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.)
So, where does that leave us?
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.
Letters of protest are good. When you disagree with something, it’s important to voice your opinion and join in the conversation.
“Joining in the conversation” doesn’t mean you should insult your reader. If you truly want your voice heard, respect your reader.
Follow punctuation rules, grammar rules, and rules of logic. Doing this will make you look intelligent.
Use large fonts and upper case letters sparingly.
A few carefully selected words can cut like a sword. Use these instead of hyperbole and ad hominem arguments.
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.
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.
Always write in a respectful, yet targeted tone.
Ditch the dramatics. When you write to a government agency or corporation, use a professional tone that matches their style.
Remember, exaggerated punctuation such as multiple exclamation points, doesn’t create urgency. Only well-chosen words can do that. Avoid dramatic punctuation.
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,