the formal letter is also important; the structure of the letter’s body must be clear and well-ordered so that the reader very easily comprehends the writer’s message. So, for this week’s exercise, we’re going to have a little practice with the formal letter.
Assignment. Your letter should be addressed to an elected office-holder in America and should urge the official to take some action (or urge non-action) on some issue related to gender equality.
Your targeted audience is the elected official. You can choose anyone from a local official, state official, or national official. You can write to your member of Congress or to the President, to your state legislator or the state governor, to your mayor or a member of your city council or the school board – any elected official at any level. For those of you who are international students, I’d like for you also to select an American official, and keep in mind that you can provide that official with a transnational perspective on gender that might be important to her or his actions or decisions.
The purpose of the letter should be to advocate for some policy position and urge either action or inaction on an issue. Be specific in what you want your official to do – specific requests are more powerful than general statements of principle in getting elected officials to take the action you desire. The topic can be anything related to gender equality or gender relations. We’ve covered many topics in this class, and so you can choose one of those (like the bathroom bills and transgender issues, equal pay, the Equal Rights Amendment, sex ed in schools, gender policing, policies that promote certain family types, protection of certain industries on gendered grounds, Title IX in sports, and so many more). you can also choose a topic that we haven’t covered in class but that is related to the course material; for example, we haven’t discussed the changes to the American healthcare policy and how those might have a gendered effect, but the issue has been central to our political debates over the past few months and would be quite appropriate as a topic for this letter. In whatever topic you choose, I encourage you take a position on something about which you are passionate – I think the letter will have a better sense of conviction if that is the case.
The tone should be formal. Slang and informal sentence structures should be avoided, and the letter should be edited for proper grammar and punctuation. But formal does not mean impersonal. Keep in mind that personal anecdotes can lend weight to an argument (lend weight but not carry the letter – there should be a strong logical argument that could then be augmented with personal stories), so if you wish to incorporate your personal and intersectional experiences as a constituent of the elected official, please do.
Your goal, then, is to reasonably and convincingly (and respectfully) argue your point and urge your elected official to agree with the line of action that you support. This may require a little research on your part so that you can better educate yourself on the issue and on the elected official’s position (if she or he has publicly taken one).
Not that it should be a concern: I’m not going to mail these letters off on your behalf. If you wish to do so after you submit this assignment, that is fine, but I will grade and comment on your letter and take no further action with the material you submit.
Resources. You might want to look at some material on writing a formal letter, and I’ve included a few different sources for you:
Purdue OWL’s “the Basic Business Letter” (Links to an external site.), a thorough discussion
SVSU Writing Center’s “Basic Business Letter Format”, a modest summary
University of Wisconsin Writing Center’s “Business Letters,” (Links to an external site.) examples of the block and indented styles