Thursday, May 31, 2007

How to Write a Letter That No One Will Read

Today I received a letter from a concerned supporter in which she included a copy of a letter that she sent to a local politician. For all of her good intentions, I can guarantee that he will never see it. Why?

Is it because the politician is callous and uncaring? Is it because politicians do not read letters from constituents? Is it because politicians are evil doers and ignore letters from Christians?

In truth it is because the letter is so filled with Christian presuppositions, accusations, slander and self-righteousness that it will never make it past the first trash can before finding a permanent home there. Does that sound harsh? It isn't meant to be, but it saddens me that this politician (or his aids) could receive this letter and his impression of Christians will be influenced by what is written. The letter was meant to address a serious and important issue but it will likely never be taken seriously simply because of how it was written.

Over the years, I have seen a number of such examples of well-intentioned but ultimately useless correspondence. To that end, here are a few tips on how to write a letter that no one will read:

1. Quote the Bible. As much as I respect the Scriptures, using biblical passages in a letter to a politician will almost guarantee that it will not be taken seriously. You will appear to be a religious fanatic and not someone who has seriously thought about an issue.

2. Express your anger. Want your letter to be dismissed as hate mail? Use exclamation marks liberally, write in a preaching tone and include veiled threats of divine judgment.

3. Write to the wrong person. Not all letters of protest about federal policy should be written to the Prime Minister. Sometimes it is better to write to your local Member of Parliament or to a Minister. Find out who is the best person to receive a letter before you send it out.

4. Use a form letter or a petition. Personal, handwritten letters are better received than form letters and especially a petition. VOMC typically avoids making these available because of their relative ineffectiveness. The only person that they really benefit is the person writing is because of how easy they are to use. But is this really the point?

5. Write long letters. Enough said. Letters to politicians should be no more than a page long. Anything longer and you may be wasting your time and ink.

6. Cover many topics. Hey, while you have his or her attention, why not address a number of things that are bothering you? Instead, stick to one subject, write on it well and succinctly and then finish. Avoid the temptation to sneak other concerns in the back door.

7. Don't identify yourself. Keep your identity a secret. Surely this will add an air of mystery to your letter. Right...all the way to the paper shredder.

8. Refuse to use proper titles. Show disrespect for them by referring to them by their first name. Address your letter to "Dear Scumbag." This will really get their attention! In truth, remember that politicians, ambassadors and all other government leaders are entitled to the respect that you can give them even if they make you angry sometimes. If you want to be taken seriously, address them by their proper title and salutation.

In the next few weeks, we are going to be totally rewriting our advocacy pages on our website so as to assist you to write more effective letters. Watch for more details.


Paul B. said...

Good to see an article like this. We need to become much more active with regard to the persecuted church. It might help to have a database of contact info for the various nations.

Glenn Penner said...

There have been several attempts to do just this. The problem is always keeping it up-to-date. With so many countries, embassies, etc., it is extremely time-consuming and expensive to do so. Hence, we have opted to include links to the government of Canada, the US and the UN who keep this kind of info up-to-date as a matter of course. The links can be found at or

Joe Hendricks said...

Excellent! Heidi and I use the advice from Amnesty Int'l on letter writing when sending persecution-related letters for VOM or ICC. We only mention prayer as a footnote. Here's an example:

August 2, 2009
President Pervez Musharraf
Pakistan Secretariat

RE: Assault on Ayub Gill

Dear President Pervez Musharraf,

A Christian businessman, Ayub Gill, was shot eight times in the legs while driving through Lahore, Pakistan on July 7 after refusing to pay protection money to Suqlain Shah, a Muslim ex-policeman and another man, Sudia.

Immediately following the shooting, Ayub's brothers went to the police station to submit a report, but it was only accepted after five hours of delay and harassment, partly because Suqlain's brother is a constable in the police force. The police have taken no action to prosecute this case.

Pakistan is a signatory to the UN Declaration on Human Rights, in which Article 18 clearly states everyone’s right to freely share their faith:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change one’s religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Please immediately:

• Investigate the assault, bringing those responsible at the Mosques to justice
• Ensure the protection of all religions, including Christianity, from anti-religious violence

We write this as your fellow world citizens, as concerned business executives and also as Christians, praying for you and for Ayub Gill and his family.


Heidi Graf, President Joe Hendricks, Vice President
SoftwareRunners, Inc., PO Box 127, Vaughn WA 98394, USA

Copies To:
Ambassador Mahmud Ali Durrani
Minister for the Interior, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao