Tuesday, 7 December 2010

How to be an activist - the content of the letter

is important. Why, you ask, should I state something so obvious? The answer is simple. Many people fail to think about. They think they can "just sit down and write a letter".

No. Campaign letters have to be thought about.

Why? Because you only get one chance. Your letter has to hit the target. If it fails to hit the target you do not get a second chance. At this point if you do not already read Nicola Morgan's "Help I need a publisher", Jane Smith's "How publishing really works" or Lynn Price's "The Behler Blog" I would suggest you do. Writing campaign letters is, I have discovered from reading them, like writing a letter to an agent or publisher asking them to consider your work.

Yes, really it is like that. You have to stand out in the crowd.

Fortunately it is not quite as difficult as breaking into print but there are some basic rules.

(1) Write to the correct person. At the very top of the tree you do not write to someone like HRH Queen Elizabeth at all. You write to her Secretary. (If you really think you need to write to someone like that consult Debrett's. There are rules and you need to follow them.)

Below that level however ask yourself, "Who is the best person to contact?" It is always tempting to send a letter to the Prime Minister but the reality is that it will almost always be read by a junior office person and passed on to the appropriate department.

(2) Address the person in the letter in the proper manner. If you are not sure how the person you are writing to should be addressed then find out. The search term "forms of address" will help. If you are still not certain ask someone in the office of the person concerned.

When I first started teaching any letter teachers wrote to the Education Department had to be addressed to the Minister of Education, even though he (it was always he) never read them. They then had to begin "Sir", not "Dear Sir" and had to end with (of all things) "I have the honour to be your obedient servant." Needless to say that is no longer the case but there are still formalities that have to be addressed - and that also includes addressing the envelope in the correct manner.

(3) State what you are writing about. This is sometimes done by writing something like "Re: the proposed closure of Book Street Library" (formal) or "I am writing to express my very serious concern..." (semi-formal) or "I am disgusted by.... (informal).

I suggest you use the first or second and not the third.

(4) State what the problem is. Stating that the library is going to be closed is not stating the problem. You have to say why closing the library is a problem. Who is affected by the issue and why? It is no good saying something like "the library is going to be closed and I won't be able to borrow books any more". That is bound to get a pro-forma answer - if you get an answer at all.
If you say something like, "fourteen community groups, two of which assist the mentally ill, three the unemployed and another single mothers, will not have anywhere to meet" then you are going to suggest that this is a community problem.

(5) If you have already done some work on the problem or conducted some research say so here.

(6) State what you believe the solution is. Here you want to say "Keep the library open" but you need more than that. If you can suggest something like "Change the opening hours to such and such because this will increase use" so much the better.

(7) Ask for specific action. At this point you can ask for the recipient of the letter to do something, attend a meeting, send a delegate, write a letter on behalf of the local community, bring the matter up in parliament or at a council meeting, meet you for further discussion etc.

(8) Conclude your letter by asking for a response within a reasonable time frame. The amount of time will depend on the nature and urgency of the problem.

(9) Thank the person for the action they will take. By doing this you show them that you are assuming they will do as you ask.

Now all that needs to go on one page. Yes, that is difficult. It can be done. However if you are very experienced (and why are you bothering to read this if you are) then you can add a second page. That is the research page. It is a precise and concise summary of the facts. Say you have user figures for Book Street Library, borrower numbers, outgoings etc. Include it. Politicians love statistics, even though they frequently abuse them.

Finally, read your letter through very carefully before you send it.

Tomorrow we will talk about what not to do.


Dan Holloway said...

extremely wise advice. No matter how much one wants to spit feathers, biting one's lip and spitting them in the correct manner (to mix a metaphor) is the likeliest course of action for success

catdownunder said...

Thankyou Dan - just hope all this does help the Campaign for the Book.