How to Write Petitions That Win
These key tips are an excerpt from our full Activist University training, which you can watch for FREE here!
Now that you’ve defined the goal behind your petition, written your eye-catching title and picked the correct decision-maker to go after, it’s time to write the body text for your petition! We sometimes call this the “petition description” or “petition letter.”
There are eight key steps you should follow when writing up your petition text. The basic idea is that you want to describe why your petition is important, using evocative, clear language that provides enough detail to make your reader emotionally invested. You want to take your reader from feeling curious → to concerned → to inspired by your petition and your proposed solution for this issue → to then finally signing your petition!
Here’s how to do it:
1. Write a clear opening statement (“elevator pitch”)
If you were in an elevator with someone for only 30 seconds and wanted to convince them of the importance of your cause, what would you say? This is your “elevator pitch,” and it should only be 1-2 sentences long.
Your opening statement should quickly answer the following questions:
- What is the problem?
- What is the solution?
- What is the theory of change? (How will your petition help?)
You might want to come back and revisit this statement after drafting the rest of your description. Writing the rest of the text will help clarify for you what it is you’re trying to say. Then, you’ll be able to concisely summarize your issue and its importance quickly!
Here’s an example from an actual petition that won:
An individual in Ocala [Florida] has decided his view of what is “appropriate” should lead to the censorship of two beneficial and female-empowered shows. The March 18th benefit performance of The Vagina Monologues for PACE Center for Girls and the March 26th Marion at Midnight show, which is currently Ocala’s go-to Burlesque champion, are in danger of being shut down. This cannot be tolerated!
2. Explain the situation fully
Not everyone who sees your petition will be from your town, or know your family. There may be information “gaps” that you need to fill for your reader. Try explaining the topic as though you are talking to a friend’s child; assume that none of your readers will know anything about your issue, and then explain it to them simply and clearly.
3. Use your personal story
Tell your audience what your connection is to this issue, and what brought you to the cause. Why do you care, and why are you writing this petition? This will help people feel emotionally invested in your cause as well. You can read more about telling a story in your petition here!
4. Add one or two key details
Are there any relevant facts or key statistics related to your cause? If so, you might want to highlight just a few that are truly meaningful and related to the problem or solution you’re discussing.
For example, you might want to mention if your loved one has been a public school teacher for 40 years and dutiful taxpayer, but is now being denied access to crucial medical marijuana. Or maybe it’s that this situation is related to a larger injustice, because 70% of people who urgently need access to medical marijuana are being told “no.” In both situations, having these extra key details make the story more compelling, and the need to sign more powerful. But keep it brief and relevant – no need to overwhelm folks with a lot of peripheral data.
5. Say what you want to happen
You started this petition because you wanted to call attention to an injustice, and you wanted something to happen to correct that injustice. So what is it that needs to happen now? Does an official need to be trained on gender sensitivity? A political activist need to be released from wrongful imprisonment? Maybe an animal need to be moved to a sanctuary? Or do you want a law to be passed? All of these are options — but the sky’s the limit! Just say what it is that you want, so people who sign the petition know what it is they’re really fighting for.
6. Apply strong, active words
Rather than write something that’s hesitant, shy, or passive, write something rousing. This is your moment to stir up action and gain support! So remember to use strong verbs and an active, enthusiastic voice.
7. Break up long text
Make sure your petition is easy on your readers’ eyes! Keep paragraphs short and sweet. Bold key text. You may even want to use bullet points to make it easier for your audience to digest.
Re-read what you’ve written or ask a friend to look it over for you. This may sound like a skip-able step, but it’s actually the most important one! When we write petitions about topics we care about, it’s easy to forget what it will look like to strangers who will read it. So, review what you’ve written with fresh eyes. Make sure it’s easy to read, easy to understand, and doesn’t have any typos.
Now you should be all set to go forth and petition! Get out there and make a difference – you have the power and the tools. Don’t forget – you can also watch the full recording of the Activist University training here. You’ll be glad you did!