Write a letter to a politician

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Never underestimate the power of an old-fashioned letter. A letter shows that you’ve put time, planning and consideration into contacting someone. It can make a more lasting impression than an email, and will probably make you structure your thoughts so the end result has more impact.

Prepare yourself

Even when it’s on paper, a long and incoherent rant isn’t going to get much response. Shape your passion into a clear sequence of ideas and you’ll get a lot further.

Start your letter writing as you would any other assignment and do your research. Find out as much as you can on the issue before you put down any words.

Hunt down the facts

Statistics and facts are a favourite with politicians, who use them frequently in their own speeches. But make sure that you quote your source (including a link if possible) and keep them relevant to the claims that you’re making. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is a good place to start, but also look at the reports and policies that the government itself produces.

Show off your supporters

Demonstrate that you know your friends and enemies by finding out who publically supports your position and who doesn’t. If you have powerful supporters, name-check them in the letter. If there’s a well-known argument against your position, acknowledge that it exists but put forward your counter-argument. You have to be brief, of course, but it’s worth looking for a good quote from a media interview or speech.

Compare yourself

Find out what’s happening in other areas of Victoria, interstate and internationally to do with your cause. This is part of what government calls researching "Best Practice" examples to support your position. By using real examples, you could show that the government is doing some things right, but needs to catch up in other areas.

Use the lingo

Research the language and catchphrases used in current government policies. It helps if you can link your argument to current Government ‘strategies’, ‘priorities’ or ‘programs’. Look for these in publications from government websites.

Get the right address

Just like emailing or making a meeting, it’s really important that you direct your request to the right person. It could be the member that represents you in your electorate or the Minister or Shadow Minister who has responsibility for your issue. Bear in mind that most Ministers are incredibly busy, so it might take some time before you get a response.

Ten tips for your letter

1.    Use a standard letter layout for formal correspondence

2.    Try to keep the letter to one page (be brief and to the point) 

3.    Think Quality NOT Quantity

4.    Focus on one issue per letter and don’t get sucked into venting all your issues at once

5.    Be positive, formal and polite – abuse really doesn’t help

6.    Don't plagiarise – you never know what the politician has already read, so if you copy words or language directly from someone else you’ll look fairly silly

7.    Use your research to back up your statements and really bring the point home

8.    Ask some questions in your letter so they know you’re expecting a specific response

9.    Be clear about what you expect them to do as a result of the letter

10.  Don’t forget to include your contact details, and sign it personally

Don’t be shy – follow up

Be reasonable if you’re setting a date by which you’d like a response and allow at least a month. If you haven't had a response after a month or so, call or email as a follow up, making reference to the date and topic of your letter. You could even write a follow up letter.

Finish with a thank you

If you do get a response, thank the politician for taking the time to get back to you. This establishes a good relationship that you can use for any future activities.

Links

Australian Bureau of Statistics - Data on the Australian population on a wide range of social and economic matters.