Letters can be a very effective way of convincing public officials to address an issue. For each letter received, they often assume that several hundred other people feel the same about the issue. Here are a few tips.
Addressing Elected Officials
Politicians need to concern themselves more with the big picture and are interested in how your ideas will affect the larger community (and its voters)
- Be less technical and more anecdotal
- Get to the point and be brief
- Keep letters under a page (use appendices if you really need to add some technical detail).
- Exceptions are when you are suggesting language for a plan or policy. In these situations, it may be necessary to spell everything out, but these are the exceptions.
- Try to provide something before asking for something in return. For instance, instead of protesting to raise the issue of poor cycling facilities, ask the leader(s) responsible to take a tour of the facilities in question with you. That way, you can incorporate leaders in the solution. Also, if they agree to a tour, you’ll have engaged them in the process and begun to hold them accountable.
- Confine your letter to a single issue.
- Write in a natural style.
- Letters should be factual and polite.
- Take special care not to sound threatening, aggressive or offensive. You want to win a friend, if not now, then on other issues in the future.
- Be positive and constructive – make a clear request and write as if the reader is open to reasoned argument.
- Carefully plan your opening sentence; make it short and interesting. Particularly if you are communicating to criticize, it helps to start with appreciation or praise for the recipient’s past activities.
- Don’t plead.
- For problems, personal accounts of how this issue has impacted you and your family, friends and community can be very persuasive.
- For improvements, describe the benefits for you and your family, friends and community
- Relate experiences elsewhere that demonstrate the effectiveness of improvements you want
- Say a little about yourself if you want to – for example something about your occupation or background.
- If there is a problem that requires remedial action, (if possible) request a specific action from the official and show your own willingness to work for a solution. Don’t merely be critical; close with constructive suggestions and a positive tone.
- If any follow-up is planned, let them know the time frame.
- Use a conclusion that encourages a reply
- As most people have mobile devices, email tends to be more effective than pen and paper.
- Include the text of letter in the body of the email and not as an attachment if possible. This makes it easier to read on a smart phone.