Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
11 August 2009 Issue

How to Write a Powerful and Influential Letter
Source: The Vegan Street Website

Like it or not, the editors, senators and CEOs of the world wield considerable power. As animal advocates, we are frequently called on to write to these influential people to protest, inform, or, on rare but happy occasions, to thank on the behalf of those who are not able to communicate in the written form. Whether or not your letters are published or responded to, they do make a difference, especially in the aggregate: newspapers want subscribers, politicians want to be re-elected, executives want consumers to buy their company's product. No one's job is guaranteed, and most potential letter recipients are savvy enough to not want to alienate a significant portion of the public. Not only this, but if your letter is written with the intention of it being printed, there are a lot of people who can be positively influenced and informed.

Here are some pointers:

1. Focus on the issue at hand. If you are writing about factory farming, don't launch into a diatribe against animal testing. There are a lot of valid issues, but they should be kept separate in order to -
2. Keep things concise. You may need to write several drafts of your letter out in order to achieve this; conciseness lends a simple but direct tone to your letter instead of a rambling and unfocused one. This is especially important when one's goal is to have the letter printed: not only are succinct letters more likely to be chosen, but if a long-winded one does wind up being published, it's likely to be heavily edited, and the intended message could get lost or blurred. Also, precise sentences often have more of an emotional impact.

Here's an example on this last point: let's pretend that Acme Corporation wants to bulldoze over part of a forest in order to expand their corporate headquarters, and this is a letter intended to be read by executives. Which example reads better?

A)... "Not only is Acme going to displace many animals (not that you care, because even if you pretend that you do, your actions tell the truth), but also you'll be adding to the problem of overdevelopment and diminishing natural beauty in Palookaville, just like you did five years ago when you first moved here, (despite the protests from people who actually give a damn about this town and this planet we live on) and we're sick and tired of you only following corporate interests and ignoring the desires of the community at large."

B)... "I urge you to reconsider expanding Acme into the forest that is the home to many different species of animals, as well as countless varieties of trees, shrubs and plants. Once it has been destroyed, it's gone forever; the citizens of Palookaville who enjoy the natural beauty of our forest ask that Acme executives consider a more responsible, compassionate alternative that will benefit the entire community."

The message is essentially the same, but example B is stronger and more coherent because it's focused. It's more likely to be considered with the seriousness that the subject deserves.

3. Don't resort to name-calling. If you're writing a letter with the hope of getting it published, people who read it will have more acceptance of your message if you are viewed as a compassionate and reasonable person. The danger of verbally attacking those we oppose is that the sympathy pendulum might swing in their favor. This doesn't mean being timid or overly mawkish in your letters... it means making your point in a direct, assertive, but nonviolent way. If your letter is written for an individual to read, you will much more likely have that person's open-minded attention if they are not feeling on the defensive. Try to remember that no matter how rich, powerful or corrupt the recipient of your letter may be, this person is ultimately a human being, not an impenetrable fortress or institution. Having this in mind will not only empower you as an activist, it will strengthen and humanize your letter.

4. Be accurate. Know your facts and figures. This is especially important if this is a letter to a magazine or newspaper, because if your facts are inaccurate, there could be a rebutting letter which contradicts your information and undermines your entire message. Also, while facts and figures can certainly add heft to an argument, use them sparingly; too many statistics can make a letter seem cold, dull and mechanical. At the same time, a letter that contains too many emotional arguments can seem manipulative and lacking solidity. A good thing to strive for in a letter intended for publication is a healthy balance between reason and emotion that brings out the best qualities of both.

5. Define your goals. Is your intention to educate, inspire, or infuriate? What is the best way to get this response? In a larger sense, what is your goal for your letter? The more these questions have been answered before you write your letter, the likelier you are going to have a quality of clarity and purpose that runs through it. Your goals may change as you write the letter: don't be afraid to let this happen. This is one of the reasons why it's best to write a few drafts of your letter, so you can figure out the best way to communicate your thoughts. If, in the process of drafting out your letter, your focus or your tone begins to shift in unexpected ways, let it... be fluid and let the true nature of your letter emerge. After you've found it, then you can gently shape and mold your letter through editing to suit your purposes, in effect, striking a kind of balance between flexibility and discipline.

Now go out there and get riled up about something. Read the paper, watch the news, talk to friends, daydream, whatever...Just get those passionate letters out there, people!

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