Tips on Letter Writing
With the luxury of fast communication that telephones, faxes, E-mail, and so on, have provided our society, we have almost lost the art of letter-writing altogether. Yet however much technology has improved communication “speed," nothing has replaced the peculiar power of the personal letter to influence individuals and even organizations. It is only one tool in the arsenal of persuasion available to the Christian who understands his obligation to, as the Bible describes it, "strengthen the things that remain", but letter-writing is a powerful one that we cannot afford to neglect. The following list of simple “do’s and don'ts” is given with the hope that it will help you sharpen your letter-writing skills, to sharpen your pencil, and to start writing for the causes that are important in the kingdom of God. Let's get started!
1) Write! Personal letters can have far more influence than most people realize. It is true that politicians, for instance, once received mountains of mail every day (though not nearly so much any more) but very little of that mail was composed of personal letters. Furthermore, there are plenty of “targets” besides politicians to which your heartfelt letters can influence. These include business executives and program sponsors who are sometimes quite responsive to your personal letters advocating the right side of moral issues.
Keep in mind that being unable to type is no excuse for not writing nor is being without a fancy word processor on your computer. Why? Because neatly handwritten letters on inexpensive paper carry just as much influence (and sometimes more!) as typewritten letters printed on fancy stationery do. You don't need to have a title or a letterhead to make an impact. You don't need to be especially eloquent or profound. All the Lord asks of you is to raise your voice for His righteousness and justice. If you're sincere and doing such service for the right motivations, your letter-writing will undoubtedly have God's blessing resting on your efforts. You can count on it!
2) Focus on only one or two ideas in your letter; otherwise you decrease the force of your presentation. It is best to state your purpose at the beginning of the letter and then, if desired, expand it a bit further in the rest of the letter. Yes, you may have several items on your mind but it's most effective to concentrate on one alone. The other topics can be the topic of additional communications.
3) Be personal. Be yourself. Form letters may have their place but they are much less effective than a sincere argument from your heart. (If you doubt me, just remember what you do with junk mail!) Sure, it’s great to have your facts straight and to show a knowledge of your subject, but don’t be fooled into thinking that you must be a “professional” with huge piles of data at your fingertips. Your honest voice as a citizen, a consumer, an interested party counts much more than you might guess -- so write!
4) Generally speaking, your letter should be no more than 300 words or so. The briefest letters are most often the ones that are read! Try to keep your letter on a single page. Do not sacrifice clarity for the sake of brevity, but remember that long letters are more likely to be set aside than brief ones that quickly communicate their point.
5) Be courteous. Avoid libelous language or uselessly provocative “posing”. It is true that you will often be dealing with emotional issues, but always be fair and factual. A positive-sounding letter is much more likely to influence a person than one that begins, “Hey, you fraud! I know you won’t pay any attention to this but....” One can make a clear point of disagreement in a letter without having to be rude; in fact, I'm convinced that the point of opposition packs much more of a punch when the letter's recipient cannot find fault with your manners.
6) Be specific. Don’t assume that the recipient of your letter is as well informed as you are about a specific issue. Ask relevant questions and urge specific actions. (e.g. “Senator, will you oppose this bill...?” or “Mister Jones, will you please stop sponsoring this anti-family program?” or “Reverend, could we please invite Mrs. Smith from the pregnancy aid center to speak to our church?”)
7) Take advantage of the team. Many Christian advocacy organizations offer terrific assistance for people just like you who are tired of merely complaining about things and have decided to take effective action! Web sites, periodicals, and radio programs – all of these are really quite rich with information related to issues of faith and family that are of great concern to you. So...get well acquainted with them. Many have specific "Action Alert" sections to help you raise your voice in a timely, informed way. (One of them, by the way, is Vital Signs Ministries.)
8) As a general rule, I suggest you consider the “once-a-month" limit. Seasoned political activists, for instance, suggest that you write no more than once a month to any one congressman or senator. I heartily agree with that advice. This way you can help to avoid being treated as a troublesome “pen pal" and instead create more interest for the specific issues you're raising in your occasional letters.
9) Where appropriate, you may want to enclose copies of relevant articles or fact sheets. Perhaps your congressman really is unaware of certain information that is relevant to his making up his mind on an issue. Does he need to read an article, which counters the mainstream media regarding the links between abortion and breast cancer, for instance? Okay. Simply send along some credible information for him to digest. In other cases, an enclosure can also be effective to alert the letter's recipient that a larger audience is following an issue. Thus, an editorial, magazine column or a transcript of a radio program might be sent along with your letter, making it a very effective reminder that others agree with you in the issues you're raising.
10) Don’t forget the special forum presented by the “Letters to the Editor” section in newspapers and magazines. Did you know that the “Letters” section is the second most widely read of any in the paper? It is well worth your while to send your letters to these important “targets” also.
11) Letters which concern a specific piece of legislation should include both its number and subject matter to avoid the recipients confusing it with a similar bill.
12) Include your name and address on both the letter and the envelope.
13) Don't be afraid to send your letters to elected officials of all kinds. Your mayor or school board member may think that abortion issues, for example, are out of his or her arena, but it is a good thing nevertheless for them to be reminded of the tremendous value of the pro-life cause which is in the hearts of their constituents. Yes, letters to political figures are sometimes only are read by staff assistants, but some are usually passed along. And, even when they're not, don't forget that someone is making sure to tally the “For” and “Against” regarding the issue your letter raises! Finally, don't neglect the opportunity to tackle more than your own congressman on certain matters. If you send letters to several elected officials you just may have more chances of getting through to someone who will start the ball rolling.
14) Proof-read your letter. You want it to be as clear and convincing as possible...and relatively free of major gaffes.
15) Follow up! A call, a note, or even a subsequent letter lets the recipient know that your letter was not just a knee-jerk response. It reminds him or her that you are very serious about the issue. I have sometimes responded to a form letter response by sending a copy of my first letter, pointing out that my specific questions were not addressed or that the points of my argument were ignored. That technique has proven pretty effective. And don't forget also to be sure to write a thank you letter when public officials and others do the right things! This is positive reinforcement of the most-needed sort.
16) Last, but certainly not least, PRAY! Pray for wisdom as you write your letter; pray that it is safely delivered; pray that it gets to the person who most needs to read it; and pray for God to move the hearts and change minds. Remember --- “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” (Proverbs 21:1) And “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:16) Thus motivated, informed, and equipped, your letters are going to truly make a difference. So, don't put it off; pour the coffee and sit down at your writing table. Someone is waiting to hear from you today!