Effective Letter Writing for Jeepers


Staff member
When an organized recreation group like Sharetrails (BlueRibbon Coalition) or a state association like the Calif. 4Wheel Drive Assoc. asks you to write a letter in support of a cause, YOUR voice becomes critical. YOUR letter makes a difference.
Johnson Valley is an example. When we were head to head with the Marines, with delivered 22,000 letters from jeepers and other off-roaders. It made a difference.

The first tip for writing letters to bureaucrats (including elected officials) is to GET THEIR ATTENTION UP FRONT -- make your point in the first sentence. If you place yourself in the shoes of an ostensibly busy government official, perhaps reading tons of mail every day, and nowadays maybe even spending hours reading emails, then you’ll soon realize that there just isn’t enough time in the day. If a letter doesn’t hone right in on the salient points, those points might be missed.

My suggestion is: start your letter with your primary reason for writing. For example, if you’re going to write to your elected official to say that you’re opposed to a piece of Wilderness legislation that is going to close a bunch of roads, then start out by saying so: “I am writing to let you know that I oppose (whatever) legislation.”

Immediately after stating your position, you may want to say something nice. A lot of times it really pays to compliment the efforts so far, if appropriate. It lets the reader know that you’re not just slamming his/her current work. It might read like this: “I appreciate the time and effort you and your staff have devoted to this issue, and I know you have given this (whatever) a lot of thought.” By doing this you acknowledge the fact that they’re not just sitting around playing cribbage. Then move on to some bullet point type facts.

Now you need to lay out your facts in simple form -- easy to read -- visually capturing. And believe me, as a (retired) 30 year bureaucrat, I can attest to the visual affect of bullet points in a letter.

* They stand out and get the point across quickly.

* They draw the eye to focus on them immediately as the salient points.

* They are easy to find again when the reader wants to refer back to your letter.

You can also use numbers if you want to show some sense of priority. But the point is, make your key messages stand out in the letter. Then after you bullet point your key facts, elaborate on each one of them in succeeding paragraphs. I like to discuss one point per paragraph just for simplicity sake; and for ease of finding the information later. Don’t over do it, but underlining and bolding also work to make a key point stand out.

Depending on the topic, you may have to establish your credentials at this point (or even earlier on if that works better). If you are an experienced in your sport, let the reader know your background. If you are a member of organizations like Blue Ribbon Coalition or Tread Lightly, and you think this might give you more credibility with the reader, then point it out.

The next tip is to close your letter with a summary of the key message you’ve presented, and of course your specific request for their action. Many bureaucrats will read the opening paragraph; the bullet points; and the closing sentence or two. This is called “speed reading” to some folks. It’s more like “convenience reading” to me. But this is what it might sound like: “Let me close by restating that I very much oppose (whatever) because I feel this legislation really denies the public the opportunity to enjoy our public lands; and I request that you vote against it when it comes before you.”

Lastly, it never hurts to leave the reader with a pleasant salutation and an offer to help. For example, you might say: “Thank you for your time. If I may be of some help to you on this issue, please let me know.”

Further, if you want to be included in future mailings, or be notified of any actions affecting your area of concern, include that comment.

YOUR voice can make a difference in our fights for access.