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How to Write a Letter of Complaint

Practice in Brainstorming

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Here's a project that will introduce you to brainstorming and give you practice in group writing. You will join with three or four other writers to compose a letter of complaint.

1) Consider Different Topics

The best topic for this assignment will be one that you and the other members of your group truly care about. You may write to the dining hall supervisor to complain about the quality of the food, to an instructor to complain about his or her grading policies, to the governor to complain about cuts to the education budget--whatever subject the members of your group find interesting and worthwhile.

Begin by suggesting topics, and ask one member of the group to write them down as they are given. Don't stop at this point to discuss or evaluate the topics: simply prepare a long list of possibilities.

2) Choose a Topic and Brainstorm

Once you have filled a page with topics, you can decide among yourselves which one you would like to write about. Then discuss the points that you think should be raised in the letter.

Again, have one member of the group keep track of these suggestions. Your letter will need to explain the problem clearly and show why your complaint should be taken seriously.

At this stage, you may discover that you need to gather additional information to develop your ideas effectively. If so, ask one or two members of the group to conduct some basic research and bring their findings back to the group.

3) Draft and Revise a Letter

After collecting sufficient material for your letter of complaint, elect one member to compose a rough draft. When this has been completed, the draft should be read aloud so that all members of the group can recommend ways to improve it through revision. Each group member should have the opportunity to revise the letter according to the suggestions made by the others.

To guide your revision, you may want to study the structure of the sample complaint letter that follows. Notice that the letter has three distinct parts:

  • An introduction that clearly identifies the subject of the complaint.

  • A body paragraph that (a) clearly and specifically explains the nature of the complaint, and (b) provides the reader with all of the information needed to provide an appropriate response.

  • A conclusion that clearly states what actions are needed to remedy the problem.
Annie Jolly
110-C Woodhouse Lane
Savannah, Georgia 31419
November 1, 2007

Mr. Frederick Rozco, President
Rozco Corporation
14641 Peachtree Boulevard
Atlanta, Georgia 303030

Dear Mr. Rozco:

On October 15, 2007, in response to a special television offer, I ordered a Tressel Toaster from your company. The product arrived in the mail, apparently undamaged, on October 22. However, when I tried to operate the Tressel Toaster that same evening, I was distressed to find that it did not fulfill your claim to provide "fast, safe, professional hair-styling." Instead, it severely damaged my hair.

After following the instructions to "set up the toaster away from other appliances on a dry counter" in my bathroom, I inserted the steel comb and waited 60 seconds. Then I removed the comb from the toaster and, following the instructions for a "Venusian Curl," ran the hot comb through my hair. After just a few seconds, however, I smelled burning hair, and so I immediately placed the comb back into the toaster. When I did this, sparks flew from the outlet. I reached to unplug the toaster, but I was too late: a fuse had already blown out. A few minutes later, after replacing the fuse, I looked in the mirror and saw that my hair had been scorched in several spots.

I am returning the Tressel Toaster (along with the unopened bottle of Un-Do Shampoo), and I expect a full refund of $39.95, plus $5.90 for shipping costs. In addition, I am enclosing a receipt for the wig I purchased and will have to wear until the damaged hair grows out. Please send me a check for $303.67 to cover the refund for the Tressel Toaster and the cost of the wig.


Sincerely,

Annie Jolly

Notice how the writer has delivered her complaint with facts rather than emotions. The letter is firm and direct but also respectful and polite.

4) Revise, Edit, and Proofread Your Letter

Invite one member of your group to read aloud your letter of complaint and respond to it as if he or she had just received it in the mail. Does the complaint sound valid and worth taking seriously? If so, ask the members of the group to revise, edit, and proofread the letter one final time, using the following checklist as a guide:

  • Does your letter follow the standard format shown in the example above?

  • Does your letter consist of an introduction, a body paragraph, and a conclusion?

  • Does your introductory paragraph clearly identify what you are complaining about?

  • Does your body paragraph clearly and specifically explain the nature of the complaint?

  • In the body paragraph, have you provided the reader with all of the information needed if he or she is to respond effectively to your complaint?

  • Have you conveyed your complaint calmly and clearly, relying on facts rather than emotions?

  • Have you clearly organized the information in your body paragraph so that one sentence leads logically to the next?

  • In your conclusion, have you clearly stated what action(s) you want your reader to take?

  • Have you proofread the letter carefully?

Next: How Not to Write a Letter of Complaint >

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