How to Write an Action Alert
Need to rally the troops? Action Alerts are a terrific way to get the word out — but only when they are carefully written, about a page in length and quickly bring the message home. Too often, an Action Alert doesn't have a clear message, does little to help readers actually take action and is longer than War and Peace.
Never issue an Alert without having at least one other person, preferably someone with a background in editing, review the material. Run a spell-check program, and take the time to polish your writing.
Organize Your Alert:
- Title. This needs to be short and to the point. It should reveal the nature of the problem.
- Opening Paragraph. Ideally just two or three sentences, the lead paragraph will introduce the issue at hand, name the involved parties and describe the result you hope to achieve by issuing the Alert.
- Call to Action and Deadline. Clearly state what you want your audience to do ‹ write comments, sign an online petition, place a phone call, etc. Be very clear. Include all relevant deadlines, such as when letters must be postmarked or when emails should be received.
- Contact Information. List email and postal addresses as well as phone numbers or websites where comments or calls should be sent.
- Background Information. In one or two paragraphs, try to provide enough history, related problems, additional consequences and other information to help produce well-informed responses from your constituents. Avoid over-describing the situation: Alerts are meant to produce action, not to document every nuance of the situation.
- Talking Points. Provide your audience with succinct talking points. Bullet-points are often the best format. Offer more talking points than a single writer would use. This will add some diversity to people's responses and let them customize their message. An effective Action Alert will provide people with all the necessary resources to respond.
Provide Sample Talking Points:
IMBA recommends that you pick no more than four of the following talking points for your Action Alert. Some are general to mountain biking and some are specific to Wilderness, Forest Service, or other issues. Customize them to your locality and issue.
- Off-road cycling is a low-impact, human-powered, legitimate recreation group with more than 35 million annual U.S. participants (Outdoor Industry Association).
- Cyclists give back to their local trail systems by volunteering on public land, protecting the environment and preserving open space.
- The majority of cyclists are responsible, considerate riders.
- Science shows that the environmental impact of bicyclists is similar to that of hikers.
- The bicycle industry contributes more than $6 billion annually to the U.S. economy (Bicycle Retailer).
- Off-road cycling is a great form of exercise and helps combat the societal trend toward obesity.
- Bicycling helps reduce air pollution by getting people out of their cars and onto bikes.
- Mountain bike tourism contributes to the economic vitality of a community by boosting retail, restaurant, hotel, gas and grocery sales.
- A united trails community ‹ one that includes mountain bicyclists and other trail groups ‹ can be a powerful, effective voice for increased federal, state and local recreational trails funding.
- Because Wilderness bans bicycles, you should request diverse designations, including Remote Backcountry Areas, improved National Scenic Areas and National Protection Areas that protect the land while allowing bicycles.
- Lands recommended for future Wilderness designation should allow mountain bikes, which do not harm the land or its Wilderness potential. Cyclists risk losing access to several areas with extensive trail networks.
- Mountain bikers support a healthy environment and land protection through diverse land designations. Wilderness is not the only option.
- Mountain bikers want access to backcountry recreation areas, and are concerned about restricted trail access in [list specific areas here].
For examples and additional ideas, you can also check out IMBA's library of current and past Action Alerts. Browse the titles for a similar issue to help customize your message and talking points.
See IMBA's "Sample Letters to the Editor" for information on spreading your message to a local newspaper.