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Writing Letters: The Letter Format

Letters to Politicians and Other Power Brokers

Letters to people in power do have an effect. Ask any politician. These letters should be …

  • Concise. Put the heart of your message at the very beginning of the letter.
  • Unemotional. Don't carp or bluster. State your position and the reasons for it with as little emotion as possible.
  • Identifiable. Say whom you represent. You may be speaking for a group or organization, or you may be writing as a father, businessman, or just concerned citizen.

Dear Senator Fulton:

I am writing to oppose the proposal to drain the wetlands in the Westphalia section of your district. As you know, wetlands are a critical part of the ecosystem in that area. Draining would not only damage the environment there, but would bring in the sort of development that would put great strain on the area.

I am writing as a resident of Westphalia, as well as someone concerned about the dangerous erosion of the environment through overdevelopment.

I hope you will vote no on SB 188 when it comes before your committee.

Yours truly,
Elizabeth Gordon

You can be even more terse when writing to the White House. The president almost certainly will not see your letter. However, staff people keep a careful tab on how many people are writing with opinions on each issue, and these tabulations are passed along to the president.

Dear Mr. President:

I strongly oppose the idea of sending American troops to Bolivia. In fact, I oppose military intervention in the affairs of any nation in the Americas.

Sincerely,
Robert Anderson

Complaints

One situation in which a face-to-face conversation is preferable to a letter is when you have a complaint about the behavior of a neighbor or friend. Keep things as pleasant and nonconfrontational as possible.

However, a letter to a retailer, business, or government agency is sometimes necessary. Keep your letter as unemotional as possible and state the facts emphatically.

Keep a copy of the letter and follow up within a week with a telephone call.

To Whom It May Concern:
On May 1, 1996, I purchased a Populux 5000 dishwasher from your firm, and it was installed at my home a week later. I have had trouble with it ever since.

First, there was a leak under my sink. Your repairman came four days after I reported the leak and left without fixing it, saying he did not have a certain part with him. When he did not return within three days, I called to complain. Two days after that, he returned.

He worked for more than two hours in my kitchen. When he left, the leak was fixed, but the dishwasher did not work at all. I called again, and another repairman came three days after the call. He said the problem was with the wiring in my kitchen and that I should call an electrician. I did. The electrician said the wiring is fine and charged me $45.

I have now had this dishwasher for one month and have yet to wash a single dish in it. Because your people apparently are unable to repair this machine, you should replace it or refund my purchase price.

Please contact me as soon as possible concerning this matter.

Sincerely,
Paula Smith



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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Etiquette © 2004 by Mary Mitchell. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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