How do I write a letter of appeal?

With a little practice: Letters of appeal can be written quite easily and quickly. There are a few guidelines that should be adhered to:

  1. Be polite – So that your letter doesn’t go straight to the bin. The goal is to help a person in need, not to vent your anger.
  2. Be concise – Long letters will often not be handled let alone translated. One page should be the maximum.
  3. Only write on the topic – And avoid attacks on an ideological level. Your letter is more likely to make a difference if the recipient feels that you do not reject the government in question on ideological grounds. Make it clear that you are only concerned for the political prisoner and the internationally recognised standards of rights. You can find the Universal Declaration of Human Rights here.
  4. Emphasise the fact that you are not against the country as such – Rather try to speak to the person’s sense of pride and self-worth. Write respectfully and mention that the country or the culture is generally known, for example, for its tolerance.
  5. Say who you are – Anonymous letters have no effect. Do you have an academic title or do you have a position that will lend more weight to your statement? Mention it either in the header or the text itself.
  6. Individual letters – Are much more effective than copies of form letters. So if you are using one of the standardised letters on our homepage copy it into your writing programme and vary it a little if possible. The more individual letters reach a body, the greater is the impression that many different people are interested in the matter independently of one another.
  7. Do you have a special interest? – Or a special connection with the country in question? For example, have you visited it as a tourist? Do mention it as the fear of a decline in tourism has repeatedly proven to be an effective weapon for human rights.
  8. Present the case concisely – It is very likely that the recipient will not be directly responsible for the imprisonment of the prisoner in question. It is even very likely that the reader will not be aware of the case. Be aware of the fact that the recipient may even be open to a discussion of the fate of the political prisoner. Put yourself in the shoes of the reader. Therefore, also refrain from any sarcasm.
  9. Write in English – Or depending on the recipient in French or another world language. If you have your letter translated into a little known foreign language, the recipient will suppose that you are a supporter of an opposing political party.
  10. Send a copy – Of your letter with a short cover letter to the embassy of the country in question. You can enhance the effectiveness of your letter by sending it to more than one recipient. You may even make this known (recipient: …)
  11. Repeat the effort – Especially in the case of long-term prisoners it is helpful to repeat the enquiry. Even if you should not get an answer – the recipient will be very aware whether the interest in the prisoner fades or not.
  12. In the case of recipients in foreign countries – It is especially effective if you include a newspaper article to show how well known the subject is to the public. But: Do not send interviews with human rights activists to their home countries as you will harm them significantly.
  13. Writing of letters of appeal can be fun – Think of the person you are helping. Think of the enormous number of prisoners that have been saved from abuse or were released early. Have fun writing!
  14. Examples and cases can be found under “appeals”.

How do I write a letter to the editor?

Letters to the editor are an effective tool of public relations that should not be underestimated. Many people read them with interest because usually things are discussed in a more critical way than in any other articles. However, only about the first ten percent of all written letters may be accepted by the press, and with a little luck it could be the that first or second letter that ends up being printed – particularly in regional newspapers. In that case, one should not give up hope. It also depends on many factors, for example how interesting the occasion is. In principle one should imagine being in the newsagents and journalists shoes on busy assignments and take their schedules into consideration.

a. current and important

Newspapers are a medium for current affairs. So do not take too much time before submitting your opinion. The occasion should be important enough to positively stand out against other letters.

If possible please refer to an article from the newspaper. List the date, the headline, the page number and the responsible department. The envelope should be addressed with “letter to the editor”.

b. concise and clear

The editors want as many stories as possible to be printed. The size of your letter should not exceed 500 words or even contain less. However, the maximum length of a contribution varies significantly from newspaper to newspaper. It should also be kept in relation to previous printed articles. The editor reserves the right to shorten the text to a manageable size (for example in setting) as long as this does not affect the factual storyline.

Only submit typed letters. No one would like to decipher hand-written letters. Faxes may reach their destination in poor quality and are to be avoided. Emails are a possibility if the editorial department has an email address.

c. factual

The editor acts as a moderator. Any exaggerated formulation written in anger will have little chance of being printed. Express yourself clearly and be accurate, harsh words are no substitute for conclusive arguments. The contributions should make the point of argument clear, and not turn into a scientific debate on the subject. Generally speaking letters are most likely to be printed, if they bring light to a subject from an innovative perspective, which provides good suggestions and not only criticism.

Apart from that the structure should be the same as for press briefings: Begin your text with the most important things. In addition to these facts, figures, dates and comparisons are welcome.

The author of a letter to the press is legally responsible for it. The legal responsibility for publishing, however, lies with the newspaper. If there is a case of a legal dispute about the contents that they published, they therefore have to check these themselves. Since this exceeds expectation of editorial departments the publication of letters to the editor concerning legal disputes are usually avoided.

d. authentic

Anonymous letters will not be published. The author of a letter should state his name and address. Do not use a pseudonym or fake address. State your phone number so that you can be easily reached if necessary and since this makes it easier to trace the authenticity of a letter. Do not call (repeatedly) to ask whether your letter is being printed. The letter should be signed because this is necessary in order for it to become a document that can be used in the newspaper.

Newspaper editors are looking for opinions of single readers or representatives of organisations. Resolutions, appeals or open letters that have been signed by groups but also circular letters and copies will normally not be included.

e. our offer – your source

React to current reports in the press and use our information, take up human rights violations and stimulate new reports. Please send us the newspaper articles when your report is published. You are welcome to use our press briefings, articles from our journals and passages from our documentaries as long as you quote the source.

f. summary

  • Reference a current report of the newspaper stating the issue, title, page and editor
  • Be sententious, to the point, factual and use original facts & figures
  • Name, address, telephone number, signature, “letter to the editor” on the envelope
  • Only typed manuscripts
  • Please send us a copy or your letter