Open letters are written communications addressed to a specific person or organization and made publicly available. They can be used to bring attention to an issue, request change, or express an opinion. Open letters have a long history, with famous examples written by activists, thinkers, and leaders.
In this post, we’ll explore what open letters are, when you should write one, look at examples, and provide tips for crafting an effective open letter.
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What is an Open Letter?
It’s pretty much what it sounds like – a letter that’s open to the public. Unlike sending a private note to your pen pal, open letters are meant for everyone’s eyes.
These letters are addressed to a specific person or organization, but instead of sealing them in an envelope, the writer publishes them where the whole world can see. You’ll find open letters posted online, printed in newspapers, passed around at protests.
The goal is to get the message beyond just the recipient. Open letters allow you to speak out publicly and rally people around a cause.
When to Write an Open Letter
There are many situations when writing an open letter can be impactful:
- To advocate for a cause or position
- To request action or change from an individual or organization
- To express concern about a policy, event or situation
- To offer an opinion or perspective on an issue
- To criticize an action or statement
- To offer advice or suggestions
- To appeal to someone’s conscience or ethics
Famous Examples of Open Letters
Some of history’s most memorable open letters include:
- Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail – This 1963 letter was written while King was jailed for civil disobedience. It defended nonviolent protest and called out white moderates.
- Emile Zola’s J’Accuse – Zola wrote this fiery letter in 1898 accusing the French government of anti-Semitism during the Dreyfus Affair.
- Einstein and Freud’s Why War? – This correspondence between the two men, published in 1933, discussed conflict and human nature.
- Simone de Beauvoir’s Manifesto of 343 – De Beauvoir penned this 1960 letter advocating for legal abortion and admitting she had one, signed by 343 women.
How to Write an Effective Open Letter
If you want your open letter to make an impact, keep these tips in mind:
- Have a clear purpose – what do you want to accomplish?
- Know your audience – tailor your message accordingly.
- Use a professional but approachable tone. Don’t attack or flame.
- Provide context and reasoning for your position.
- Make specific requests or suggestions for action.
- Close with a summary and call to action.
- Publish the letter where your intended audience will see it.
Open Letter Format
The format of an open letter follows that of a standard letter, with a few modifications:
- Addressed to the individual or organization
- Opening paragraph stating purpose
- Background and context
- Body paragraphs making key points
- Evidence to support claims
- Respectful but clear tone
- Specific call to action or request
- Closing statement
- Signed by the author(s)
Sample open letter Structure :
[Recipient Name and Position]
I am [your name], [background credentials]. I am writing to express my concerns about [issue] and call for [action needed].
Opening paragraph further establishing purpose and context…
Background: [Describe background and importance of issue]
Call to Action: [Make specific request of recipient and general public]
In Conclusion: [Restate urgency, summarize call to action, and envision positive change]
This is a pivotal moment to [take action], and I hope you will consider my request.
Signatures: [List of signees supporting the letter]
Open letters are a powerful advocacy tool to spark dialogues on issues of public importance. With a compelling purpose, strategic audience targeting, reasoned arguments, and skillful writing, your open letter can help shape opinions and policies. Use this medium thoughtfully to advocate for causes with integrity.
The pen is mightier than the sword!