This project will advance the following learning objectives:
- Communicate orally before an audience and in writing.
- Use formatting and content specifications to compose various professional documents such as business letters, memorandums, reports, and resumes.
- Organize information according to correspondence purpose and type.
- Create workplace documents that reveal a mastery of composition and design skills.
In business writing, a letter is a more formal way to correspond than an email. Business letters are used when official documentation is needed, or for outside individuals, from clients or customers to vendors. Like many genres of professional writing, business letters are so versatile that it would be impossible for one assignment to cover every iteration you may face. However, one really common type of letter is a complaint letter.
In this assignment, you will be writing as a private citizen, but that should not detract from the professionalism of this letter. You will find topic choices below; if none of the choices appeal to you, you are welcome to choose a different topic, but it must be a situation in which you were given a faulty product or bad service, and in which you could request a reasonable resolution. Complaint letters are written to receive compensation in some form (a refund, a replacement, etc.), not simply to be apologized to.
- Your FitBit broke after one week.
- Your Time Warner DVR has erased your entire collection twice in the past month.
- The sales associate at Best Buy who was helping you buy a computer abandoned you mid-sale to take a call from his girlfriend.
Complaint letters tend to follow a fairly set organizational strategy, though how that is divided into paragraphs can differ. As such, it is helpful to think about organization in terms of parts rather than paragraphs. The five parts standard to a complaint letter are as follows.
- Part 1 – An introduction that states, briefly, what product or service you are writing about and what specific compensation you are seeking. This typically is its own paragraph, and can be as short as two or three sentences.
- Part 2 – This part covers the longer narrative of your history with the product or service, including dates purchased and specific details about the problem. This section starts to build your argument for why you are not at fault for the problem, so any details about the care or maintenance you performed would be good to include here.
- This section can also include any previous attempts to contact the company about the problem. Again, the more details here the better; dates and times of calls, names of customer service agents or call reference numbers can be helpful here.
- Part 3 – While you have stated your request in the introduction, it needs to be reiterated here. This can be as simple as a sentence at the end of your Part 2 narrative, or if you have a specific reason for your request or multiple options that would be acceptable, you would want this section to be longer.
- Part 4 – You also want to say some positive things about the company. This might seem counter-intuitive; why compliment a company that you are complaining to? However, a company is less likely to grant your request if they believe they have already lost a customer. This section can talk about good experiences you have had in the past, or explain that you have always recommended their brand. This section can indicate that you look forward to more positive experiences if your current issue is resolved.
- Part 5 – Like the introduction, this section is typically quite short and is its own paragraph. You will want to thank the reader, give some sort of statement about your expectations for response. You will also want to include your email address and phone number, either in the last paragraph or following your signature.
The tone of complaint letters should not be negative; remember that the purpose of this type of letter is not simply to complain, but to receive compensation in some form. As such, the tone should be, at worst, neutral. You want to avoid bashing the company as a whole, and instead focus only on the specific issue you have had.
The letter should be single-spaced in 12-point, Times New Roman font with one-inch margins. The paragraphs should not be indented and there should be extra space between them. This formatting is standard for business letters.
When you are writing with bad news or with information that the recipient will likely try to disagree with, it is even more important to make sure your writing is error-free. Proofreading carefully and ensuring that your letter follows a standardized format is extremely important for this assignment.
Readings & Resources
- Write A Complaint Letter Like A Pro - by Ben Popken on the Consumerist blog
- Here's A Sample Complaint Letter For When You Don't Know What To Say - by Laura Northrup on the Consumerist blog
- Sample complaint letters - these are actual, successful complaint letters