Letter writing

Advice on writing letters to politicians and the media

We live in a free country, where every citizen can write to politicians and the media to express their views without fear.

However, if you are going to write a letter, you should aim to be effective by writing the best letter you can. The following advice may help you.

Why are you writing?

You need to be clear in your own mind:

– Why are you writing this letter?
– How do you want the recipient to react to it?
– What do you want the recipient to do?

Those points then drive the composition.

If the letter is being written for publication in a newspaper, you need to abide by all of the newspaper’s written guidelines regarding length, giving your full name and address etc. As a general point, try to stay well inside the newspaper’s length restriction, as short letters are more likely to get published.

The English has to be perfect

Every mistake in a letter, no matter how small, causes the reader to think less of you. Make several mistakes and the reader will cease to care about what you are writing and see only the mistakes. Even a comma out of place is a mistake.

Do not rely upon computer spell checkers. Unless you are very confident of your ability at spelling, punctuation and grammar, get someone else to check over what you have written.

Be unfailingly polite

As soon as you insult the recipient, or accuse him of malevolence, he will stop paying any attention to what you have written.

Do not shout

If you shout at somebody in person, they get annoyed, and if you shout loud enough they cover their ears and stop listening to anything that you are saying.

Exactly the same thing happens if you shout in writing. That includes actions such as:

– Using CAPITAL LETTERS, underlined, emboldened or italicised text to emphasise a point. Give your recipient the courtesy of assuming that he can read English without needing to have the important items pointed out by such methods.
– Using strong language. Try to write as mildly as you can.

Do not make any threats

It is often tempting to make threats when writing. Some are obviously illegal, such as death threats! However making even legal threats is a mistake. It simply puts the reader’s back up and turns him against your message.

The people you will be writing to are not stupid. Politicians are aware that voters may stop supporting them, charities that donors may send their money elsewhere, businesses that customers may go to another store, editors that readers may switch to another newspaper. By threatening such action, you are simply insulting the reader’s intelligence, which is not conducive to having your message received well.

Do not make any statements that you cannot prove

If you want to be taken seriously as a correspondent, you need to stick to the facts.

Keep it short

A private letter does not need to be as short as a letter intended for publication. However if you cannot say something in one A4 page, you have probably failed to think carefully enough about what you want to say.

Readers have short attention spans. It is far better to get one or two points over which the recipient absorbs, than send a letter with 10 points which the reader does not take in.