Max Hailperin's FTS Letter Assignment (Fall 2004)


See the syllabus/general information handout for a general description of what I expect from your letter. The letter's due date is that shown on the syllabus for one of the essays, depending which you choose to substitute the letter for. Remember that I would be happy to talk with you as you develop the letter, and that the writing center is available as well.

Evaluation guidelines

Please rewrite your letter until you are convinced that the answer to each of the following questions is "yes." (Note that these are slightly different from those for the essays.) I urge you to ask a peer to give you feedback as well on whether he or she agrees that all the answers are "yes." When I grade your letter, I will again use these questions, both to give you feedback and to come up with your letter grade. Specifically, I will start with an A and take off one grade "notch" (e.g., from A to A-, or from A- to B+) for each question where the answer is "no". Be warned that some of the questions are so critical that if the answer is "no," then one or more additional answers are necessarily also "no." For example, if the answer to question 1a is "no," you are doomed for 1b through 1e as well.

  1. Thesis
    1. Does the letter call for some specific action on the part of its reader?
    2. Is that goal within the parameters specified by the assignment?
    3. Does the letter stick to material relevant to that goal?
    4. Is it immediately clear to the reader what point the letter is going to make, without needing to read beyond the first few sentences?
    5. Is the language used for the call to action clear, straightforward, even powerful, while remaining respectful?
  2. Audience
    1. Is the letter consistent in the assumptions it makes about the audience's background knowledge and vocabulary?
    2. Are those assumptions reasonable for the recipient?
    3. Is the general style, tone, or voice of the essay appropriate to a letter of the sort you chose (letter to the editor or letter to a legislator/policymaker)?
  3. Organization
    1. Does the letter have an introduction that quickly lets the reader know why you have written?
    2. Does the letter have a conclusion that leaves the reader with a positive impression and sums up your call for action, so that the recipient is likely to respond to your suggestion?
    3. Does each paragraph start with a clear statement of topic, except where there is a good reason to do otherwise?
    4. Are there smooth, sensible transitions from each topic to the next?
    5. Does the flow and tempo of the letter keep the reader interested, even once they know the general point the letter is making?
  4. Supporting evidence
    1. Is each claim you make backed up by specific supporting evidence?
    2. Have you provided documentation at the relatively informal level traditional for letters of this sort?
    3. If you use quotations or other chunks of evidence, do you work them in as integral parts of your letter?
    4. Do you anticipate, acknowledge, and refute counterarguments?
  5. Mechanics
    1. Is the grammar, spelling, diction (word choice), and typography all good enough to reflect well on you?
    2. Is the writing clear, crisp and direct?