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Continuing to read advice about/think about complaint letters

by Steve Krause on September 30th, 2014

Don’t forget to wrap up peer review on the email project by the end of the day Wednesday, and also don’t forget the final version will be due to me by the end of the day on Friday. This assignment is a little different in that you will actually send me the emails (and remember that the subject line and a proper email address matter as part of this assignment!) to my email at and you will post only a link to your memo to the proper dropbox on emuonline.

But on with the complaint letters. Here are a couple of more pieces of advice on writing effective complaint letters:

I think both of these are pretty good and they both go beyond an issue of “formatting” and into what I can only describe as the real purpose of this class, to learn more about thinking rhetorically about how we write in professional settings. What do you think I mean when I say that?

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  1. Chelsea Idzior permalink

    I loved the Grammar Girl article, there were some great tips. I wished I would have read it before I made a not-so-friendly call to Comcast today. It is definitely true that the nicer and calmer you are, the more likely it is your problem is going to be fixed. I started off the conversation with, “We have a big problem and it needs to be fixed. My bill was doubled and I’m not paying ANY of it!” Needless to say, not much was resolved.

    • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

      I’m sorry to hear about your experience with Comcast. Perhaps you could still try calling or writing a letter in a few days (once both parties have calmed down a little).

      • Chelsea Idzior permalink

        I think I might try writing a letter and modeling the approach mentioned in the readings. It sounds like a better approach and might get me somewhere!

        • Latasha Davis permalink

          I will too! I sometime think that arguing will just make them frustrated and eventually they will give me what I want. Not going to work with Comcast or any types of business. I learned a lot from the complaint article and now have new ways to get my opinion across.

    • Nijea Wilson permalink

      I’ve had soo many different issues with comcast it makes no sense. I always start off my conversations with them with being overly nice which usually gets my questions and concerns taken care of. However I at times get that one person that wants to be difficult and I usually just say I want to talk to his manager and explain to them in a nice way that I will be switching my services over to AT&T and then they’ll end up solving my issue.

  2. Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

    Both articles do focus a little more on the rhetorical process of composing a complaint letter. The most important thing discussed in the Colorado University Writing Center resource seemed to be a focused objective and scope. A writer needs to know who they’re writing to, and why. This is the only way he or she can tailor their letter to their specific purpose.

    The Grammar Girl article addresses the reasons why it is best to be pleasant and focus on negotiation rather than demands. In terms of rhetoric, this is a choice that will help writers better influence the reader of their letter.

    I think it is good that this article points out some of these finer points. They seem almost common sense, but as we learned through last week’s discussions, we can’t take common sense information for granted. It is incredibly important that writers think rhetorically when composing a message–especially if they hope to influence someone’s thoughts or actions.

    • LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

      It’s important to be cordial with complaints. As someone who has been in customer service for 14 years, I can say confidently that you don’t get too far by being rude.

      Also, I responded to consumer complaints for a telecommunication company for a couple of years, and I have seen all kinds. I was much more willing to work with people who knew how to view the person at the other end of the complaint as just that, a person.

    • Latasha Davis permalink

      I agree that common sense is important. To make a complaint rhetorically correct following the rules of writing can be very important. The reader can get there message across through politely yet with a persuasive intent.

  3. Latasha Davis permalink

    First off, I would like to say that the McDonald’s Article about Stereotype and gender classification was pretty interesting. At first I though, its in our nature to say girl or boy toy. Then as I read the article I saw why it could be offensive. In my opinion I think that they shouldn’t really have reacted the way they did, but that’s just my opinion. I do however feel like refusing to exchange the toy after the child didn’t want the one they thought they should have was ridiculous. The parent did have a valid complaint and you never know what a child likes so Boy or Girl toy should be taken out. I do agree with that.
    The article on How to write a complaint letter is very useful. It has great ways to target a complaint letter. I like the fact that it starts with Negotiation. You first have to look at the initiative problem and try not to attack and be on the defense side when you know you want to be. Keeping it short is also very important. You need to explain using specific points without using ” objective criteria”. I think that this article will be very helpful as a resource tool when writing my compliant letter. I’m very excited as I already have started one.
    When you ask, what you mean about thinking rhetorically about how we write in a professional setting, I think you means that maybe we need to learn how to using different writing styles that fit each particular subject. To get your point across you need to address it in a way that targets that critical to that given argument. Its the way we display the message and how that get the point across.

  4. Jessica Kane permalink

    I think both of these are pretty good and they both go beyond an issue of “formatting” and into what I can only describe as the real purpose of this class, to learn more about thinking rhetorically about how we write in professional settings. What do you think I mean when I say that?

    I think it means thinking past the issue you are attempting to resolve. By connecting to a person or group by trying to understand how you are coming across, you create a presence and reputation that can either work for or against you. The language you use is crucial to this, even more so if you have never met someone face to face.

    • melanie waller permalink

      I agree with you on this. When we get bad service, rude employees or equipment failures we tend to get really, really, mad and want to fix the problem on the spot. Sometimes we can’t. This is when we need to take a deep breath, sleep on it and step back from the situation and then sit down and write a letter of complaint. It may take awhile to get the paper exactly the way we want it, but sooner or later we will come up with a good complaint

  5. Chelsea Idzior permalink

    To answer Professor Krause’s above question–I think he means to think not just about the structure in which we write but how the content changes based on the audience. You are going to write a different way in an email to a friend than an email to a professor. The format may be similar, but the tone and content choices will be much different. Same goes for say a personal statement as opposed to an essay. They are going to be generally formatted the same (indented paragraphs, somewhat of an introduction and conclusion), but the tone and purpose are entirely different.

    • Steve Krause permalink

      Pretty much, and that is what the study of rhetoric is about.

  6. Jessica Kane permalink

    The format may be similar, but the tone and content choices will be much different.

    I like the way you phrased this and absolutely agree.

  7. LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

    The advice from the Colorado State Writing Studio was a bit…extensive. There was just so much to read! Too many links to too many topics! I’m sure this would be helpful if someone had the time to do some serious research, but I much prefer the straight-to-the-point Grammar Girl.

    GG’s advice was thorough, but not too hard to swallow.

  8. Steve Krause permalink

    I think I see what LeeAnne is talking about. I am trying to/wanting to link specifically to the section of the Writing@CSU page about complaint letters here:

    But for whatever reason, that link isn’t working– that is, it takes you to the whole site. That is too much to read. So if you aren’t seeing something that is specifically about complaint letters, try doing a search (the top box, the one in the sort of mustard-colored banner) for “complaint letters” and you’ll get there. Again, good advice, and I think it’s useful to “triangulate” the advice from different sources, too.

  9. Ashleigh Swinehart permalink

    The Grammar Girl article was quite amusing, yet resourceful. It is true, though – if you want to have a situation rectified properly and not make enemies, you need to remain calm when writing/calling about a complaint you have with a particular company’s product(s) or services or you will get absolutely nowhere.

    • Nijea Wilson permalink

      I absolutely agree! They are so used to irate customers that they probably just ignore them all. If you call and politely communicate it always gets you headed in the right direction to talk to the appropriate people.

  10. melanie waller permalink

    the grammar girl reading was really good. I needed a chuckle. I understand that we want results now, but sometimes it is better to cool off and then reassess the situation and reason on how to deal with it better.

  11. Carly permalink

    “If you make them feel like helping you is helping the company they will probably do all they can for you. ” (Grammar Girl)

    I feel like if you had to nail down on what gets results in a complaint letter, it’s this. If I’m unsatisfied with something, I always try to take an inner perspective on the situation, and ask, “what would I want to hear?” or “what phrasing would make me react the best in the perspective of whoever is reading this?” You really have to treat the reader like a human too. They probably read complaints all day long, so you want yours to be the most pleasant it can be, in my opinion.

    This makes me recall your wife’s letter, Professor Krause. I thought she was brilliant for looking into the customer service details written by the person she was emailing, and picking out what applied. It put the person on the other line in a position to either help her, or look like an ass (excuse my language) for going back on his word. But her wording was suggestive that he would be doing a service to his company by following his own guidelines as it applied to her circumstance. I loved it!

    The Colorado State guide was extensive to say the least! Lots of good pointers and examples for every circumstance. I’ll be making use of this in my complaint letter for certain.

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