Protest letters/letters of complaint

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First, I must say I rarely do this, share some of the more interesting e-mail correspondence I receive at Filbert Publishing. But this particular e-mail piqued my interest more than most.

Here’s the background: I received a multi-forwarded e-mail last week asking me to protest the upcoming stimulus package the US government is currently working on.

Now, before I want to get too far, I want to make it perfectly clear that Writing Etc. is neutral when it comes to politics. This article is NOT about the veracity of this protest. It’s about a particular response to it.

I share this information in the hopes that everyone who reads this will be able to comment intelligently and effectively when recruited to do something similar.

Again, I feel the need to mention I am politically neutral when it comes to this forum. I ask that if you have any comments on the upcoming conversation, please feel free to do so here.

So, back on track.

I get this e-mail asking me to send a tea bag to Washington on April 1. I’m also asked to send a note if I’d like to.

I ignored the e-mail because I usually disregard multi-forwarded correspondence. However, I did take note when someone had the courage to hit “reply all” to share his response. And boy did he write something interesting.

A letter of complaint, or in this case a letter of protest, carries with it some defined rules to follow if you want your message to be read, let alone taken seriously. Writers who do not abide by these are basically wasting their time and are often times damaging their position on the issue.

I’ve included this person’s message, in its original form, and have commented a few key areas every letter writer needs to remember when setting pen to paper. You can find my comments within the parentheses and are colored in red.

Here we go, starting with the e-mail text:

Here’s my tea bag. If I disappear mysteriously, you can safely conclude we have already lost our right to freedom of speech.

(A leap of logic. I realize that this isn’t technically part of your message to the government, but as I read the following message, I was more concerned about members of the grammar police silencing you than the government. 🙂 )

To Whom It May Concern: (Always address your letter to a real person.)

200 years ago Americans proclaimed their independence from an exploitive, apathetic government by throwing some tea in the water. (Actually, it was over 200 years ago. Get your facts correct. Also, don’t begin your sentences with a number. You want to appear intelligent, so be sure to follow basic rules of writing. Also, your font is too large. Don’t use “bold” either. A simple Times New Roman, 12 point, no bold is the standard.)

Today, Americans again need to revolt against another exploitive, apathetic government (Says who? I doubt your reader will agree with this. You need to create rapport, even with those you disagree with.) ……. (An ellipsis = 3 “dots”) RUN BY AMERICANS (Yelling at your reader is not good form when you’re trying to persuade them) !! (Use these sparingly.)

If I exercised my Right to Free Speech publicly…to the point where I might convince a large enough populus (Always spell check.) to actually threaten the security of our “Leaders”, I would be assassinated covertly by the Secret (Gestapo) Service. (Got any proof for this? Bold claim.) “My idea of Change is simply not allowed!” (Who are you quoting? Cite your sources.) Only Obama’s “change” is acceptable (Lots of claims in this paragraph, but you don’t provide any compelling proof.) …and it will bury us as a Nation. (Again, lots of claims. No proof. Arguments without supporting proof are too weak to be taken seriously.) (And I don’t blame Obama. He is only a teleprompted, professionally groomed and clothed puppet. Albeit, just as corrupt as his cronies.) (Insulting the recipient of your message isn’t a good way to instigate change.)

I (we) (Who is “we?”) can’t go down to the port and dump a shipload of tea in the harbor. I can only hope someone in receipt of “my teabag” will do me the courtesy of jamming it up one of the puppeteers’ ass! (Know your audience. Sentences like this make the writer look unstable. It’s not a good persuasive technique to appear at odds with the person you’re disagreeing with.)

GOD BLESS AMERICA !!

Our present government certainly WON’T !!!!! (Multiple exclamation points will not make up for weak writing. Instead, select powerful, targeted words that’ll effectively carry your message without offending your reader.)

(Beth again)

So, where does that leave us?

  1. Remember the point of your letter. If you’re protesting a government action, keep your words focused on that and do not stray from your objective. The letter above does little to effectively address the writer’s concerns and instead veers off track venturing into the world of hyperbole, exaggeration, and unsubstantiated claims. Remember why you’re writing the letter. Then focus on that point.

  2. Letters of protest are good. When you disagree with something, it’s important to voice your opinion and join in the conversation.

  3. “Joining in the conversation” doesn’t mean you should insult your reader. If you truly want your voice heard, respect your reader.

  4. Follow punctuation rules, grammar rules, and rules of logic. Doing this will make you look intelligent.

  5. Use large fonts and upper case letters sparingly.

  6. A few carefully selected words can cut like a sword. Use these instead of hyperbole and ad hominem arguments.

  7. Understand your topic as well as your stand. Write about specific issues. Writing broad generalities is far less effective than writing about one specific issue.

  8. If you want to influence your reader towards your opinion, do not insult them, their intelligence, or the decisions they’ve made. You can disagree without insulting.

  9. Always write in a respectful, yet targeted tone.

  10. Ditch the dramatics. When you write to a government agency or corporation, use a professional tone that matches their style.

  11. Remember, exaggerated punctuation such as multiple exclamation points, doesn’t create urgency. Only well-chosen words can do that. Avoid dramatic punctuation.

  12. Finally, be very slow to respond to “forwarded e-mails.” Check Snopes.com to make sure the cause is legit. If you’re going to spend time crafting a letter, make sure the cause truly exists and you have a ghost of a chance of making an impact.

Remember these ten points, and any letter of complaint/protest you write will be far more effective.

Now go forward and engage in lively discussion; agree and disagree. State your point of view firmly, effectively, and in the most powerful style possible. Effective writers possess incredible (potential) power to influence. Use that power wisely.

Onward and upward,

Beth 🙂

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  • Beth,
    Wow. That’s some letter, and I don’t mean it in a good way. that’s terrible writing.

    I also want to know, since this was an e-mail, how the heck do you e-mail a tea bag? do you scan it into your computer and send that to the government? If there’s an address given, how feasible will that be? Sounds like to me anyone who mails the government their tea bag will only be wasting their money on both the tea bag and the postage.

    This doesn’t sound like a well planned out strategy or very cost effective.

    This person does need to get their facts straight. The British government definitely wasn’t apathetic. If they had been, they would have let us go without a fight. Try looking up some of the words used in this letter to see what they actually mean.

    So, is the writer asking us to revolt against ourselves? It sounds like it. How do you take up arms against yourself… shoot your reflection in the mirror?

    There are provisions for referendum and to recall our government if we really wanted to. Go read the Constitution. It’s mentioned in there.

    Don’t we vote for our leaders? I thought we did. You want change? Then vote them out of office.

    You don’t blame President Obama? You sound like you do? Which way is it? Clarify your thoughts and write coherently.

    Where’s the call to action? What do you want us to do? Where’s the offer? What about the false close? Where’s the credibility and proof? Where isn’t the hype?

    Hahaha Beth, good call. I like your take on this letter.

    Trease

  • Beth Ann,

    Well said! (Please note single exclamation point.)

    I don’t tolerate yelling well.

    Another point – “Uff-da” — coming from my Swedish roots, I loved seeing this in your newsletter. Made me feel right at home.

  • Excellent comments, Trease. You’ve always done great critiques. 🙂

  • Hey Judith,

    I almost didn’t include “Uff-da.” I’m sure glad someone understood it! (Note the single exclamation point.) 🙂

  • Elly Cummens

    Refreshing morning wake-up to a tasty “word tea.”
    Unfortunately, I often receive this type of message from two friends I gave up trying to offer constructive views. now I can learn what negative blurbs are floating around. Yet like you, I seldom open them.
    This one offers no constructive solutions, and bashes something that hasn’t been fully created yet. With this outlook, they are trying to sink the ship before its cargo is specified!

  • Hey Elly,

    Great comment. We live in interesting times and it’s always a challenge to keep the discourse raised to an intelligent level. I guess it’s the writer side of me that really enjoys digging into both sides of an issue and ferreting out the logic behind the hyperbole.

    But it sure can be challenging!

    Thanks again for your thoughtful addition to the conversation.

    Best,

    Beth 🙂

  • Larry

    Remember these ten points, and any letter of complaint/protest you write will be far more effective.

    You listed “12” points. Which two should we ignore?

  • Hey Larry,

    Tooooo funny! I originally wrote ten, then made a fast edit before I sent ‘er out.

    Goes to show. Don’t make quick changes before you release an article to the world. Or go ahead and change it, but be prepared to have a “d’oh” moment.

    Have a fab day!

    Beth 🙂

  • Beth,

    I thank you for this commentary on the email you presented and for the advice on how one can write an effective letter of protest.

    My husband, unfortunately, is among the many who could, unsuspectingly jump on this guy’s bandwagon without ever thinking anything was wrong with his platform.

    I love my husband, but he is easily excited and spurred to action by others who encourage such protests. I think this is partly because he believes there are problems and wants desperately to make a stand and be part of the solution, having seen many atrocities go unaddressed.

    I have shared this with him and he now sees what I have been telling him since we got our first computer.–“Everyone who can hunt and peck on a keyboard can send emails, but not everyone should.”

    Now, he is prodding me to write protest letters! I told him I’d see what I could do, after I finished writing for my deadlines! lol

    Thanks, Beth!

  • Hey Lynn,

    That’s awesome! There’s nothing I like more than a thoughtful, spirited debate. I hope you write those letters and enjoy the rush of effective persuasion.

    Onward and upward,

    Beth 🙂

  • Oh my gosh! Can I quote you in my writing book? Please? Pretty please?

    I was actually writing about how writers shouldn’t use multiple punctuation marks (specifically, exclamation points and question marks) and I also discussed how they can effectively write something, such as dialogue, without those nuances and still get across what they were hoping to. I love how you say “Multiple exclamation points will not make up for weak writing.” That is so true!

    I’m so glad I stumbled across this blog. Yay!

    I’m writing new chapters for the Revisions book. THEN I hope it will be done. I just might ask if you’re interested in it. 🙂 (I understand if you are too swamped already, though.)

  • Hey Dawn!

    Absolutely! You’ve got my e-mail addy if you have any questions.

    Have a fab day!

    Beth 🙂