An Open Letter to Open Letters
Dear Open Letter articles on the Internet,
We had some great times. We really had. Through your form, I've learned some deeply personal and profound information about my favorite authors, and through practice, have been able to take a stand on issues that matter to me.
However, your content is starting to look somewhat unremarkable. Your titles are the same variation of "An Open Letter to..." and its starting to look a bit formulaic.
Your content has been good, for the most part, you do allow authors to use the word "I," but I feel like there is still room to grow.
Please don't take it personally, you're a good form of article, but I want you to evolve and grow. As such, I've listed some tips here that you guys can listen to or ignore, to flesh out your commentary in a way that will allow you to connect to more people, and communicate powerful truths about individuals, our culture, and the world.
You Don't Have to Call Yourselves Open Letters
When you start off with a variation of "Dear X" or "Concerning X" followed by a paragraph break or two, it is assumed that we, as the audience, are reading some form of letter. The fact that this letter is published on a public forum like the internet means that the letter is most likely is open (meant for anyone to read it).
When you jump into the nitty gritty of your personal experiences without naming names, doing all that you can to make sure that your words can be read by a general audience, we know who you are.
You don't have to call yourselves open letters. We understand the form. When most of your headlines begin with "An Open Letter to...." sometimes it is hard for us to distinguish one article from one another. We, as the audience, would appreciate it if you find a way to redact this from your titles. If you say something profound in your open letter, we want your headline to reflect that, not merely state the form you are writing under.
Be Wary of Your I's
Your form allows for the use of the word "I." We, the audience, find this very refreshing. For some reason, English speakers find the use of this word unprofessional, but it can be used to communicate deep, personal thoughts and beliefs that ought to be discussed.
However, you do not need to use your "Is" as a crutch. When you are communicating a deep, personal experience, get your mileage out of those suckers, but don't be afraid to connect your experience to a wide overarching truth of the world or trend that will make your story more relatable to all of us.
Chances are, you are not the only person that experienced what you are describing in your letter. Take every chance to connect to these likewise people, your writing might just act as a service to them.
Don't Be Afraid of Facts and Figures!
We know that facts and figures are scary things, and your form doesn't necessarily need them, but it could give power to your words like never before. If your experience is apart of some bigger trend, you can find facts to support how X is contributing to something that is either good or bad in our society.
There is a reason why we call this information BBI (boring but important information). Too much of it loses us. Not enough of it can make us lose sight of what you're saying. It can serve a function in your writing. Don't be afraid to use them!
Know That Outsiders Will Read You
A lot of us are interested in learning more about the world and understanding different perspectives. We ask that you try not to be too "inside baseball."
If there is a term you don't think we will know, we would be very appreciative if you could briefly explain it to us. We know you have important things to say, and a lot of us feel left out when you use phrases and terminology we don't understand. Ideally, we can all use google, but if your message is important, we want to be communicated as smoothly as it can be!
Stand Up For What's Right
Your form can be hard, especially if someone is speaking out about somebody close to them. Even if they don't name names, that close person can find out that they are writing about them, and the results can be less than pleasant.
This next section will be addressing your writers personally:
Some things just need to be talked about. If you feel like your experience is important for your readers to know, if you think that your article can help them in any way, then consider writing that letter.
In journalism, we ask ourselves two questions before publishing a controversial piece of writing:
How many people is this helping?
How many people is this hurting?
Sometimes writers need to take a stand on powerful issues. Sometimes society is wrong about how they treat certain groups of people, and sometimes certain cultural values need to be reformed. This is not an easy task to do, and in some cases, it can even make you lose your job.
You need to ask yourself:
How important is this piece of writing?
What could be its ramifications?
What consequences will I face by publishing this piece of writing?
If you feel like it is worth publishing that letter, go ahead. If not, you can talk about your experience through other means. An open letter to the internet is not always the most appropriate form of writing for sensitive issues.
Transcend Your Form
My main hope for you is that your form will not be so prevalent in your articles. I want you to be judged by the content of your articles, not the form that contains it.
You guys often make great points. The last thing that I want is for you to be judged as "good... for an open letter" when you communicate these points.
You are so much more than your form. With a little bit of elbow grease and some integrity, we know that you can achieve your full potential.