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Alexander Graham Bell's design sketch of the telephone, ca. 1876.

[Detail] Alexander Graham Bell's design sketch of the telephone

Persuasive Writing

An examination of Bell's personal correspondence illustrates the skills he employed to relate his convictions in writing. Browse the Family Papersand General Correspondence series of letters to read Bell's writings to his parents, his wife, and associates. Ask students to identify as many different techniques as possible, with which Bell expressed himself. Also have them analyze the way in which he conveyed his feelings when he refused to write an introduction to a book written about Glenn H. Curtiss, a colleague in aviation.

My ideas in such matters may be a trifle old fashioned but I feel so keen an interest in your career as an experimenter, which has, I trust, only begun that I cannot refrain from urging you to very seriously consider the effect which such a book as that which you propose will have on your many friends. If you wrote a comprehensive book on the Aeroplane, the public would receive it appreciatively but this book outlined by Mr. Post is more of the nature of a biography and I fear will be misunderstood. The commercializing of ones own accomplishments may be all right financially but is a mistake socially.

I am too proud of you and interested in you to help you make such a mistake and this is my reason for declining to write an Introduction to Mr. Post's book.

From Letter from Alexander Graham Bell to Glenn H. Curtiss, undated.

  • How does Bell frame his argument against writing the introduction?
  • How is he careful not to insult Mr. Curtiss?
  • If you were Mr. Curtiss, would you still publish the book having read Bell's comments?
  • How might you respond to Bell's letter?