University of Hawaii Manoa

UH Mānoa Office of the Ombuds

Writing an Effective Petition or Appeal Letter

When To Write A Letter

Some university policies require writing a petition or an appeal letter. In addition, a letter is sometimes the most effective way to express what you want to say. When talking to someone, using e-mail, or filling out a form haven't worked or aren't practical, try writing a letter. If you have a choice don't use email - send a hard copy letter to the recipient.

Format

The elements of a typical business letter are the following:

  • date
  • name and address of person to whom you are writing
  • subject line
  • salutation
  • body of letter (the message)
  • complimentary closing
  • signature line (be sure to sign your letter)
  • name and contact information of sender
  • list of enclosure(s) (e.g., documentation, receipts, copies of earlier correspondence, etc.) and names of other persons receiving a copy of your letter.

Model Letter

The model letter below uses all the elements from the list above. The overall layout is a matter of personal choice, as is the decision to include a phone number and e-mail address. Note that the text of the model letter is exceptionally brief. Most appeal and request letters require a page or two.

January 3, 2006

Dr. Jonathan Doe
Department of _____
123 Aloha Hall
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Honolulu, HI 96822

Dear Dr. Doe:

I am writing to request a special examination in Course 101. On December 12, the date of the regularly scheduled exam, I have to appear in court as a witness. I enclose a copy of the court summons. A make-up exam in Course 101 has already been scheduled for January 6. Thank you for taking the time to consider my request. Please contact me by e-mail or phone if you have any questions.

Yours sincerely,

Lee A. Student
Student ID No. 123-45-6789
123 College Street
Honolulu, HI 96822
lstudent@hawaii.edu,
345-7890, fax 345-8901

encl.: Court summons
cc: Dr. Margaret Jones, Chair

Content & Tone

While the appearance of a letter is important, the content and tone will determine whether the letter really does its job. Review any relevant policy and pay particular attention to what the decision maker needs to know to consider an appeal or request. That information should be included in your letter. Leaving out essential information may delay a response or even result in your appeal or request being denied.

Opening Statement

The first sentence or two should state the purpose of the letter clearly:

"I am writing to appeal the disciplinary sanctions arising from my alleged involvement in the bonfire party that took place in the dorm courtyard on Friday, October 23 . . ."

"I am writing to request that the requirement of Course 123 for the X major be waived in view of my work on an independent research project (Course 499) directed by Professor Wilkinson last quarter . . ."

Be Factual

Include factual detail but avoid dramatizing the situation:

"In late October I was diagnosed with tonsillitis. I was sick for over a week and missed most of my mid-term exams."

(not "In late October after feeling really sick for a few days, I finally dragged myself to Student Health . . .")

Be Specific

If an appeal or request depends on particular facts which the decision maker will want to verify, be specific:

"I missed the mid-term on January 23, because I flew to Seattle on January 19 for my grandfather's funeral and returned on January 26. I enclose the airline receipt and can provide further corroboration if that would be helpful."

(not "I had to attend to family business out of town, so I missed the test . . .")

Documentation

Include any documentation required by policy or needed to substantiate your claims. This may include previous correspondence, receipts, draft copies, etc. If documentation is being sent by a third party, state that fact and give details:

"Dr. Atkinson, my physician, agreed last week to write to you about this matter . . ."

Stick To The Point

Don't clutter your letter with information or requests that have no essential connection to the main message.

(not "I am writing to request a meeting to discuss my term paper. I was born in Ohio and attended high school in the State of Washington, where my family moved when I was 6 . . .")

Don't Be Manipulative

Threatening, cajoling, begging, pleading, flattering, and making extravagant promises are manipulative and are usually ineffective. In fact, they may alienate the reader.

(not "It will kill my aging mother, who has been in poor health for years, to learn that you have barred me from enrolling for the next year. I have always admired you. If you give me a chance to enroll next quarter, I promise to work really hard, get rich, and donate a million dollars to the university . . .")

How To Talk About Feelings

It is tempting to overstate the case when something is important to us. When feelings are a legitimate part of a message, own the feeling and state it as a fact:

"When I saw my grade, I was very disappointed."

(not "When I learned you had given me an F in your class, I realized my life was ruined . . .")

Be Brief

It is more work to write a good short letter than a long one. Busy decision makers appreciate the extra effort.

Avoid Errors

A letter will make a better impression if it is typed, free of spelling and grammar mistakes, free of slang, and enclosed in the right size of envelope.

However, it is much more important to MEET DEADLINES and state the purpose clearly than to submit a letter which is completely error-free.

Keep Copies!!

Until - and possibly for some time after - a matter is settled, keep copies of all letters sent or received, as well as relevant documents, forms, and receipts.

(Adapted from "Writing an Effective Appeal or Request Letter," by Frances Bauer,
University of Western Ontario. Used with permission.)