Writing a Letter: Opening the Conversation

Overview. When we're involved in meaningful inquiry, listening carefully as other voices shape ideas, we often want to discuss what we're learning and the questions our research raises as a way of understanding more clearly what we ultimately believe. It can help, too, if we seek out those who have some background in the ideas we want to discuss. This assignment asks you to initiate a critical conversation with one of the authors we’ve read so far, but to do so by introducing him to an article of your choice from our list of supplementary readings. The goal of this assignment is to extend the conversation we've begun in class about climate change with a person who is already thinking about the issue.

Purpose. The main purpose of your letter is to start a critical discussion with your chosen reader about the ideas in an article of your choice. You will need to inform your reader of the content of the article and convince him or her that the article is worth discussing critically, especially in light of your reader’s own ideas about climate change. 

Audience.  The recipient of your letter may be Thomas Friedman (“The Power of Green”), Michael Specter (“Big Foot”), or Charles Komanoff (“Whither Wind”). As all of these authors have written other articles, you should check online to get a sense of what other interests your chosen reader has so that you can understand more clearly what might interest him or her about the article you’ll bring up for critical discussion. You should assume that your reader has not read the article. 

Subject.  Choose a supplemental article (available in “File Folders”—your instructor may offer other titles) to discuss with your chosen reader:

Author.  Present yourself as someone who has read the supplemental article closely and critically and as someone familiar with the writing of the recipient. Explain, discuss, and question ideas from the supplemental article in the context of your chosen reader’s ideas concerning climate change, and in the spirit of coming to a broader and deeper understanding of the many intersecting facets of the issue.

StrategiesTo achieve your purpose with your audience, use these strategies:


Format: Use a standard letter format by beginning with date, a salutation (Dear Mr./Ms. ____,) and ending with a closing (Sincerely,) and signature. Print your name under the signature. Double space the letter. Turn in your letter with other materials specified in class.

Length: 1200-1400 words.

Worth: 15% of semester grade.

Due:___, September ___, at the beginning of class.

Writing a Letter Grading Rubric

Excellent (5)

Satisfactory (4)

Unsatisfactory (3)


Representing the articles: The letter accurately and objectively represents the arguments of both the supplemental article and the recipient’s article, focusing specifically on ideas and information pertinent to the interests and previous knowledge of you and your reader

Overall, the letter accurately and objectively represents both articles; however, there may be one or two minor inaccuracies.  The information from the articles could be better focused because there are areas of too much summary or where more information is needed.

The letter shows that you have an incomplete understanding of the articles because it contains incomplete and/or inaccurate information.  Letters that contain only opinions about the articles are also unsatisfactory.


Initiating a critical discussion: The letter identifies and addresses the intended reader, clearly arguing for a critical relationship between the reader’s ideas and those in the supplemental article, and supporting this argument with sound reasons and concrete examples that are clearly relevant because of your careful explanation.

The letter focuses on engaging the reader in a critical discussion but could do so more effectively.  It may need stronger support and/or more attention to the readers’ needs, interests, and ideas.

The letter does not maintain focus on engaging the reader in a critical discussion.  Rather, it merely summarizes or reports information, OR it discusses the articles generally, without a clear sense of audience.


Using the articles: The letter cites the author, title, date, and publication of both the recipient’s article and the supplemental article; using author tags for further references; and framing summary, paraphrases, and quotes with careful and effective explanation.

Overall, the letter makes clear references to the articles, but it could use more variation in author tags and/or it needs to make better choices of summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting.  References may be effective but framing is thin or missing.

Because the letter does not have sufficient references to the articles, it is hard to tell when you are referring to them and when you are expressing your own thoughts.  Ineffective use of summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting raise concerns about plagiarism and/or understanding.


Conventions & Style: The language, tone, and voice of the letter are those of a careful and critical reader, and the letter is edited for clear communication that is free of distracting errors.

While the letter could be more careful edited for style, it is generally clear and readable.

Because of poor editing and/or style choices, the letter is confusing, frustrating or offensive for readers.


Total points = _____/150