How to advocate for yourself by email

I won a huge battle last year for my daughter. HUGE. Like, $300k+ PER YEAR kind of huge. Almost entirely by email. So here’s my advice for how to advocate for yourself (and whānau, friends, employees, all the good humans who need your support) by email.

Before you write, you need to be clear on these things:

  1. What the problem is, factually
  2. How the problem is affecting you
  3. Your understanding of where in the system or service, the problem is happening
  4. The outcome you want
  5. If there’s any compromise you’re willing to make

Seriously, don’t even think about emailing until you’re clear on those things – even if you answer to any of them (like #3) is “I don’t know.”  You still need to think them all through.

How to write the email:

  1. Greet politely, but not fake friendly
  2. Express how you’re feeling, very succinctly
  3. State the problem, factually and concisely – and if you can add the solution here, that’s even better
  4. If there’s a lot of background or you need to give a lot of detail to explain the problem, divide it into sections with headings and bullets. Include anything you know or suspect about where or why the problem might be happening
  5. Offer a solution – and if there’s any way you can make this a win-win, that’s your best bet
  6. Now be a bad-ass or kiss-ass: end with a threat or a human pleas for kindness

What I can’t stress to you enough is how you need to be as brief and factual as possible. You need to make it EASY for the person to help you. Don’t expect them to read your novel of pain and frustration. Use headings and bullets because this person will SKIMREAD and you want to help them do it easily.  

What might that look like?

Example 1 (it worked, btw)

How to advocate for yourself by email - letter writing example #1 by Shelly Davies

Example 2 (it worked, btw)

How to advocate for yourself by email - letter writing example #2 - by Shelly Davies

No joy first time? That’s normal. Don’t take it personally.

Time to escalate.

You need to make sure you’re contacting the right person. Yes, you’ll have started with some kind of customer service or complaints or support email. Or maybe it was the person you usually have contact with in that service – like a case manager.  We always need to be aware, though, that those frontline people often have limited authority. We almost always have to start our advocacy process with them, but that is NOT the end of the story.

Do your research, then, about the structure of the organisation. Who is their manager? Who’s the regional manager? Who holds the budget for the thing you’re asking for? 

And if that contact person you have won’t escalate your concerns, know what channels you have for escalating things yourself. Is it an ombudsman? Is it a complaints authority? Is it that you get public on their social media page? (I get good results with this when I’m not getting fast enough action).

There is no single way to work within systems to advocate for yourself or your whānau. But these are the many avenues you can try. And remember – the basic structure of the email will remain the same each time. But you might add in a section that says “what I’ve already tried” or “who I’ve already talked to.”

I truly believe that this can get you amazing results. Both of those examples above worked. I have countless others. And then of course there’s the battle for my daughter.

How to advocate for yourself by email - "Systems can suck, but we can make them work for us, to advocate for ourselves and our whānau" - by Shelly Davies

If you’re wondering –

Here’s how I won the huge battle advocating for my daughter

  1. I banged my head for months in the DHB
  2. I banged my head for months in ACC
  3. I asked someone I knew at Kāinga Ora for advice
  4. She put me onto a special Kāinga Ora team
  5. Kāinga Ora invited ACC and DHB to the party
  6. Kāinga Ora provided a home
  7. We all went round in circles for a while
  8. I asked all of them to escalate my request to the right decision makers
  9. I emailed a Deputy Director General in the Ministry of Health
  10. She forwarded my email to a funding person in the DHB
  11. The funding person called me
  12. There was a fun little ballet between DHB and ACC
  13. We got the funding. And my daughter now lives safe and supported.

Go well, amazing humans. Systems can suck but we can make them work for us. You got this.

(And tell me how it goes!)


Still not convinced? Take a peek at my super-quick, FREE Communication Rockstar course

And when you’re ready to take on the world, my Write Better Emails online course is here to help!

Learn how to advocate for yourself in a major way with my Write Better Emails online course.  It delivers a never-fail formula to instantly apply to EVERY kind of email - Shelly Davies

Writing for outcomes – Part 3

How to strip back your business writing

OK, so you’ve taken care of your up-front framing, and you’ve started to drill down to the clarity you need to write an amazing, fit-for-purpose document that’s gonna help you take over the universe. Now you’ve got to the real guts of it! How to strip back your business writing so that your message isn’t lost in all that wordy noise. 

Now you’re thinking:  So what do I actually write?

Why is writing so hard?

So here’s the thing. You know your stuff. And that’s both a blessing and a curse, because

  1. you know everything your reader needs to know, but

And you really want your reader to know all that, too. 

Which is a mistake.

Because let me be clearthe more words you use, the weaker the message.

Yes, I said it. 

The key to good writing is to write less.

The more words you use—the more text on a page, the more you think in someone’s general direction—the more likely they are to miss your point. 

Your bottom line. 

Your slap in the face. 

Or kick in the ass. 

Or pat-on-the-back (I thought I’d better add in a warm fuzzy—apparently my violent alter-ego is writing today).

Filtering through everything you know and want to say—and stripping back to only the key points—is the real challenge.

A process for stripping back

First of all, read and follow the steps I gave you in part 1. Then part 2.
There’s stuff in there you need to produce before you follow this process.

Once you’ve nailed that, do this:

1 – DUMP: get that shit out of your head. Brain dump.  Sketch, purge, free-write, list, use post-its. Do whatever you need to do, to get your thinking outside of your head. Because outside is where you can work with it.

2 – CHUNK: take that messy dump and group it together into chunks of related info. (If you wanna feel really cool, call this a thematic analysis.)

3 – LABEL: describe each of those chunks of info. But don’t use one-word labels.  Describe the chunk, like ‘How we got here’, ‘What we found’, ‘How we can fix the problem’. These will become your headings. And your readers will L O V E them!

4 – FILTER: using the purpose and the primary reader you identified in part 2, look at each beautifully labelled chunk and ask Does my reader need to know THIS for my document to achieve its purpose? Now here’s the gold (I love this. I’m excited. Can you tell?). If your answer is:

  • Yes – put it in! (Yuss!)
  • No – leave it out. (Duh!)
  • Maybe/I’m not sure/Some readers need it. Then either mention it, summarise it, point the reader to where they can find it outside of the document, or push it to the appendices. When in doubt, go to the appendix. It’s like magic. All the evidence that you know your stuff and you’ve done a shitload of work and you’re worth your weight in gold, without losing your reader.

5 – ORDER: look at the chunks you have left and put them in order based on what’s most important to YOUR READER.

A document is successful if it works for the reader - Shelly Davies

Now you have a plan

Some people might call it an outline. 

But that sends way too many of us back into PTSD-like flashbacks from our university days. 

So let’s just call it a plan. A map, maybe.

That plan means you can now write. With ease and clarity. Without second-guessing yourself and angsting over what to say or what not to say. 

It means you can write fast and that’s good on every level (read here for how good writing saves money).

Your extra set of steak knives

My favourite thing about this process is this: It gives you confidence!

It’s one of the most common comments I get from participants in my trainings:

I feel confident now. I know what I’m doing. I can relax. 

And that, my friends, is what it’s all about. 

Now write!

Hey! Don’t forget to grab your free process infographic!

Access For All: Plain Language is a Civil Right

An unmissable global virtual conference

If you, like me, believe plain language and accessible information is a civil right, and you have the internet, then this virtual event is for you no matter where you are on the globe.

This is the first time that PLAINClarity, and The Centre For Plain Language have joined forces to bring together one amazing global event: Access for all.

These are my peeps guys!

Everything I know, I know from them! And this is THE GATHERING of plain language pioneers and warriors from around the world.

Did I mention it’s timezone friendly?

Each day you’ll see 4 hours broadcast LIVE (like TV not zoom, and recorded so you can watch EVERY TALK, anytime), and ongoing discussions around the clock so you can interact no matter your timezone.

Check out the amazing ways they’re meeting our viewer needs:

  • Every talk/keynote is recorded live both BEFORE and AFTER the event
  • Every live session starts with an online discussion, which, as everyone wakes up in their various time zones, will Just.  Keep.  Going.
  • An unparalleled mix of pre-recorded, and LIVE content with interactive LIVE discussions with keynotes and speakers
  • Every talk/keynote will be available online to attendees until 30 April 2021

Crazy, right?! That’s access to MONTHS worth of #PlainLanguage training and resources for your company!

Access For All is an investment for your team/company

With everything going on in the world today, we need to stop allowing access to information to be something that’s impacted by privilege.  

If you’ve EVER complained about bad documents, forms, notices, legislation, or comms, now is the time to influence change in your organisation.

Hear and engage with a wide range of perspectives on plain language across industries and disciplines. No matter what your work and specialty, there’s something for you, including:

  • our responsibility to ensure access for all
  • Using plain language to improve the criminal justice system
  • Using plain language to protect the rights of vulnerable populations
  • Celebrating when plain language succeeds
  • An international case study: using plain language to affect the outcome of the health crisis COVID-19

Check out all the incredible keynote speakers and presenters!

Ok, so obviously I’m excited!

But what’s really exciting (yes, even more exciting than me being a keynote!), is this global opportunity we have to create necessary, life-changing systems, where we all simply #writelikeahuman and change the world!

Join me?


The fine print (details and social links)

Writing for outcomes – part 2

Fit-for-purpose document structure achieves results

In my trainings, document structure is one of the most common things participants say they want help with.  Fit-for-purpose document structure achieves results!

They hope I’m going to give them a standard report structure.


That’s like unicorn farts – would probably be lovely but there’s no such thing. 

Sorry bout it.

A quick re-cap

In part 1, I covered the upfront framing that:

  1. gives readers an incredibly satisfying experience, and
  2. engages the right audience

But I promised more.

So let’s move from reader behaviour to a reader-centric document structure.

Being readercentric (AKA empathy), outs us in the shoes of our READERS - Shelly Davies

How documents work

Let’s be very clear about how documents work.

  1. You’re writing a document because you need to achieve something. An outcome.
  2. To achieve YOUR outcome, the document has to work for THEM – the reader.
  3. The upfront framing either engages or loses your reader (we’ve already covered this).
  4. The structure of the rest of the document determines its success (ie: YOUR outcome).
  5. Shall I say it again? Write for THEM. Not for YOU. That’s the only way you’re going to ultimately get what you’re after.
A document is successful if it works for the reader - Shelly Davies

Purpose, purpose, bla, bla, bla

Any writing trainer worth their salt will tell you:

Identify the purpose of the document before you start writing

This is true. 

But, I find purpose – both the word and the concept, problematic.

Firstly, it’s overly and inappropriately used as a heading (how many documents have you read that have the heading purpose followed by a waffly, non-specific introduction??)

And second, when I ask people what the purpose of their document is, they give me answers like:

  • to inform…(for what purpose? We don’t tell people stuff for no reason!)
  • to analyse…(documents don’t analyse things. People do!)
  • to define…(see above!)
  • to describe…(see above above! For what purpose?)

None of which give a writer the drilled-down clarity we need to develop a fit-for-purpose structure.

Instead, I train people to ask 2 questions:

  1. What does this document need to ACHIEVE?
  2. If this document works, what will HAPPEN?

Both questions direct us to a tangible, observable action by our reader.

Know your audience, bla, bla, bla

Again, everyone tells us this.

And it’s also true.

"Buzzword jargon buzzword, hyperbole buzzword buzzword, trite rhyming platitude...Yep, looks good"

But what’s most common in business documents today is what we have multiple audiences, with differing needs.

So knowing that can make the writing process even more daunting and definitely not simple and clear.

How about trying this as an alternative?

List all the readers of your document, then consider?

  • Who will access it?
  • Who will use it?
  • Who will sign off on it?
  • Who might need to refer to it?

Now look back at the solid outcome you identified with questions 1 & 2 above.

And ask this 3rd question:

3. Who has the authority, ability, or position to make this document achieve its purpose?

Answer that and you’ve identified your primary readers. THEY matter most.

Write in a way that works for them, above anyone else.

(BTW – this also gives YOU the ability to push-back when an approver wants a document written a certain way, but you know that won’t work for the end-user.  Handy!)

Now build your document

Now you can create the headings, sections, and chunks of your document.

With clarity on outcome and influential readers, you can create a fit-for-purpose structure.

I wish I could wave a magic wand and tell you what that structure looks like.  But again, unicorn farts.

From where YOU sit, with YOUR reader knowledge, expert and insight, and with new clarity about purpose and readers, YOU have all the pieces to the puzzle.  You can now create a structure that will work best for you and your team.

Remember, ask yourself:

  • What does my PRIMARY READER need to know so I can get MY desired outcome?
  • Does my PRIMARY READER need to know X (ie, any chunk of information) for my doc to achieve its purpose?

It’s all connected.

With clarity on outcome and influential readers, you can create fit-for-purpose document structure - Shelly Davies

Want to know more?

Bring me in for a training, or book a zoom one!  I’ve got so much more!!!!


If you’re working from home, you’re emailing.  And in this chaos, no-one has time for email ping-pong!

You can #writebetteremails with my ONLINE course.  Use my never-fail formula to build connections with empathy and authenticity.  You’ll quickly be writing professional, clear, concise, fit-for-purpose emails that will:

  1. save time and sanity
  2. deal with customer complaints quickly and with humanity
  3. retain clients and smash deadlines
  4. get better results and faster replies.  

Imagine-more YESes, less chasing-up.  Sing out for a rockin’ deal for your team or company!

Writing for outcomes – part 1

Document structure and reader behaviour

What does understanding reader behaviour have to do with fit-for-purpose document structure? Let me explain.

Template torture

People are always asking me for templates.

Have you got a report template, Shelly? A business case template, Shelly? A template that will save all the woes of the world, Shelly?

I’ll spare you the clichés about the length of string and teaching men how to fish:


Templates are only good if they’re designed for a specific purpose. There is no such thing as ONE magical template for any kind of document.

Writing for outcomes - part 1. 
Document structure and reader behaviour.  Templates - there's no such thing as one magical template for any kind of document.  Templates are only good if they're designed for a specific purpose - Shelly Davies

But we do have some really clear insights into reader behaviour. And from that, we can build a strong, successful, fit-for-purpose document structure.

What readers want

As humans, when we interact with text, we’re subconsciously looking for 3 things.

  1. What’s this about?
  2. Is it relevant to me?
  3. What’s the bottom line? (and we want that up-front – ‘BLUF’)
Writing for outcomes - part 1. 
Document structure and reader behaviour.  BLUF - give your reader the bottom line up-front every time - Shelly Davies

The importance of the executive summary or up-front framing

If you can answer those 3 questions before you do anything else in a business document, you’ve got your reader in the palm of your hand.

They’re hooked. They’re engaged.

And they’ll keep reading (or at least scanning through).

It’s like mad-genius-evil-mastermind-writing-ninja material – so use your powers for good.

Writing for outcomes - part 1. 
Document structure and reader behaviour.

Answering those 3 questions is the basic formula for an executive summary.

Of course, you can add more – but those are the bare minimum.

If you don’t want to use an executive summary, make sure those 3 questions are answered in your introduction (or background, or scope, or whatever heading your douchebag template tells you is the starting point for saving the planet).

Let’s test this concept – what do you want as a reader?

Picture yourself going to your car and finding a piece of paper under the windscreen wiper. (Note: Your version may contain less profanity. Whatever floats your boat.)

  1. What the fuck is this? You wonder. (You pick it up and see a company logo – it’s a flyer, not a ticket, thank fuck)
  2. What are they selling? You wonder. (There are pictures of food. It’s a restaurant. You’ve been known to eat occasionally. There’s potential here.)
  3. So are the prices any good? You wonder.

(That’s the bottom line – now that I know what they have to offer and that I’m interested, this is the deciding factor. Let’s say they’re cheap AF and sound worth trying so we have a happy ending to our scenario. You’re welcome.)

Writing for outcomes - part 1. 
Document structure and reader behaviour.

Content and purpose

The rest of the document structure depends on content and purpose.

In a nutshell: the rest of your document needs to be structured in terms of what is most relevant to your reader, and then what they need to know so that you can achieve your purpose.

Note the difference here – it’s not about what you want them to know – it’s about what they need to know from where they sit. Those can be vastly different things.

In fact, that warrants more discussion.

Watch out for Part 2 and 3 of Writing For Outcomes!


If you’re working from home, you’re emailing.  And in this chaos, no-one has time for email ping-pong!

You can #writebetteremails with my ONLINE course. Use my never-fail formula to build connections with empathy and authenticity.  You’ll quickly be writing professional, clear, concise, fit-for-purpose emails that will:

  1. save time and sanity
  2. deal with customer complaints quickly and with humanity
  3. retain clients and smash deadlines
  4. get better results and faster replies.  

Imagine-more YESes, less chasing-up.

Sing out for a rockin’ deal for your team or company!

Emails: How to deliver hard messages

People ask me a lot about how to deliver hard messages by email.

My answer?  Keep it short, keep it simple, and above all, be MATTER-OF-FACT.

The art of being matter-of-fact – (avoid the dramas, people!)

What do I mean, hard messages?

 I mean the emails you don’t want to send.

The ones you procrastinate.  The ones where you need to let someone know you disagree. or the ones where you need to push-back or the dreaded NO email.

 I also get asked how to let someone down gently, how to decline a request, how to say “this isn’t for me” (and no, I’m not talking about breaking up your relationship by email.  #BeAGoodHuman).

What we get wrong with the hard messages

We think we need to justify our position

We really don’t.  Or we don’t need to go into detail, anyway.

We think that if we’re saying no to someone that we need to give lots of good reasons so they can see where we’re coming from and ULTIMATELY so they still think we’re a decent human.

But the problem with this is that every justification you provide when saying no to someone is another opportunity you’re giving them to argue or push back.  It’s another door they think they can get a foot in to change your mind.  To help you see things their way.  If you don’t want that to happen, if you want them not to have a comeback, just say no with minimal reason.

Things to know about life - "No" is a complete sentence.  It does not require justification or explanation

Is IS your right to say NO. We live in the age of consent and all that.

We think we need to use a formal voice to sound more professional

Please don’t make me say it again.

The formal voice is problematic.

An email with a formal tone usually comes across as harsh, clinical, robotic, or condescending

It’s no longer fit for purpose.  It causes problems.  It doesn’t come across as polite, it comes across as all kinds of bad things.

Not convinced?

You could read about it herehere or here (I may have mentioned it a few times before).

We try to soften the message

And that just makes it less clear!

Do you know what’s worse than getting bad news?

Having to work hard to find out what the bad news is.

The other problem with the softening is emotional leakage. The more we narrate, the more we write sentences and paragraphs, the more chance there is for your emotions to leak through (passive aggressive, anyone?) or for someone to *think* they can read between the lines.

Avoid that by being as factual and brief as possible

Avoid emotional leakage by staying matter-of-fact.

How to sound matter-of-fact

Ask yourself, “What is the high-level message I want to get across?”


Now imagine if you’d say those words to someone’s face.  No?  Feels a bit harsh? 

Good – you need to identify that.  So now, what would you change?

Then, if you need to soften, use a “sorry” but don’t use an “unfortunately.”

What might that look like?

We don’t need dramas.

Let’s just be good humans, be boundaried, be awesome, and get shit done.

Being #matteroffact will help you do that.

Good emails are about claiming permission to be the good human you are - just in writing




Check out my quick list of communication rockstar email resources and advice!