Whether hand-written or typed, posted or e-mailed, a letter can be an effective way of getting across important points and influencing decision-makers. Perhaps you want to encourage your MP to support new animal welfare legislation, request vegan options from a business owner, or write a letter to a newspaper editor, reacting to an incident that has been in the news? These are all worthwhile activities, but with the sheer amount of correspondence that flies into our lives today, making sure that your work is attention-grabbing, well-targeted, and concise is key to obtaining success in this manner.
Here are a few tips on how to increase your writing's chances of making an impact:
- Know your Facts - however passionate your opinions are, decision-makers usually need hard evidence in order to become convinced of why they should make a change. Add further credibility to your work by including concrete examples and statistics, and ensure that all claims are accurate and easy to verify by providing references. Emotive writing can be extremely powerful, but if the recipient is motivated by profit more so than morals, the relevance of hard evidence is harder to reject.
- Know your Audience - although you may be motivated by the rights and welfare of the animals in question, or effects on the local community, the person reading your letter may simply not care. Correspondence therefore needs to demonstrate how your proposed action is of benefit to them, or in the case of a letter to the editor, how a specific approach is beneficial to the wider body of readers. It is also a good idea to address your letter to a specific person, rather than a whole organisation, as it will reach the most appropriate recipient faster, and shows that you have done your research.
- Be Concise - business owners, editors and politicians are busy people, who receive a high volume of mail. Anything that is too long, not clearly titled or introduced, or not broken up into paragraphs, may not make it through a secretary's or intern's sorting process onto the recipient's desk at all. Rather than waste hard work preparing a long and detailed account, keep letters short, introducing the topic clearly and then making your main points concisely, in as little as around 150 to 200 words. You can always round up with a sentence to say that further examples or data can be provided upon request.
- Use your Own Words - there are a number of websites and mailing lists which provide form letters on a range of issues, and it can be very tempting to copy and paste these into your document, simply changing the name and address. If time is pressing, this is certainly an option, but personalising your message will make it stand-out against a sea of form letters, and therefore increase its chances of being read and even receiving a reply. Yes, it is a shame that standardised responses are the norm, but whilst these convey one perspective, activists are numerous and unique, experiencing issues in different ways, and a slightly different perspective might just be the one which resonates with your audience.
- Be Polite - if complaining about extreme animal cruelty, this can be difficult, but it is an important step in getting your message taken seriously and combating those unfortunate stereotypes of, 'crazy activists.' The aforementioned templates can be useful for getting a sense of writing in a formal tone, and by using titles, polite language and by thanking the recipient for considering your proposed action, the request may come across as less radically unrealistic, and more worth considering.
Photograph courtesy of Toshiyuki IMAI, used under the terms of the Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 2.0).