Basic Writing/Public Affairs writing

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Public Affairs Writing:

Definition[edit]

Public affairs writing is the term used for publications written with the purpose of expressing comments, ideas or concerns to a target audience. It is also used simply as a source of informing. Some common forms of public affairs writing include letters to the editor, letters to your congressman, or the more recent genre of e-mails and blogs. The content is usually opinion driven with the purpose of informing or persuading the audience.


Importance of Public Affairs Writing[edit]

What kind of government would we have if our citizens didn't get involved? If you are reading this, there's a good chance you have the intention of improving your writing, and therefore yourself. You are probably also aware of your political, educational and economic circumstances. Chances are you've also got your own opinions of them. Public affairs writing can be used constructively on a personal or public level to share your thoughts and experiences to a broad range of audiences. It's important to become involved on a civil level with your community and peers. What would you write a letter to your congressman about? What would you say to the editor of that last newspaper article you read? Learning the correct forms of public affairs writing can give you the tools you need to make a difference in the public arena.

Examples of Public Affairs Writing[edit]

Editorial or Op-Ed: An editorial or op-ed is an opinion piece that is typically found in newspapers, magazines, journals, newsletters, or other types of periodical publications. A writer will select a controversial, generally topical or relevant issue and then compose a persuasive piece in which they express their beliefs about the issue. Usually editorials are written by professional writers, but sometimes a magazine or newspaper will publish editorials by “regular people”—even college students, for that matter.

Letter to the Editor: Nearly all periodical publications—newspapers, magazines, online publications—offer the opportunity for the public to interact with the ideas expressed in the publication, allowing their own voices to be heard. The forum for this exchange of information is generally called the “Letters to the Editor” section. The format for these writing samples is similar to ordinary letters that you would perhaps send to a friend or a relative, except the style is usually more formal, the writing more polished, the tone is generally persuasive, and the content involves a reaction to something printed in the publication. Sometimes a letter to the editor is simply a congratulations on a job well done for a particular article or feature. Other times (more frequently) the letter writer takes issue with something printed.

Letter to a Policy Maker (i.e. Congressman, Governor, etc...): A significant part of being an active member of your community is taking an interest in public policy. After all, public policy affects everyone. Thus, it is important to make your voice be heard (an opportunity we all have in our democratic society), and writing to the public officials who directly contribute to the intricacies of daily life is one significant method in achieving this goal.

Proposal: A proposal is a stated plan of action or suggested solution to a problem. Proposals are common in the business world and politics. Examples would include a proposal for a to counter negative employment trends or to improve student performance in education.

Flyer/Brochure/Pamphlet/Advertisement: These are all examples of materials distributed to the public in the hopes of influencing public opinion. These materials often try to appeal to emotion and they tend to include an emphasis on visual literacy.

Internet Journal/Weblog: Welcome to the Information Age! These days the Internet and electronic media are far more prevalent in our society than print material. If you really have an interest in social issues that affect the public, and you want a large audience to read and respond to your ideas, then a weblog or "blog" is the way to go.

Writing an Editorial: A Journey Through the Writing Process[edit]

The following is a sample writing process that details a student's writing process for writing an editorial. The assignment states to write a 2-3 page editorial about a controversial issue that interests her.

1. Inventing:

A. The first step is to come up with ideas for the editorial. The student (let's call her Mary) begins by brainstorming a list of topics that she considers interesting. She lists such various topics as educational issues, birth control rights, and environmental problems. After briefly considering each issue separately, she decides on education, a topic that interests her a great deal.

B. Next, Mary realizes that she will have to narrow her topic down. After all education is a huge topic that includes any number of controversial issues. Once again she brainstorms a list of topics: teacher salaries, standardized testing, student uniforms. Mary considers the scope of her assignment-the page length is 2-3 pages, and she understands that some issues are probably to complex to sufficiently tackle in such a short amount. She decides to write about school uniforms.

C. Finally, before drafting Mary realizes that she will need to have a preliminary thesis in order to begin. After all, the thesis is the main point of a paper, so she needs to have a goal for her paper. Mary decides that she will argue that school uniforms will be beneficial to student performance.

2. Drafting:

A. Next Mary begins the process of drafting, or actually writing, her paper. She begins with an introduction that incorporates her personal experience of attending a high school that did not require uniforms. She briefly details her high school experience as being problematic: poor student behavior, low grades, a surprising high dropout rate.

B. Mary then focuses on her body in which she discusses the possible benefits of school uniforms: more discipline, less focus on materialism and superficial appearances, a more responsible student outlook.

C. Finally, Mary drafts a conclusion in which she reiterates her main thesis and ends by calling her audience to action.

3. Revising:

A. After writing a complete first draft, Mary goes back and considers her paper. She decides that while some personal experience is okay, she has used too much personal narrative and she eliminates some of it. Then she decides to tighten her argument and add more examples of evidence.

B. Then, Mary decides to improve her thesis statement by qualifying it slightly. She writes that school uniforms may improve student performance if integrated into problem schools.

4. Editing:

A. Finally, Mary turns her attention to editing. She reads through everything, catches a few grammatical errors and changes some words in order to clarify her meaning.

B. At last, the assignment is complete.

Writing a Letter to the Editor[edit]

If a local issue is weighing heavily on your mind, a letter to the editor can serve as a means to make your voice heard. The following are examples of issues that may prompt a letter to the editor:

  • Local school issues (bond issues, board of education decisions, etc.)
  • Local electoral races
  • Environmental issues
  • A public "thank you"

When writing your letter, think about your audience and reasons one may have to disagree with your opinion. In considering those opinions, address the anticipated disagreements in your letter. Consider what points would make a convincing case, and build your letter to support these points.

Letter to the Editor Exercise[edit]

Choose an issue which affects you at the local level. Determine what stance you will take on the issue. Organize your thoughts clearly and concisely. Do not make personal attacks; they make you seem small and petty, and may, in fact, negate your position.

Writing to a Policy Maker[edit]

Be brief. Limit your letter to one page if possible, but no more than two pages. Get to the point. Address one issue if possible but never more than two different issues. You can add an attachment to your letter that contains more detail if you wish.

Make no demands. But give the member of congress and staff a recommended course of action to support. Never condemn, threaten or inject partisan politics into your letter. Doing so can only undermine your credibility. Keep your eye on the ball and stick to the points you want to make.

All politics is local. Remember to make the link to your member’s district or state. Stress the contributions that your institution can make and the benefits the community and country receives from supporting biomedical research.

Timing matters. A letter arriving by mail or fax after the House or Senate has taken action is meaningless. Get your facts right and make certain your letter is considered in time.

Use caution with e-mail. While many offices are increasingly relying on e-mail for constituent contact, surveys show it is not as effective as a typewritten letter. Members receive a great deal of e-mail from non-constituents, which are dismissed. E-mail correspondence also tends to be written in a faster and more informal style than letters, increasing errors in grammar and syntax and making your message unclear.

Composing Your Letter[edit]

  • Know what your purpose is and make it clear early in the letter.
  • Collect all the information you will need for your letter and jot down the basic order in which you plan to cover this information. Organize your material in the most persuasive order.
  • Keep your reader in mind as you write. Select a tone for your letter which is appropriate for the reader. Always be courteous and use positive rather than negative words.
  • Avoid the use of words and phrases which are stiff, technical, or overused. Use a writing style which is natural and easy to read.
  • Read your first draft out loud to test it for overall "sound" and effectiveness. Be sure your letter states clearly what it is you want your reader to know after he or she reads your letter.
  • Follow the correct form for the kind of letter you are writing and use that form throughout your letter.
  • Make sure your final copy is typed or written neatly and is attractive in appearance.
  • Revise and proofread your letter the same way you would any other piece of writing. Look for errors in sentence structure, usage, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization.


Resources[edit]

If you are ready to become politically involved but are unsure of who to contact or where here are some resources you can use.

--To find your local congressman or state senators you could go to a major search engine (such as yahoo) and type in the city, county or state which you are targeting and the word "government" or try www.congress.org

--To write a letter to the editor or an opinion piece in your local newspaper, check the publication you are writing to. They will each usually have their own specific instructions.

--To submit a piece to a magazine, it is important to be familiar with the publication. You need to be sure you are addressing your target audience. Instructions for submission are usually found within the magazine itself. Be sure to include a brief description of yourself on a separate paper.

--One resource of influence that is not often thought of in our high-tech society is that of local bulletin boards. We've all seen these at local businesses and government offices, usually those old-fashioned cork boards. Why not use them? You can get your point or idea across to many people quite cheaply if you utilize these free advertising spaces. Once you have your flyer or pamphlet ready don't be shy! Use those public notification spaces. This is especially applicable to government related issues.


Practice Assignment[edit]

Let's get a good feel for becoming involved with this assignment-to complete a letter to your local congressman. Follow the suggested steps below to create a letter of your own.


1. First, identify an issue in the current news that has some impact or influence on your life. Also, your teacher may assign a current topic to you.

2. Second, make an outline of your personal ideas on the subject. You may ask questions like: Do I agree with the current actions or issues? How does this affect me or my family? What can be done to improve the situation? Or, you could consider how to thank your representative for a job well done.

3. Follow the outline in the Public Affairs Writing section entitled Formats for your letter.

4. Write your letter!

5. Proofread or revise as necessary. You may workshop these letters in class and focus on issues such as; Is the point clearly stated? Is the wording polite and courteous? Is it an effective argument or could it use some clarification?

6. Send your letters in the mail! This assignment is pointless unless you truly feel that your voice will be heard. Take that final step of dropping it in the mail and know that your hard work will be recognized not only by your instructor, but also by your political representation. Good job!


Example: There are different format ideals for different types of public affairs writing. A letter to your state congressman would be a good format to learn for the public affairs arena . It should look something like this:


The Honorable (Full Name here)

US House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative (Last name here),



This is where you put the content of your letter. It's a good idea to begin with your name and city of residence. Be sure the purpose of your letter is addressed in this first paragraph. Be polite and to the point. Remember to use an appropriate tone for a political representative (you're not talking to your classmate).


Keep the letter one page or less and only address one issue per letter. You only have one chance here to be heard so be sure not to ramble. Use specific real-life examples related to your issue, if possible.

In conclusion be sure to thank your congressman for their time.


Sincerely, Your constituent (your name here)

Another Practice Assignment[edit]

The Internet Assignment: The Discussion Board

Due to the rapidly expanding use of technology in our society, many instructors are beginning to incorporate technology into the writing class. One common practice is the use of the Internet discussion board in order to stimulate class discussion in an environment that is outside the classroom. Some students actually feel more comfortable with virtual discussion than regular discussion because they have the chance to express their ideas using an assumed name--thus, they have the freedom of anonymity. Other students who have problems with speaking up in class due to shyness or insecurities have the ability to gather their thoughts before they release them into the public.

The Discussion Board assignment is designed to get students to think about important issues and to express their ideas in an environment where they will get responses to their writing.

Assignment: Let's practice using this medium. Pretend that your instructor has created a discussion board. (Or perhaps he or she actually has.) The discussion board instructs the class to debate whether or not technology has had a positive effect on society as a whole. How would you respond? What aspects of the question should you explore? How would you support your argument?

What makes for effective online discussion? Effective online discussion involves a thoughtful and mature discussion of the question in which each party contributes something worthwhile and bounces ideas off each other. You should be prepared to have other people disagree with you. You should also be prepared to support your own opinions and to not take anything personally.

Rules of Online Discussion:

-Do not take disagreements personally and do not respond to arguments that you disagree with by attacking the person who made them. Do not respond to personal attacks. Keep the discussion on topic.

-Stay focused on the question. Avoid getting off track by asking personal questions or bringing up irrelevant topics.

-Keep your language friendly and appropriate. Avoid profanity, derogatory language, and sexist, racist, or homophobic remarks.

-Do not type your responses in all capital letters. This gives the impression that you are shouting and it is considered rude.

-Keep emoticons such as the smiley face :) to a minimum. One or two is okay, but if you use them constantly then you will appear very unprofessional, and people may not take you seriously.

-Try to use proper spelling and grammar. A few abbreviations are okay, but if you use too many, then other people may become confused and not understand what you are saying. The discussion board should be more formal than an Internet chat with friends.