How to Address the Ombudsman

By Eric Feigenbaum
An ombudsman needs a clear, factual accounting of your dispute or problem.

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Government agencies and some private organizations use ombudsmen to handle disputes and concerns about proper conduct of employees and managers. Instead of focusing on discipline and penalties as many regulatory complaint processes do, ombudsmen work with all parties involved to investigate issues such as harassment, nepotism, favoritism, racial conflict, violation of policies and anything considered disrespectful or unprofessional, and work toward fair resolution. Regulations make it so that parties who seek the help of an ombudsman can experience no penalty or retribution. When seeking an ombudsman's help, a complainant needs a clear, detailed account of her issue.

Call or email the ombudsman's office to find out if you need to complete any forms or paperwork as part of your complaint. Some ombudsmen require complainants to use specific forms for their letters. Also inquire about electronic filing. Many large institutions including public universities have online complaint forms for easy access and expedited processing.

Begin your letter by writing your name, address, phone number and email address in the top left corner of your first page. Each item should get its own line except the address in which the street address gets one line and the state, city and zip code get another. In total, your personal information should form a block of five lines.

List the ombudsman's name and office address two or three lines down from yours, but justified left. If the ombudsman is located on a large campus, you can use the institution name instead.

Include the date of your letter two lines below the recipient's address, but justified right to line up underneath your personal information. Write out the full month, day and year.

Insert a salutation two lines down from the date, but this time justified left again. Use a proper title followed by the ombudsman's full name. Titles can include Mr., Ms., Mrs., Dr. or Ombudsman.

Begin your introductory paragraph two lines below your salutation. Immediately explain the reason for your letter so that the ombudsman understands the central issue. Examples might be, "I am writing because I have recently been sexually harassed by a coworker," or "I feel that I have been the victim of racial prejudice." While anger is natural in certain situations and you want to be clear about your issue, don't take an accusatory tone. After all, the ombudsman is there to help and should receive a respectful letter.

Give a detailed, factual account of the incidents and events that led to your complaint. Include names, dates, times, witnesses, participants, places and comments. Leave out any gossip or hearsay. The ombudsman can only work with facts. Your feelings about actions and conversations can be valid and important, particularly if you were degraded, demeaned or belittled. However, avoid sharing personal thoughts and feelings about others. For example, "I always suspected she was a liar," or "I never liked the way he talked to his girlfriend on the phone," or "I heard he slept around," are not relevant to the ombudsman and may, in fact, work against you.

Wrap up your letter by letting the ombudsman know how your want her to help you. Statements such as "I hope you can mediate our conflict so we can resume a positive working relationship," or "Please help end the harassment so that I can once again enjoy working in a safe, professional environment," help the ombudsman develop goals and an approach to your complaint.

Finish with a respectful, formal closure such as "cordially," "sincerely," or "respectfully". Sign your name below it and type or print your name below your signature for clarity.

About the Author

Eric Feigenbaum started his career in print journalism, becoming editor-in-chief of "The Daily" of the University of Washington during college and afterward working at two major newspapers. He later did many print and Web projects including re-brandings for major companies and catalog production.

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