an effective (and yet humorous) complaint letter

I get a lot of satisfaction out of a well written letter, especially when I have to approach some official body about what I see as a mistake on their part.

Writing a complaint letter is an art. Just the right combination of clean cold fact, logical argument, and subtle snark. The only problem with writing such a letter is that you don’t get to see the reaction when the person on the other end reads it. The blanching, in severe cases, when somebody realizes that they’ve been scre


wing with a person who (1) knows how to defend themselves; (2) is willing to do so; and (3) has jumped right to the punch line.

Not that I write a lot of these letters, you understand. Maybe five in my life, total.

Almost as good is writing a funny complaint letter. A letter where there’s no quite so much at stake, where negotiation is still open and personality might actually get you somewhere.


Which brings me to RivkaT’s letter to a law journal.

I don’t know RivkaT, and I only meant to take a brief look at her LivfeJournal because she and I share some books on LibraryThing that nobody else has. And my reward for clicking through? The letter she wrote and (unfortunately) never sent.

Clearly RivkaT is a lawyer of some kind, and writes for professional journals. Someday maybe I will record some of my own experiences with academic journals during the seventeen years I was first a graduate student and then a professor. But for the moment, RivkaT’s letter gives you a vague idea of what it’s like to be able to write — really write — and not be allowed to do that. She wrote (in part):

[…] the reason you liked this article so much was that it didn’t read like all the others you get. Thus, your attempt to flatten the language so that it reads more like a law review article is a mistake. I’ll give you the elimination of all the contractions; I’ll even give you most of the extra “that”s and “which”s. But understand that, while I am not a beautiful and unique snowflake, I can be a more engaging writer than you’re allowing me to be.

And in conclusion: You are preventing me from writing fanfiction. Well, you and the three other deadlines for actual work, but I blame you anyway.

Woot, RivkaT.

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