How to Write a Complaint Letter

From 1996 to 2001, I worked for the Walt Disney World Guest Communications Department, or “Guest Letters,” as it was called when I first got there. That was an interesting lesson in customer–sorry, guest–relations. I learned how people argued, how they tried to get what they want, what emotional appeals they used. Definitely a first-class education in literary forms of argument.

And I learned, as a result of this barrage of negativity (happy people don’t write letters most of the time) how to write an effective letter when my turn came to send one. Here are some Do’s and Don’t’s I can suggest if you plan to express your outrage through email or the U.S. Postal Service:


  • Use profanity, unless by some chance you’re quoting an employee who swore at you.
  • Threaten legal action. This will take your complaint from the customer service department to the legal department, at which point you’d better be prepared to pony up for a lawyer because a lot of corporate lawyers live for litigation. Just one that I talked to personally, but you never know.
  • Go off topic. If your complaint is just one of many things going awry in your life, like your pet going missing or your car being in the shop, that might be regrettable, but is not relevant to the case at hand.
  • Make unsubstantiated allegations.
  • Make personal threats of any kind. Those don’t go to the legal department–they go to the police.
  • Make unreasonable demands. Expecting a free vacation for you and your four-person family, including air fare, because your child got a sliver from a wooden beam is not realistic.
  • Write letters for every little grievance. Complain about every visit just to get “free stuff,” and eventually you’ll get a reputation for being a difficult and, eventually, unwelcome customer.


  • Use spell checker.
  • Include your return address, receipts, specific names, dates, and times, if possible.
  • Stick to the facts–what went wrong, what the impact was, and what you expect for restitution.
  • Suggest a reasonable service recovery or restitution, whether it be an apology or expenses incurred by an incident. Naturally if you experienced serious, grievous harm, an attorney might be more appropriate. This blog addresses minor service complaints.
  • Write more than one draft, as you would with any document–we don’t always provide our best, most cogent arguments while angry.

The well-written complaint letter can elude even the best technical communicator if they’re righteously angry.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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1 Response to How to Write a Complaint Letter

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