TASKS Editor letters, sampled


Here are three Letters to the Editor. They all relate to an article published in the New York Times by a woman called Kimberly Probolus, arguing that men should listen more carefully to women.

That's an interesting and important issue, but what we're principally concerned with here is to consider the ground rules for writing a good Letter to the Editor.

So, here are the letters, for you to think about and analyse...

Letter A

To the Editor:

I applaud the plea by Kimberly Probolus for men to become active and engaged listeners, even going so far as to request that they look up from their newspapers or screens and ask the women across from them, “How can I be a better listener?” I have lived for over three-quarters of a century and have never seen this happen, and I can almost assure Dr. Probolus that it never will.

Men are genetically programmed to stay in control, to dismiss the opinions, suggestions and complaints from the opposite sex, the women in their lives who repeatedly have to respond with “I told you so” when their warnings, pleas and suggestions are almost always dismissed because of the attitude, “What does she know?” Men will not change, as Dr. Probolus hopes they will.

So what women have to do is band together to raise their voices louder, to talk and write more often, speak more in unison, and keep our wonderful sense of humor, our caring natures, our ability to totally focus on speakers and ask intelligent questions, and then fully appreciate the fact that The Times is encouraging us to talk and write. At least, that’s a start!

Kathy A. Megyeri

(202 words)


Letter B

To the editor

Re ““Men, You Need to Listen” (letters, Feb 16)

Kimberly Probolus is to be credited for thoughtfully calling men’s attention to men’s need to listen more carefully to women. However, psychological research offers a more nuanced view.

Differences between men and women in listening are apt to depend on a host of factors, including culture, race, the topic and the nature of the relationship between speaker and listener. There may be as many within-gender differences in listening as between-gender differences. It’s not clear that men listen less attentively to women than they do to other men, suggesting that the problem is broader than sexism; that is, guys just don’t listen to anyone but themselves!

Women can fail to listen as well, as when millions of women who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 failed to engage in what Dr. Probolus calls “feminist listening” by not heeding the advice of women who called attention to Mr. Trump’s abusive sexism.

Rather than pit men against women in their listening, which tends to be divisive, it would be more useful to suggest strategies by which both men and women can learn to engage in more humane, gender-egalitarian listening behavior.

Richard M. Perloff
The writer is a professor of communication and psychology at Cleveland State University.

(199 words)


Letter C

To the Editor:

Men should listen to women.

Not because Kimberly Probolus says so. Nor for the reasons she states. Her arguments are pure poppycock, either totally absurd or completely useless.

Dr. Probolus says that women do not speak with one voice. Yet she urges members of Congress to “listen to the opinions of their female constituents and prioritize the legislation that they ask for.” Members of Congress should listen to their female constituents. Not because they are female, but because they are constituents. But legislators cannot determine which legislative proposals to prioritize simply by noting the gender of constituents.

Likewise, Dr. Probolus advises men in their private conversations with women to “listen to her, and do what she says.” The absurdity of this advice becomes clear simply by reversing roles. Would anybody take me seriously if I were to advise women in their private lives to “listen to him and do what he says”?

As a male reader and a staunch supporter of equal opportunity for men and women, I find that her argument makes me less likely to listen to the next feminist argument, not more.

Men should take women seriously, not because they are women, but because they are people, and because the inherent dignity of all individuals is equally inalienable, regardless of gender. And because increased diversity of participation in public life improves the quality of all of our lives and our democracy, which sorely needs women’s voices just now.

That is why men should listen to women.

John Fahs

(255 words)


Task #A - analysing the structure

There are no strict rules or conventions about how you write a Letter to the Editor. However, if we look at letters that have been published, we can work out certain patterns which have attracted the Editor's attention successfully enough for them to be selected.

> Carry out the following exercise, and see if you can work out what such patterns might be.


Structural analysis

All three letters contain certain features which are normal or conventional in Letters to the Editor. Skim through the letters to work out what features they have in common. Then, in the chart below, fill in the three columns on the right, with Y (Yes) or N (No).

Conventions / Features

Letter A

Letter B

Letter C

Sender’s full address




Recipient’s full address




Salutations – ‘Dear Sir’ & ‘Yours sincerely’




Writer’s name, and home town




Reference to original article / author




Link to original article (online letter)




Detailed summary of original article




Statement of letter-writer’s point of view




Explanation of reasons for letter-writer’s point of view




Proposal or recommendation






Total Score:

Task #B - Point of view / stance

The letters seem to have been selected to give a range of responses to the original article – whether for or against, to put it simply. This is understandable, since Editors wish to stimulate debate by presenting as many varied points of view as possible, within the limited space that they have available.

Skim the articles, and decide which letter’s point of view falls into the categories shown in the chart below - then fill in the three columns on the right, with Y (Yes) or N (No).

Point of view / stance

Letter A

Letter B

Letter C

Basically agrees with the original article




Basically disagrees with the original article




Makes a balanced comment on the original article





And yes, one of these is impossible to answer correctly ! Does Letter B basically agree... or not? You may like to argue about whether it is slightly more towards agreement or disagreement. Personally, I'm really not sure.

And indeed, you may disagree with other answers here. If so, argue your case, based on what each writer says, and how you interpret the phrasing and arguments used.


Total Score:


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