Section 508 Navigation
National Trails Training partnership Skip Navigation
HomeAbout usTrailsWhat's hotCalendarTrainingResources & libraryPartnersJoin usStore

Advocacy for trails and greenways
Hosted by

Write more effective letters to elected officials and politicians

Tips for stating your case and getting the attention of decision makers.

By Del Albright

How on earth do you capture the attention of a decision-maker so that your letter doesn't end up in the proverbial "stack" of unread letters? Perhaps it's not fair to say unread; let's say "sort of read, but unheeded." I'd like to offer suggestions from my own experience with letter writing.

"Place yourself in the shoes of a busy government official, reading tons of mail and dozens of emails every day."

The first tip for writing letters to bureaucrats and elected officials is to GET THEIR ATTENTION UP FRONT— make your point in the first sentence. If you place yourself in the shoes of a busy government official, reading tons of mail and dozens of emails every day, 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.

So 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 legislation that is going to close a bunch of trails, 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 compliment their 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.

Now you need to lay out your facts in simple form— easy to read— visually capturing. 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 the bullets with the key facts, elaborate on each one in succeeding paragraphs. I like to discuss one point per paragraph for simplicity's sake, and for ease of finding the information later. Don't overdo 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 or expertise.

The next tip is to close your letter with a summary of your key message, and your specific request for action. Busy people will read the opening paragraph, the bullets, and the closing sentence or two. Leave the reader with a clear message: "Let me close by restating that I very much support (whatever) policy that will help us improve trails on public lands, and I request that you vote for it when it comes before you."

Finally, leave the reader with a pleasant salutation and an offer to help. For example, "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.

To summarize the tips I've offered you:

  1. State your key message right up front, in the first sentence.
  2. Say something nice and acknowledge previous and ongoing efforts.
  3. Lay out your facts in bullet point form.
  4. Establish your credentials (if necessary).
  5. Close by summarizing your key message and requesting specific action.
  6. Include a pleasant salutation and a sincere offer to help.

Visit Del Albright's website for more on trail activism and access issues:

join american trails

arrow Related topics:

arrow More resources:

nttp logo

page footer

Contact us | Mission statement | Board of directors | Member organizations | Site map | Copyright | NRT | NTTP