Open letters usually take the form of a letter addressed to an individual but provided to the public through newspapers and other media, such as a letter to the editor or blog. Especially common are critical open letters addressed to political leaders.
Currently there are very few sites solely specialising in publishing open letters. However, there are community sites where visitors can publish their own letters and promote them to a wider audience. Sociological or historical research on open letters are also not found, although sociologists and historians have written open letters. Recently, a professor of anthropology at Vidyasagar University in India has written a comprehensive article on open letter.
Letters patent 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
There are a number of reasons why an individual would choose the form of an open letter, including the following reasons:
- As a last resort to ask the public to judge the letter's recipient or others involved, often but not always, in a critical light
- To state the author's position on a particular issue
- As an attempt to start or end a wider dialogue around an issue
- 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
- Many of the epistles of the Bible (such as the Pauline epistles) are open letters.
- Encyclicals are by definition open letters sent by the Pope (in the Catholic Church) or a primate (in the Anglican Communion) to the bishops of the church community but also published for general consumption.
- Most papal bulls are letters patent and therefore open letters.
- Martin Luther 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.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson's letter to Martin Van Buren against the Cherokee removal order (1836).
- William Banting's Letter on Corpulence (1863).
- Professor James Syme's calls for medical reform in 1854 and 1857, addressed to British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston.
- Robert Louis Stevenson's open letter to Rev. Dr. Hyde in defense of Father Damien.
- J'accuse (1898) by Émile Zola over the Dreyfus Affair.
- Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail (1963),
- Bill Gates's Open Letter to Hobbyists (1976) attacking copyright infringement in software development.
- Audre Lorde's open letter about racism to Mary Daly (1979).
- Gennady Zyuganov's open letter to Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev criticizing perestroika and glasnost, which were advocated by Yakovlev (1991).
- David Cross's open letter to Larry the Cable Guy (2005).
- Bobby Henderson's Open Letter to the Kansas School Board (2005).
- Google's Open Letter to the net on net neutrality.
- Steve Jobs's Thoughts on Music (2007) concerning the past and future of DRM.
- Siegfried Sassoon's A Soldier’s Declaration, questioning the judgment of Britain's leadership in World War I.
- Sam Harris' book Letter to a Christian Nation is written as an open letter in response to criticism he received after his previous book, The End of Faith.
- Rob Lewis' Entrepreneur's letter to The Times warning of the dangers of a Lib-Lab coalition ahead of the 2010 UK general election.
- Tom Wrigglesworth's Open Letters, a BBC Radio 4 stand-up comedy series taking the form of an open letter. Based on Wrigglesworth's 2009 Edinburgh Comedy Award nominated show Tom Wrigglesworth's Open Return Letter to Richard Branson.
- Open Letters, a biweekly student publication at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design that tests the epistolary form as a device for generating conversations about architecture and design.
- Tom Finkel's "Open Letter to Chris Rock", the cover story of the May 13-19, 2015 issue of the Village Voice, urging him to buy the Newark Bears.
- "Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary". Merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 2014-07-28.
- "Macmillan Online Dictionary". Macmillandictionary.com. 2014-07-22. Retrieved 2014-07-28.
- "Opnlttr community site for people to publish open letters". Opnlttr.com. 2014-07-04. Retrieved 2014-07-28.
- "Open Letter to Larry the Cable Guy". Bobanddavid.com. Retrieved 2014-07-28.
- "Open Letter to the Kansas School Board". Venganza.org. Retrieved 2014-07-28.
- "website on Net Neutrality". Google.com. Retrieved 2014-07-28.
- "The Times: 29 April 2010: Lib-Lab coalition would be 'disastrous for British business'". Timesonline.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-07-28.
- "Dear Chris Rock, Here's How You Can Get More Black People to Watch Baseball". Village Voice. May 13, 2015. pp. 1, 9–10. Retrieved May 13, 2015.