(Your address goes here),

Nowhereville,

Co. Illusion.

(Put in the date too!) 20/04/1979

(The address of the recipient)

The Irish Times,

24-28 Tara Street,

Dublin 2.

Dear Sir/Madam,

First paragraph explains why I am writing blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Middle section includes details – take one idea at a time & develop each fully.

Final paragraph states what you would like to happen now.

Yours sincerely,

Evelyn O’ Connor

Common mistakes

  • Incorrect layout
  • Repetitive & disorganised – to avoid this plan (brainstorm) then put your ideas in order.
  • Not enough ideas – letter takes too narrow a focus, only developing 2 main ideas.
  • Letter focuses only on problems and becomes either a rant or a whinge. You must have a balance and if you identify problems try to offer specific solutions.
  • Letter strays off topic. Read the set task carefully.
  • Letter is predictable and cliched – try to offer some new ideas, some originality.
  • Letter is not well written – remember it’s not just what you say, it’s also how you say it that matters. List the techniques you intend to use and cross them off as you use them.

NOTE: If you are asked to write a PROPOSAL or a PRESENTATION use the same basic layout but leave out the addresses, formal greeting and sign-off.

Thus you begin by explaining why you are writing, the bulk of your piece is taken up with specific details organised into paragraphs and you finish by saying what you’d like to happen next.

The style of writing depends on the task – it should be clear from the wording of the question whether you are expected to write in a descriptive / informative / argumentative or persuasive style.

Informal letters just include your address and the date and the language is extremely informal.

Here’s a sample formal letter:

Hazelhill,

Ballyhaunis,

Co.Mayo.

9-3-11

Leinster House,

Kildare Street,

Dublin 2.

Dear Mr. Kenny,

In the words of Martin Luther King, I have a dream. I have a vision of the kind of Ireland I want my children to grow up in, the kind of Ireland we need to create for their sake. Otherwise we must prepare ourselves to look them in the eye and answer their accusation ‘where did it all go wrong?’

We all know the problems we face – an overloaded healthcare system, an ageing population, mass unemployment, gang violence, rote learning in education, drink and drug abuse, a ruined rural landscape and the kind of climate extremes we simply are not equipped to cope with. Is this the Ireland we want for our children? And if not, what are the alternatives?

Let me paint a picture of one future Ireland we could create. Let’s intruduce euthanasia immediately – people over 70 are simply a burden on our healthcare system and a strain on already-stretched public finances with their never-ending pension demands (and believe me, nobody will miss that distinctive old-person smell which follows them everywhere they go!). Secondly, let’s build a large electrified fence around Limerick city, evacuate the law-abiding citizens, provide plenty of weapons and leave them to it. Within six months, problem solved! (The level of unemployment should also fall considerably as a handy side-effect: most of these career criminals have been signing on at multiple locations for years).

Let’s abolish the Leaving Certificate and simply get every student to sit the Mensa IQ test at the end of their school days (grind schools will disappear, as will exam stress – you can’t swot your way to a higher IQ). And while we’re at it let’s bring an end to all substance abuse. Raymed, an American pharmaceutical company have recently developed a product which causes individuals to become violently ill instantly when they consume a mind-altering substance. So let’s introduce a compulsory vaccination programme for all drink and drug addicts. Perhaps we should include all teenagers too, thus instantly solving the problem of underage substance abuse while we’re at it!

Let’s employ drivers to bulldoze all those empty rural housing estates (the unemployment rate will fall even further). Finally let’s place giant sandbags the length and breadth of our beautiful coastline and hand out snow-tyres to all citizens. There you go Mr. Taoiseach, problems solved.

Of course there is another way. There is another future which demands bravery and hard work from you, Mr. Kenny and from everybody in your cabinet. In this future those entering hospital are treated quickly and efficiently because you have had the courage to fire the pen-pushing middle management and are using this money instead to open much needed beds and hire more front-line staff.

In this future ordinary people do not live in fear of gang violence because a complex approach (including harsher punishments, rural relocation programmes, education and the kind of dialogue which brought about the ceasefire in Northern Ireland) is ruthlessly persued until we see results. (Of sourse if we fail there’s always the option of compulsory sterilisation!)

In this future the Leaving Certificate tests real skills and practical knowledge not the ability to memorise reams of irrelevant information. This will only happen if you finally implement the recommendations of the 2005 report by the Examinations Commission which offered detailed proposals for a complete overhaul of both the Leaving and Junior Certificate exams.

In this future stricted customs inspections, lengthier prison sentences, more affordable rehabilitation centres and education make drugs less attractive and less available. In this future we have changed our attitude towards alcohol because the government have provided affordable alternatives to the pub in the form of youth centres, community centres, sports centres, cinemas and parks.

In this future the beauty of our rural landscape is preserved because you prioritise it above the demands of greedy developers. In this future you have learned to minimise the effects of climate change because you have plans in place to deal with flash floods, freezing fog and snow that doesn’t melt for weeks on end.

The first future is easy and barbaric. The second requires patience and hard work. So get to it – our children are depending on you.

Sincerely,

Evelyn O’ Connor

Letters to the editor look like this – here’s one I read in  a local paper recently:

Sir-

I am writing to express my disgust at an article published in your newspaper last Thursday which suggested that the age of consent should be lowered from 17 to 15. I believe this would be a terrible mistake. How can we protect the innocence of our children if they feel pressurised into having sex at such a young age? They are not emotionally or physically ready to deal with the consequences particularly if the girl becomes pregnant. Furthermore, they risk catching a sexually transmitted disease. Finally I believe that such a law would make them more vulnerable to being sexually assaulted or raped by predatory older men or women – ‘cougars’ I believe is the fashionable term. I hope in future you will offer a more balanced view of this important issue and consider the serious child-protection issues at stake.

Yours etc…

Mr. Tom Dolan

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5 Responses to Letters

  1. Karen Murphy says:

    Evelyn – not sure if you received my message via F/Book – congratulations on your fantastic achievement. You are a fabulous communicator – it would be a crying shame if you are not made permanent soon. Your acceptance speech was superb and you were equally engaging tonight on TV3. You would be amazing at running your own business. I wouldn’t be surprised if you received a job offers in others areas…anyway I wish all the best for the future…and I did wonder you were obviously big into debating or have you speech & drama training????

  2. Roisin says:

    Will a lot of marks be lost for incorrect layout?

    • No, a small number go for layout but the substance of what you write and staying on task is the most important thing. What I mean by staying on task is if you’re asked to write a letter and you write a diary entry, then sure, you’ll lose loads of marks, becuase it’s not just your layout that’s wrong but your entire approach.

      However, if you forgot the date or put only one address in instead of two, that’s not going to affect your grade hugely.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Should you not address the points you make with more conviction and back them up, does it not appear like a list.
    I was just looking at your example to Mr Kenny.
    Thanks for this excellent site.

    • That’s a good observation – it’s certainly going for a comprehensive overview rather than an in depth analysis. Either is fine as long as you show an awareness of the issues and write well, but if in doubt, I agree, depth over surface…

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