Open letter
An open letter is a letter that is intended to be read by a wide audience, or a letter intended for an individual, but that is nonetheless widely distributed intentionally.

Open letters usually take the form of a letter addressed to an individual but provided to the public through newspaper
A newspaper is a scheduled publication containing news of current events, informative articles, diverse features and advertising. It usually is printed on relatively inexpensive, low-grade paper such as newsprint. By 2007, there were 6580 daily newspapers in the world selling 395 million copies a...

s and other media, such as a letter to the editor
Letter to the editor
A letter to the editor is a letter sent to a publication about issues of concern from its readers. Usually, letters are intended for publication...

 or blog
A blog is a type of website or part of a website supposed to be updated with new content from time to time. Blogs are usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in...

. Especially common are critical open letters addressed to political leaders.

Letters patent
Letters patent
Letters patent are a type of legal instrument in the form of a published written order issued by a monarch or president, generally granting an office, right, monopoly, title, or status to a person or corporation...

 are another form of open letter in which a legal document is both mailed to a person by the government, and publicized so that all are made aware of it. Open letters can also be addressed directly to a group rather than any individual.

Motivations for writing open letters

There are a number of reasons why an individual would choose the form of an open letter, including the following reasons:
  • To state the author's position on a particular issue
  • As an attempt to start or end a wider dialogue around an issue
  • To criticise someone's actions
  • As an attempt to focus broad attention on the letter's recipient, prompting them to some action
  • For humor value
  • Simply to make public a communication that must take place as a letter for reasons of formality
    A formality is an established procedure or set of specific behaviors and utterances, conceptually similar to a ritual although typically secular and less involved...


  • Many of the epistles of the Bible
    The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

     (such as the Pauline epistles
    Pauline epistles
    The Pauline epistles, Epistles of Paul, or Letters of Paul, are the thirteen New Testament books which have the name Paul as the first word, hence claiming authorship by Paul the Apostle. Among these letters are some of the earliest extant Christian documents...

    ) are open letters
  • Encyclical
    An encyclical was originally a circular letter sent to all the churches of a particular area in the ancient Catholic Church. At that time, the word could be used for a letter sent out by any bishop...

    s are by definition open letters sent by the Pope
    The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

     (in the Catholic Church) or a primate (in the Anglican Communion
    Anglican Communion
    The Anglican Communion is an international association of national and regional Anglican churches in full communion with the Church of England and specifically with its principal primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury...

    ) to the bishop
    A bishop is an ordained or consecrated member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox Churches, in the Assyrian Church of the East, in the Independent Catholic Churches, and in the...

    s of the church community but also published for general consumption.
  • Most papal bull
    Papal bull
    A Papal bull is a particular type of letters patent or charter issued by a Pope of the Catholic Church. It is named after the bulla that was appended to the end in order to authenticate it....

    s are letters patent and therefore open letters.
  • Martin Luther
    Martin Luther
    Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

     published many open letters, including his Open Letter on the Harsh Book Against the Peasants
  • Farmer's letters by Samuel Seabury against the American Revolution
  • William Banting
    William Banting
    William Banting , was a formerly obese English undertaker who was the first to popularise a weight loss diet based on limiting intake of refined and easily digestible carbohydrates. He undertook his dietary changes at the suggestion of Dr...

    's Letter on Corpulence (1863).
  • Professor James Syme
    James Syme
    James Syme was a pioneering Scottish surgeon.-Early life:He was born on 7 November in Edinburgh. His father was a writer to the signet and a landowner in Fife and Kinross, who lost most of his fortune in attempting to develop the mineral resources of his property...

    's calls for medical reform in 1854 and 1857, addressed to British Prime Minister
    Prime minister
    A prime minister is the most senior minister of cabinet in the executive branch of government in a parliamentary system. In many systems, the prime minister selects and may dismiss other members of the cabinet, and allocates posts to members within the government. In most systems, the prime...

     Lord Palmerston.
  • Robert Louis Stevenson
    Robert Louis Stevenson
    Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson was a Scottish novelist, poet, essayist and travel writer. His best-known books include Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde....

    's open letter to Rev. Dr. Hyde in defense of Father Damien
    Father Damien
    Father Damien or Saint Damien of Molokai, SS.CC. , born Jozef De Veuster, was a Roman Catholic priest from Belgium and member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a missionary religious order...

  • J'accuse
    J'accuse (letter)
    "J'accuse" was an open letter published on January 13, 1898, in the newspaper L'Aurore by the influential writer Émile Zola.In the letter, Zola addressed President of France Félix Faure, and accused the government of anti-Semitism and the unlawful jailing of Alfred Dreyfus, a French Army General...

     (1898) by Émile Zola
    Émile Zola
    Émile François Zola was a French writer, the most important exemplar of the literary school of naturalism and an important contributor to the development of theatrical naturalism...

     over the Dreyfus Affair
    Dreyfus Affair
    The Dreyfus affair was a political scandal that divided France in the 1890s and the early 1900s. It involved the conviction for treason in November 1894 of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Alsatian Jewish descent...

  • Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail
    Letter from Birmingham Jail
    The Letter from Birmingham Jail or Letter from Birmingham City Jail, also known as The Negro Is Your Brother, is an open letter written on April 16, 1963, by Martin Luther King, Jr., an American civil rights leader...

  • Bill Gates
    Bill Gates
    William Henry "Bill" Gates III is an American business magnate, investor, philanthropist, and author. Gates is the former CEO and current chairman of Microsoft, the software company he founded with Paul Allen...

    's Open Letter to Hobbyists
    Open Letter to Hobbyists
    The Open Letter to Hobbyists was an open letter written by Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, to early personal computer hobbyists, in which Gates expresses dismay at the rampant copyright infringement taking place in the hobbyist community, particularly with regard to his company's...

     (1976) attacking copyright infringement in software development
  • David Cross
    David Cross
    David Cross is an American actor, writer and stand-up comedian perhaps best known for his work on HBO's sketch comedy series Mr...

    's Open Letter to Larry the Cable Guy
    Larry the Cable Guy
    Daniel Lawrence Whitney , better known by his stage name and character Larry the Cable Guy, is an American comedian, actor, and former radio personality....

  • The open letter given to Tarja Turunen
    Tarja Turunen
    Tarja Soile Susanna Turunen Cabuli is a Finnish singer-songwriter and composer. She is a full lyric soprano and has a vocal range of three octaves....

     by the other members of Nightwish
    Nightwish is a Finnish symphonic metal band from Kitee, Finland. Formed in 1996 by songwriter and keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen, guitarist Emppu Vuorinen, and former vocalist Tarja Turunen, Nightwish's current line-up has five members, although Tarja has been replaced by Anette Olzon and the...

    , firing her from the band at the climax of End of an Era
    End of an Era
    End of an Era is a DVD and double CD from Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish. Nuclear Blast recorded their live performance at the Hartwall Areena in Helsinki, Finland on October 21, 2005, the final concert of a long worldwide tour for their album Once...

    . She subsequently responded with her own open letter in reply.
  • Bobby Henderson's Open Letter to the Kansas School Board (2005)
  • Google
    Google Inc. is an American multinational public corporation invested in Internet search, cloud computing, and advertising technologies. Google hosts and develops a number of Internet-based services and products, and generates profit primarily from advertising through its AdWords program...

    's Open Letter to the net on net neutrality
  • Steve Jobs
    Steve Jobs
    Steven Paul Jobs was an American businessman and inventor widely recognized as a charismatic pioneer of the personal computer revolution. He was co-founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Apple Inc...

    's Thoughts on Music (2007) concerning the past and future of DRM
    Digital rights management
    Digital rights management is a class of access control technologies that are used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders and individuals with the intent to limit the use of digital content and devices after sale. DRM is any technology that inhibits uses of digital content that...

  • Siegfried Sassoon
    Siegfried Sassoon
    Siegfried Loraine Sassoon CBE MC was an English poet, author and soldier. Decorated for bravery on the Western Front, he became one of the leading poets of the First World War. His poetry both described the horrors of the trenches, and satirised the patriotic pretensions of those who, in Sassoon's...

    's A Soldier’s Declaration, questioning the judgment of Britain's leadership in World War I.
  • Sam Harris
    Sam Harris (author)
    Sam Harris is an American author, and neuroscientist, as well as the co-founder and current CEO of Project Reason. He received a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Stanford University, before receiving a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA...

    ' Letter to a Christian Nation
    Letter to a Christian Nation
    Letter to a Christian Nation is a non-fiction book by Sam Harris, written in response to feedback he received following the publication of his first book The End of Faith. The book is written in the form of an open letter to a Christian in the United States...

     is an open letter in response to criticism he received after his previous book, The End of Faith
    The End of Faith
    The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason is a book written by Sam Harris, concerning organized religion, the clash between religious faith and rational thought, and the problems of tolerance towards religious fundamentalism....

  • Toyota's letter to its customers regarding the recent recalls
    2009–2010 Toyota vehicle recalls
    Three separate but related recalls of automobiles by Toyota Motor Corporation occurred at the end of 2009 and start of 2010. Toyota initiated the recalls, the first two with the assistance of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration , after reports that several vehicles experienced...

     on vehicles with obstructing floor mats and faulty accelerator pedals.
  • Rob Lewis
    Rob Lewis (entrepreneur)
    Rob Lewis is an English businessman and serial entrepreneur. Lewis has established several successful publishing and technology ventures including Business & Technology magazine, Cromwell Media, Silicon Media Group and most recently Omnifone. Lewis is a 2009 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the...

    ' Entrepreneur's letter to The Times
    The Times
    The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

    warning of the dangers of a Lib-Lab coalition ahead of the 2010 UK general election.
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