How to write a Letter to the Editor
As this is a relatively simply assignment, we will be working on the letter to the editor for one unit only. The paper will be due at the end of Unit 4.
How many times have we heard someone complaining about something happening in our communities–but offering no solutions for the problem? This assignment is designed to develop your problem-solving skills and engage you in a substantive conversation concerning a current local issue. This assignment will also encourage you to begin seriously considering your audience as a writer. When you are writing a letter such as this, you’ll want to consider who will be reading it, particularly in terms of what words, examples, facts, or appeals might best convince this particular group.
* Write a two to three page (double-spaced) letter to the editor, proposing a solution to a current local problem. List the newspaper to which you would be sending this to at the top of your paper. Begin the letter with: “Dear Editor,” Throughout the paper, be as specific as you possibly can in terms of:
1.) Defining/describing the problem and who it affects
2.) Describing your solution
3.) Defending your solution as the best means of dealing with this problem
As you’re writing this letter, also do keep in mind your audience.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Papers on the following topics will not be accepted:
* capital punishment
I’ve already read more papers on these topics than anyone should in an entire lifetime, so I won’t read anymore. I encourage you to be more creative in selecting your topic. For the Letter to the Editor, you should also be choosing a topic that is far more specific and local than any of these broad controversial issues.
As your textbook explains, “Proposals are vital to a democracy.” Every country, every state, and every community has its share of problems. In order to solve these problems, citizens must help do their share. Part of what we all can do is use our brains. We can think about the problem, consider possible solutions, and finally propose a solution that we think best solves the problem and ask others to consider it.
In your letter to the editor, you will be proposing a solution to a current local problem. But what problem? And how can it best be solved?
Here are some things to consider before you begin drafting:
One of the best ways to get started in drafting this paper is to make a list of current local problems. What problems does your community face? If you don’t know, how can you find out? (One way to find out is to check out a local newspaper, particularly the editorial sections. Here you’ll find that a great number of people are already engaged in a conversation about current local problems.)
Once you’ve made a list of problems, you’ll want to chose one to actually focus on in your letter. I recommend you choose the problem that most affects you or those you care about, something that you actually have a stake in. Any writing is always better when the author cares about his or her subject.
Next, you’ll want to define the exact nature of the problem. Is this really a problem? How so? Who does the problem affect? (If it doesn’t affect anyone–or if the cost of the solution would outweight the benefits, you’ll want to choose a different topic.) How long has this problem existed? What are the causes of this problem? Who is responsible for this problem? What are some specific examples of the effects of this problem?
Once you’ve determined the exact nature of the problem, you’ll want to start thinking about possible solutions. What solutions have been tried so far? What solutions have others proposed? What solutions have been successfully (or unsuccessfully) used to deal with similar problems? How can the causes of the problem be dealt with? How can the harms (or negative effects) of the problem be alleviated? What kinds of solutions are actually feasible (practical)?
Next, you’ll want to choose the best solution. You’ll want to choose a solution that could actually be employed, and one in which the benefits outweigh the costs. You’ll also want to think about how you can deal with the typical opposing responses (such as “Things are fine,” “It’s not that big of a problem,” “People won’t do it,” “We can’t afford it,” etc.).
Finally, spend a little time thinking about your audience, the readers of your local newspaper. You’ll want ask yourself questions such as: What do they already know about the problem? Do they already consider this a significant problem? Are they aware of some of the solutions that have been discussed? What kinds of biases might they have about this issue? How can I best reach these people and minimize opposition to my solution?
Once you’ve thoroughly worked through the above issues and questions, writing the letter should be a piece of cake. As you’re drafting, keep in mind the following:
1.) The opening paragraph is important. How can you get your reader’s attention and respect in the very first paragraph?
2.) The problem should be clearly defined (or described) before you propose your solution. The harms (or negative effects) of the problem and who specifically suffers from these negative effects should be clear.
3.) The solution should be a detailed as possible. Consider all of the steps that would have to be taken. Consider all of the costs. Consider all of the benefits. Be as specific as you possibly can. Be prepared to explain why this solution is better than other alterrnative solutions.
Sample Letter to the Editor
To: Junction City Daily Union
There is a robbery in progress! The students of USD 475 are being robbed! The
suspects include the State Budget Cuts, but all evidence points to the Board of Education
and the administrators in this district. The money that should be used to benefit the
students is in the greedy hands of the administration instead.
Clearly, Unified School District #475 is going to be affected by the Kansas State
Budget cuts, along with the rest of the districts in the state. I’m not sure about the other
districts, but USD 475 may have a simple solution: Reallocation of the budget and a new
set of administrators and school board members who value children’s education rather
than nepotism and administrative salaries.
Junction City’s school district isn’t known for its bright decisions regarding
funds. A few recent endeavors include the purchase of a brand-new Ford Expedition a
year or two ago, the move to a different Administrative Building that happens to be in a
much more lavish location, and the decision to build an enclosed walkway for students
between the high school and the former Administrative Building, which is to be used for
more classrooms. These decisions, however foolish, are still not the main cause for a
budget problem. The administrative costs are to blame. When compared to districts of
similar size, USD 475 uses dramatically more money simply for administration. Even
disregarding the percentages, although USD 475 has a smaller budget than 305 (Salina)
and 383 (Manhattan), it allocates more money for administration (Salina spends
$3,843,180 of their $68,267,944 budget; Manhattan $3,043,885 of their $47,298,811
budget, and Junction City $4,142,284 of their $45,743,233 budget). During the 2000-
2001 school year, USD 475 used 9 of the total budget for administrative costs, while
Manhattan and Salina seemed to be able to get by with only 6 of their budget being
used for that reason. They were able to use 50-51 of the total budget for actual
instruction, while USD 475 was only able to allot 46. This is an outrageous allocation of
the budget, but the issue doesn’t end there. Both Salina and Manhattan school districts
are comparable in size to Junction City’s, but it is very difficult to understand why
Manhattan can get along with 3 central administrators, Salina has 1.2, and Junction City
claims to require 7.5. It’s no wonder the administrative monetary “needs” are so high, I
won’t even touch on the issue of a single family dominating the entire district.
It may appear that the 3 difference in money allotted for administration isn’t all
that significant. However, when it is put into monetary terms, if the administrative costs
were cut by 1/3, which puts the percentage of the budget for administration at 6 like
Salina and Manhattan, there is an additional $1.4 million dollars that could be better
allocated. That is a large sum of money that would be better spent on children’s
education, not on the inflated salaries of a large number of administrators.
As stated earlier, the school district’s budget problems, on the surface, seem to be
the result of budget cuts and lack of money. The true problem, however, is the
misallocation of money and the absurd number of administrators in this particular
district. By simply eliminating the unessential administrators (and in my opinion
replacing the chief administrators with people that have true devotion to the students
and the community) and reallocation of the budget, the deficiency of money won’t be
such a tough issue. Who knows, with the right people writing the budget, we might even
be able to allot at least 50 of the money for instruction, like everyone else does. Some
people may argue that it isn’t the misallocation of the money that proves to be the
problem, that it is the lack of money altogether. I still believe that with the appropriate
cutbacks in specific areas, particularly administrative costs, the students will be better
off. The School District is supposed to be teaching the children; let’s put some money
towards that for a change. All of the information that has been presented can be found
on the internet on the Kansas State Department of Education webpage. Don’t take my
word for it; look at the statistics and budget information for yourself. I’m sure it will
shock and disturb you as much as it did me.
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