What does it mean to advocate? Advocacy is when individuals or groups put their energy behind a cause and try to influence decision-makers or public opinion. Letter or essay writing is a very common form of advocacy. Amnesty International is an example of an organization built on letter-writing. Their first campaign was in 1973. Today, their Urgent Action Network is the world’s largest letter-writing program. To be effective, there are certain elements advocacy writing should include. Here’s what to keep in mind:
Clearly state what you want the reader to do
The most important part of your letter is “the ask.” Your letter must have a clear purpose that’s stated right at the beginning. Depending on the subject, you might know right away what you want. As an example, you may want a political representative to cast a certain vote and there’s nothing else you want from them now. With more complex issues, however, there might be more things the reader needs to do. Your letter’s subject might be broad – e.g. decrease air pollution – and without specific asks, you won’t be able to hold the reader accountable. Success can’t be measured without demands.
If you aren’t sure what the best course of action is, you’ll need to do some research before writing your letter. See what other similar-minded people are asking and if there’s a consensus. Once you have some action steps, put them in your letter and make it clear that you will be following up. By stating exactly what you want, the reader can’t claim ignorance as an excuse for inaction.
Address the letter to the appropriate person
If you’re writing to an individual or group that doesn’t have the power to do what the letter asks for, it’s a waste of time. If it isn’t immediately clear who you should write to, do some research online on which individuals or groups are best equipped to help you. As an example, if you’re asking for an investigation into a local police shooting, contact your city officials and any organizations in the area focusing on police brutality. Make sure any information you find is current. If you’re writing to an organization, make sure the person you address the letter to still works there.
With advocacy, the more people who know about an issue, the better. You will probably need at least two letter templates: one for people/groups who have the power to make changes and one for people/groups who can pressure those in power. Make sure each letter’s asks match up with how much power and influence the reader has.
Stick to the most important facts
Advocacy writing must include facts that support why an issue is worth paying attention to. You will most likely have a lot of facts to choose from. Which ones do you include? What makes a fact “important?” It depends. If you’re writing to the general public, readers might lack a lot of background information. Your purpose is twofold: provide basic context while stirring an emotional reaction. This encourages them to keep learning and become more involved.
If you’re writing to an individual or group with more knowledge, you won’t need to provide background. Choose the facts that are most relevant to your specific demands. No matter who you’re writing to, a real-life story that highlights the issue’s significance can be very effective. It makes the letter more urgent and personal. Never lie or exaggerate to try and make a situation appear more serious or different than what it is.
Write in a personable, polite style
The tone is important in advocacy writing. You want to sound credible, but also personable. Form letters are not as effective as personalized ones. Even if you use a template for the structure, make slight changes or additions for each individual or group you’re writing to. The letter needs to sound like it comes from a real person who truly cares about an issue.
Passion is important, but at the same time, keep your tone polite. Insulting those with the power to change things is a bad idea. It will not make them want to answer the letter’s call to action. If you are trying to convince the reader to change their mind about something (perhaps they’ve made statements or done things in the past you disagree with), be clear that you are disappointed and want better from them. This can be done without hurling vitriol.
Edit your letter
In advocacy writing, editing is the last step. Double-check for mechanical errors, making sure any names and places are spelled correctly and any dates are correct. It’s a good idea to have a fresh pair of eyes look over the letter, as well. While an advocacy letter or essay should not be reviewed like a novel for publication, using proper grammar and spelling does make you more credible to your reader. It’s true that it shouldn’t matter in the long run, but people might not take your letter seriously if something is misspelled. Once you’re finished editing, double-check the addresses or emails you’re sending to and that’s it!