Close with a reminder to the reader of the positive consequences of solving the problem, the negative consequences of ignoring it, and a call for action.
Identifying the audience
This assignment is a formal business letter; it must be addressed to a single, identifiable reader. Letters addressed “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear City Council Member” reveal that the writer has not troubled him/herself to find out critical information relevant to his/her purpose. That in turn reveals that the writer is not particularly serious about accomplishing his/her stated purpose; the reader will likely behave accordingly. Each student will have to do some research to discover the appropriate audience.
Detailing the problem without dwelling on it
This assignment belongs to a category known as a “problem/solution essay.” An effective problem/solution essay focuses on the SOLUTION, not the problem. The problem might annoy the writer and everyone else in the world. It might even be fun to complain about the problem. But complaining does not SOLVE the problem. The writer’s purpose in this letter is to persuade the reader to solve the problem. Therefore, students should use the opening paragraph to show the problem using a combination of description, narrative, and cause/effect development.
Presenting a clear thesis
At the end of the opening paragraph or at the beginning of the first body paragraph, the writer should present his/her claim. This should be a simple, declarative sentence that states the writer’s desired outcome, such as “Oklahoma should require an IQ test before issuing someone a driver’s license.” The thesis acts as an anchor for the essay; the writer can always refer the reader to it to keep the argument on track.
Propose a viable solution to the problem
The word viable, in this case, means both “possible” and “probable.” For example, it is
possible that we could get the City of Lawton to drop everything and spend million paving the streets, but it is not probable. An effective solution is one that the audience is both able and likely to enact.
This assignment assumes that the writer will only have the reader’s attention for a short time (true of most business letters). The writer thus needs to focus the reader’s attention on the desired solution. The journalist’s questions—who, what, when, where, why, and how—can help a writer develop his/her proposal.
All proposed changes will have positive and negative consequences. Honesty is a must in professional writing of any kind; the writer must address both the Good and the Bad. Emphasize the benefits of implementing the solution; downplay (but do not ignore) the drawbacks.
Any proposed course of action has at least one alternative: do nothing. What will happen if the audience ignores the problem? Will it go away by itself? Become worse? Remain the same?
Most of the local problems a writer might choose for this assignment have multiple causes, and therefore a problem solver might have a variety of approaches to use. The main proposal of the letter should be the option the writer considers most likely to solve the problem. However, both writer and reader will likely see alternative solutions. The writer should anticipate this and deal with those alternatives in the body of the letter. Why are the alternative solutions less desirable than the preferred solution?
The conclusion of any argument has to ‘close the deal.’ In this type of argument, closing the deal means getting the reader out of his/her chair to actually
do something. The conclusion should remind the reader of the positive consequences of enacting the solution (“The Good”), the negative consequences of ignoring the problem (“The Bad”), and finally, it should call the reader to action.
Length: 2-3 pages
Formatting: standard document format—see the Document “Formatting your essay.”
Citation of Sources: Writers must cite all outside source material, whether that material comes from print, internet, television, radio, personal interviews, or any other location outside the writer’s own brain. Use MLA format for in-text citations and the Works Cited Page. See Chapters 48 and 50 in your Everyday Writer for more information.
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