Some Dos and Don’ts of Writing for Advocacy

You have some ideas about how the world — or at least some small piece of it — could be different. No? Are you kidding? You lived through 2020. How can you not? Fortunately, you enjoy picking up your pen, so you’re ahead of the game. You are well equipped to make your views known to people who make the decisions that affect our lives. Below are a few tips on how to do that effectively.


  • DO observe the Four C’s of Written Advocacy: be CLEAR, CONCISE, CONVERSATIONAL, and, of course, COMPELLING.

  • DON’T think your letter or postcard to an elected official won’t matter. Local officials generally read the mail they receive. Members of Congress (MOCs) get too much mail and email to read it all themselves, but they have staff to handle their incoming communications and record how every constituent who writes feels about every issue. The numbers get reported to the MOC, and sometimes staff will pull a few particularly well-written and/or well-argued letters for the MOC to read. MOCs often read op-eds in home district newspapers, as do many other constituents who might be inspired by your words to call or write to their elected officials, too.

  • DO recognize that your pen (or keyboard) has power. See above. One of the keys to effective advocacy is communicating a clear message. As a writer, you know how to do that. It’s your superpower! And you may not realize this, but you’re already an advocate. Yes, you. Have you ever successfully argued your way out of a parking ticket? Have you advocated for your child at school? Have you ever had to take on the healthcare system for, well, anything? Yes? That makes you an advocate. Now pick an issue and start writing.

  • DON’T get too discouraged when you’re writing for advocacy purposes. Think of it like anyother form of writing: you work hard on a piece, but instead of submitting it for literary publication, you send it out to change a piece of the world. There’s a lot of rejection, a lot of waiting for something to happen. But you can rack up small victories on the way to success. And when you finally win even a portion of the change you seek, knowing you’ve made a difference feels as good as your first published piece.

  • DO consider using your social media channels for advocacy. If you do, consider what you write there carefully, just as you would anything else you write. And...

  • DON’T get sarcastic or snide when you’re using your writing to advocate for a cause. The temptation can be strong. Very occasionally, it works. But far more often, it will hinder rather than help your cause.

And DON’T forget to proofread — even the tweets!



Sign up for Tracy's Writing for Advocacy Series, starting in June. In four related seminars, we’ll explore the components of different forms of political writing for both writers and everyday citizens looking to change their corners of the world. Follow the links below to register for the sessions. As always, scholarships are available.


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About the Author

Tracy Hahn-Burkett is a writer and public policy advocate. She co-writes a column on civics in Concord, N.H.’s newspaper of record, The Concord Monitor, contributes to the fiction-writing blog, Writer Unboxed, and has published dozens of essays, stories, articles and reviews in places like The Drum, WBUR’s Cognoscenti, The Washington Post’s On Parenting, and Adoptive Families magazine. She also founded and wrote for more than 11 years the adoption and parenting blog, Uncharted Parent. In the policy world, in early 2018, Tracy founded the Gun Violence Prevention Working Group as part of the all-volunteer, grassroots Kent Street Coalition, based in Concord, N.H., and is a leader within the overall group on democracy-related issues. Earlier in her career, Tracy served as a congressional staffer, a U.S. Department of Justice Attorney-Adviser under the auspices of the Departmental Attorney General’s Honors Program, and was Deputy and Acting Director of Public Policy for the civil rights and civil liberties nonprofit, People for the American Way. She also worked in post-Communist Czechoslovakia, teaching English and coordinating Western assistance programs for the Federal Assembly and the Czech National Council. She is a recipient of a grant from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, and is perpetually revising her first novel.

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by Tracy Hahn-Burkett