How to Write an Effective Online Petition
The Internet has developed into a great platform to share ideas, learn about, and rally around causes. When people used to write petitions, they would travel door to door, through parks, and table in public, to get petitions signed. Now, however, the Internet has eliminated much of that time and effort.
The result is two-fold; it’s much easier to create and spread awareness about issues by creating petitions, however, because of the relative ease, there are many more online petitions circulating the web that viewers have to sort through. Thus, in order to gain traction and awareness about a problem, simply creating a petition has no guarantee for positive results. It’s becoming increasingly important to create a well written, thought out, and accessible petition, in order to be successful.
These instructions provide a step-by-step process which you can think about, conceptualize, and finally, compose an effective petition.
What do you want to change?
Behind every successful petition there is a great idea. Start by identifying what it is that you wish was different and set yourself a clear and achievable goal. A successful online petition can be a goal in and of itself. Or, alternatively, it can be a crucial step towards your bigger goal or project.
Decide who you are writing TO
Before you begin thinking about which people you want to sign your petition, you must determine whose opinions you are ultimately trying to change. Often petitions are directed toward governmental organizations, however they can be delivered to private entities as well. Further, if the issue is related to the environment, education, etc., it’s important to know what sector you are appealing to, as it will dictate the tone and information provided.
This scope will ultimately provide you with the content of the petition. What you are trying to change is chiefly dependent on who you are writing to, if they have the capability to change it, and what they will be the most willing to change. If the subjects of the petition are not considered, the number of signatures will have no effect.
Decide who you are writing FOR
Secondly, you must consider whom you are writing on behalf of. Petitions must be well written and well researched, but ultimately, if you don’t collect signatures, little change will come as a result. For instance, if you are writing to a more educated audience, you may frame the argument differently, and use higher-level vocabulary. However, if you are appealing to people with low levels of education, it’s important to realize that to make the content of the petition accessible to everyone.
Also, remember that everyone reading this petition is an individual person – they will have families, jobs, pets, children, etc. Keep this in mind as you think through what they want to hear. They don’t want to read something that is written seemingly only for a mass group of people.
Research the topic you’re writing about
Make sure you do a fair amount of research before drafting your petition. Although issues that you want to bring up may seem inherent or obvious, be sure that what you are claiming and implying is backed with research. The last thing you want is for there to be an inaccuracy or inconsistency in the petition, as it will jeopardize the validity of the entire document.
Create an outline of the petition
Successful petitions are short, accurate, concise, and convincing. Before you begin writing, it’s important to outline the fundamental issues on what the petition is being written about. Don’t beat around the bush; the first paragraph of the petition should get straight to the point. While there is a place and time for more creative and thematic writing, a petition is not the place. There are a number of formulas that can be considered when writing a petition, but a strong place to start is with an accurate and researched description of the issue.
Following this opening statement or paragraph, engage the reader in how they can have a chance to be a part of assisting with the productive change. Be careful with language, here. You don’t want to guilt them, force them, or make them feel badly about not contributing in the past. Rather, you want to be positive in offering them a chance to make a change in the future.
Make the timeline very clear for the reader. Is this issue urgent? When will the desired changes take effect? When do you need the signatures by? You want to indicate to the reader that there is a greater plan beyond just the initial signing of this petition. Ensure that they feel they will be part of a longer-lasting movement.
Now it’s time to ask them to sign. This must come in the form of a question – not a demand, plea, or guilt-trip. The reader will, if you present the argument strongly, be inclined to sign once they read it. Being too aggressive encouraging them to sign will only detract from the ultimate effect.
Finally, if there are a few pieces of critical information, placing them at the end can be an effective way to display the research done, and the true importance of the petition. Although this last paragraph should be succinct, including some closing information about the importance of the issue can be an effective way for people to sign if they have any uncertainty.
Write the prose
Once you have clearly outlined the paragraphs and their purposes in the petition, it’s time to begin drafting. If there is one word to keep in mind while writing, it is “concise.” Making petitions too long will simply lose the interests of most readers. Three or four short paragraphs should be enough to get your point across.
Edit for errors and excess content
Chances are, the first time you draft your petition, and there will be a lot of fluff to get rid of. Aside for editing for grammatical errors, editing is also a time to trim the excess information and wordiness that may be there. A general rule of thumb is that if you’re not sure if it’s necessary, it’s probably not necessary. Take it out.
Translate/Have it Translated to different languages
Depending on where you live, and whom the petition is targeting, this is a crucial step. For example, if you live in Southern California, Texas, Florida, etc., having your petition translated and accessible in Spanish is nearly as important as having it written in English. Not only will this make it more widely accessible, but it will also build a bigger and stronger community. Other languages may make sense too, depending on where you are located. The more languages, the better, as it will only include more potential signees.
Choose an Image/Target
Digital media has become a centerpiece of campaigning. A strong image can truly make or break an opportunity to draw people in. Chances of people viewing your work increase exponentially with a high-quality image, and getting them to simply sit down and read your petition is more than half the battle.
All petitions must have a target. This is often indicated with the number of signatures. You must include this target number in the petition somewhere because if you don’t have a set number, it can come across as under thought. A great place, if it fits, to include this information is somewhere in the chosen image. This is the marketing side of online petitions – a reality, regardless of your background, that you will have to face.
Create a catchy memorable title
Like the image, choosing a good title can make or break your campaign. Even if your petition is one of the most remarkable pieces of literature, without a strong title, it can loose most of its impact.
The title should be concise, informative, and catchy. If any part of your petition will be remembered long-term, it is going to be the title. It should also be something that you could see being used in the future, if the campaign were to pick up steam. It should be a phrase that people will be able to rally around, get excited about, and want to share with others.
Make a relevant and memorable URL
This should be a simple step, and should be the same name as the title of your petition. However, if the title is taken, or too long, you’ll want to make a shorter URL. This is important because if it is mentioned in a text message, or over the radio, you want it to be something people can easily remember, so when they head home, they can quickly type it in and reach your petition.
Spread the Word
The next step, once all the above are completed, is to spread the word, promote your cause and the petition, and let people know about the changes you are trying to make.
Petitions are a strong way to make positive changes in the world, and simultaneously bring awareness to important issues. However, if they are not produced in a compelling fashion, reader interest can be jeopardized. It’s important to fully think through your petition before, during, and after the writing process. You want to make sure your purpose and objectives are clear, and that you are appealing to a range of people in the most effective way.
These step-by-step instructions offer guidance for how to write the best petition possible. Take your time, and then get ready, and spring into action. Writing is a powerful vehicle for change. Start writing!