People who shout in lettersWhen you’re in the media, you get access to many, many letters that people write seeking help or action. They often share these letters with media in hopes of expanding publicity. Many letters are well done. But there are always a bunch filled with so much venom they’re almost toxic.

Over a long media career, I’ve seen many duds that are nothing more than people shouting via a letter.

The worst letters are the personal attack letters. Rarely do these ever accomplish anything. Well, except earn dollars for lawyers. Here are three simple questions to ask yourself the next time you need to write a letter to get the attention of a government official, politician, media, organization, etc:

1. What is the most important point that will matter to my recipient?: You can only accomplish this when you step back and think about it. And I do mean think about it. Know the role of your intended recipient and what he/she would be most concerned about addressing/fixing in his/her role. For example: Is your most important point about an actual incident? Or is it bureaucratic red-tape? Or is it a loophole in an existing policy? In your letter be very brief over what is secondary. Emphasize what is  most important.

2. What is my solution? So many letters fail on this level. Ending a letter with a sentence like “….you really need to investigate this.” or “….I think the agency should stop harassing these people.” are not solutions. They are mini rants. When you write a letter seeking action, develop your solution. Every problem has a solution. Show that you want to help offer ways to improve a situation or scenario.

3. Is my letter professional? You can argue this one all day, but a well written, professional letter will usually get read by your intended recipient. Tone matters! Even if the letter reaches a subordinate first, it stands a very good chance of being passed up the chain. Remember, your intended recipient is likely well educated. Professional correspondence is quickly identified (that’s probably because letters from lawyers are well written too and, of course, lawyers from letters are always read!). When people talk about crafting a letter,  they really mean writing a professional letter where every word is carefully considered. It takes time. But you want to be heard, don’t you?

You have one to two pages to work with for a letter, use your space wisely.