How to Write an Effective Letter

Establish your well founded concerns through the display of expertise. Don’t talk down to the reader.
Your mission is to inform and persuade the reader. Deal with the facts in the context of an overall vision.

  • - Where should we be going?
  • - How are we going to get there?
  • - How do we measure our progress?

Brevity is critical.

Your reader does not have all of the time in the world and yours is not the only letter they will receive in a day. Make sure your letter is one of the best they receive all month.

A picture is better than a thousand words.

Not only that, but the message is instantly absorbed. Some people like graphs and some don’t. Some simply can’t process them but virtually everyone can process a picture. Find a good one and use it.

Image-example

Appeal to the reader’s sense of fairness and accountability.

Differentiate between public interest and minority interests and stress the need to keep a level playing field and reduce corruption.

Make the letter easy to read and reference. Make a logical argument.

Why is the current policy wrong or inadequate?

  • Failure of vision to look down the road.
  • Failure of research to understand the process of real wealth creation
  • Failure of integrity to clearly define public interest vs that of powerful interest groups
  • Failure of experience to understand system and social dynamics
  • Failure of character to forego small current sacrifices to avoid large long term problems

A responsible policy should be based on:

  • Citizen well-being
  • Fiscal balance
  • Environmental Balance
  • International Responsibilities
  • Long term national goals
  • etc


Demand a response.

  • Ask what their objectives are
  • Ask if business as usual is sustainable
  • Ask if they have a coherent strategy
  • Point out errors in logic


Writing an effective letter means that you probably have to write a few effective letters in follow-up to the first. Don’t stop until you get an answer that makes sense. Even if you don’t like the answer, clarity is a positive result.

Technical Points to Remember

Identify your audience

It is easy to identify your audience in a letter; it is usually the person you are writing to. However, you must also consider any additional readers. For instance, if you write to a member of parliament about a problem and copy additional people outside of the political system, you will have to use broader terms of reference.

Organize letters to meet your users' needs

Once you’ve decided who your readers are and what they need to know, the next step is to present the information in an order that will make it easy to understand. Although letters will differ depending on the audience or the subject, your letter should usually have the same basic elements:

Start with the main message

Always start by putting your main message up front. Some people feel that bad news should be buried. But research shows that readers will always look for the bottom line.

After the main message, use an overview sentence

The overview sentence is about the content. It might be, "This letter will explain why a certain issue is important, why what we are doing is wrong and what we expect you/the system to do You should present the information in the letter in the same order as in the overview sentence.

Think of your letter as guidance to get from Point A to Point B.

  •  The overview sentence is like the directions that tell the reader what to look for en route.
  •  In longer letters, use headings as road signs that tell the reader when they've gotten there.

Choose the right tone for your letters

What’s your reaction when someone speaks to you in a cold tone? Do you tune out of the conversation; pay more attention to the tone than the content; or walk away? Readers do much the same thing.
 

Accusatory use of you     Better tone not assigning blame
You are dead wrong.         

I did not understand how that position
reconciles with a balanced budget.
fiscal balance/ environmental sustainability etc.                                             

You are selling us down the river.
The ministry has not taken the welfare
of Canadians into account.
You are leading us over a cliff.

How can we hope to prosper without
a long term strategy which takes
these vital factors into account?

We believe that Canadian public policy
has failed Canadians to this point because ..
                                                              

Divide your letters into short sections and use lots of informative headings

Limit each paragraph to one topic

Use lots of lists in letters

Vertical lists highlight important topics and make it easy for the reader to identify all elements in a series of requirements or procedures. A list is easier to respond to than a large paragraph.

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