Writing a Letter: Opening the Conversation

Overview. When we're involved in meaningful inquiry, we often want to discuss what we're discovering and the questions our research raises. If we get really excited about a topic we're investigating, we want to get others interested in it. This assignment asks you to initiate a critical conversation with someone you know about the articles we've been reading by writing a letter. Its goal is to extend the conversation we've begun about "the ominvore's dilemma."

Purpose. The main purpose of your letter is to start a discussion with your reader about an article. You will need to inform your reader of the content of the article and convince them that the article is worth discussing critically.

Audience. You will choose the recipient of your letter. Choose a person who is interested in the topic or issues of the article, whom you know reasonably well, and who would have knowledge or experience of the issue(s). Teachers, professionals from various fields, and people with direct experience related to the topics/issues (in agriculture, vegetarianism, activism, etc.) will make the best choices of readers. Just be sure to choose someone who not only would be interested in the subject but who also might have a perspective about it that would help you understand the issues better. You will have to assume that your reader has not read the article.

Subject. Choose one of these articles by Michael Pollan from the New York Times:

Author. Present yourself as someone who has read Pollan's article closely and critically. Show your interest in discussing issues from the article thoughtfully and in coming to a broader and deeper understanding of those issues.

Strategies. To achieve your purpose with your audience, use these strategies:

Format: Use a standard letter format by beginning with date, a salutation (Dear _____) and ending with a closing (Sincerely, Your friend, Cheers,) and signature. Print your name under the signature. Double space the letter. Turn in your letter with other materials specified in class. (Letters to a family member or close friend will have a less formal format.)
Length. Three-four (3-4) ds pages.
Worth: 15% of course grade.
Due: Beginning of week 6.

Grading Criteria
Your instructor will ask himself these questions as he grades your letter. They are listed in order of importance.

Purpose/Audience. Does the letter identify and address its intended reader? Does it engage its writer and reader in a critical conversation on "the omnivore's dilemma"?

Conventions. Does the letter observe conventions of academic discourse that will enable a critical conversation with your reader?

Grades for the letter will be assigned as follows.

An "A" letter will convince your intended reader (and your instructor) that the article you chose is worthy of a critical discussion that furthers inquiry into "the ominvore's dilemma." These letters will show that you not only understand and represent Pollan's argument well but also can have a critical conversation about it. "A" letters will consider what Pollan's article has to say about eating in America, evaluate his contribution, and raise additional questions for further inquiry into the subject. These letters will not only inform their intended readers about Pollan's article but will also show readers how reading it can help them learn more about the question-at-issue. "A" letters focus on explaining why you recommend the article and are organized to highlight and explain reasons for your recommendation. "A" letters will show a good sense of purpose, audience and conventions and will be carefully edited for readability.

A "B" letter will also convince your audience that the article you chose is worth reading and discussing. These letters accurately and objectively represent Pollan's article, and they explain why it's worth reading. However, they need additional development to explain how the article contributes to inquiry into the question-at-issue or they could be more effectively organized. These letters may need more editing, but will be clear and readable.

A "C" letter but will show that the writer is working toward the assignment goals but has not entirely achieved them. In general, "C" letters will have problems developing an argument for how reading the article can lead to a critical discussion of the article. For example, a "C" letter may need a stronger focus on making and supporting the recommendation, more development of support for its recommendation, or more effective organization to convince the reader. Though they may have some minor inaccuracies, these letters will generally represent the article well. "C" letters may also need to observe conventions more closely.

A "D" letter will show an attempt to meet the goals of the assignment that falls short of doing so. A "D" letter has significant problems with critical reading and/or communication that prevents you from achieving your purpose with your audience.

An "F" letter ignores the assignment, or is unreadable due to language and coherence problems, or shows little to no understanding of the article or of critical reading, or is plagiarized, or is not turned in.