Submitted by tsm1 on Wed, 05/28/2003 - 12:01

(aka: Getting the Attention of Bureaucrats and Politicians)

By Del Albright, BlueRibbon Ambassador

“You can’t convert a snake into a statesman by simply snipping his fangs; the instinct to bite will always be there!”

How on earth do you capture the attention of a bureaucrat so that your 4x4 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’ve been writing letters to bureaucrats (and happen to have been one), so I’d like to offer some advice. Oh, you ask, what the heck is with the snake business at the start? Well, that’s a phrase I coined after watching some of our politicians in action. Mostly it’s there to get your attention so you’ll read this article!

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.

Here is a sample letter:

The Honorable
Washington DC 00000

Dear Congressperson ______:

I am writing to let you know that I am opposed to any legislation that might close roads in the southern California desert. I appreciate the efforts of you and your staff thus far with all the legislation that has come before you. I know you are working hard to keep the interests of the public first in your mind. However there are too many bills before you now that are threatening to take away our rights to use public land.

As I see it, there are three important points that you should consider:

1. The opportunity for motorized recreation has been severely limited by previous legislation; nearly ____ miles of roads have already been closed;

2. The number of back country recreationists and off road enthusiasts is growing every day; nearly a __% increase in our local club alone.

3. Many of the roads in the desert have been there since the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and are the only realistic way to see the many historic and cultural resources in the back country.

I have been exploring the back country for over thirty years. I have yet to place a tire where it didn’t belong. I want my children to enjoy the same opportunities to explore the desert and its vast expanses of scenic wonder -- by vehicle. Most of us who adventure in the back country are responsible recreationists and deserve the right to continue our sport.

Let me close by saying again that I am opposed to any legislation that might close any more roads in the southern California desert. I request that you vote against any such legislation. I would also like to be included on your mailing list and notified of any actions that affect this area.

If I may be of any help, or provide you with any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for your time.


and your phone number, email address, and address.


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.