This week one of your colleagues asked for help with the reply to a tricky letter. The writer was complaining about the cost of something. (I can’t tell you what or else you’ll know where Jim [let’s call him] worked).

Ok, I guess the writer would have liked Jim to lower the cost of the service, but really the writer didn’t expect that – he just wanted to let Jim’s department know he resented the money he had to spend to get the service.

How do you reply to a letter of complaint?

It’s true we hate to get these letters but…

1. Accept that the writer has a perfect right to complain.

Even if their complaints are totally unreasonable they have a right to understand our costing or why we do things the way we do. This is especially true when we are the only provider or practically the only provider.

2. Have and show some empathy.

For example
I accept that you will still resent this penalty…
I accept that you are annoyed by this…

3. Try to agree with anything you can in their letter.

You are right when you say that other states do things differently but NSW faces different pressures…

I agree that it does seem a lot of documentation to prove your identity but unless…

4. This is the most important bit!

Do not hide behind a policy or a law to explain why we do what we do.
Explain why the policy or law is there in the first place.

Not You need to have a security check because the Education Act demands it.

But We are determined to do everything we can to keep our children safe and that is why we require applicants to have a security check.

Not You need to do 120 hours of practice before you can sit your licence test because the New Licence Policy requires it.

But We are determined to do all we can to cut the road toll for young drivers. That is why we require them to have such extensive training before they go out on our roads unsupervised.

Feel about them as you will, at the very least these letters give work to public servants!

Use some or all of the ideas here for your letters of complaint and watch them get off your desk instead of sitting there, ticking, like a bomb!

You can do that.

Until next time.

Dennise Harris

How many or how much?

Many people use many and much interchangeably or just pick one and stick to it.

When you are talking probably no one will notice which you use.

When you are writing you will need to get it right.


1. How many is used when you are talking about something that is countable.

1.1 How many cups of tea do you drink in a day?
1.2 How many participants do you have in your course tomorrow?
1.3 How many medals did Ian Thorpe win?

2. How much is used when you are talking about an abstract idea (even if it can be quantified) i.e. it is not necessarily countable.

2.1 How much tea do you drink in a day? (You might answer 6 cups or a lot).
2.2 How much time have you got free tomorrow? (Again the answer could be one hour or hardly any).
2.3 How much do you need a holiday? (The answer could be I’m pretty desperate).

Can you see how the questions in example 1 can only be answered by a number?

In example 2, you might answer with a precise number but you do not have to.

Quiz – Capital Cities

Test your general knowledge.

What is the capital of each of these?

1. New Zealand

2. Brazil

3. Egypt

4. South Korea

5. California

6. Afghanistan

7. New York State

8. Portugal

9. Denmark

10. South Africa

(Find the answers at the end of this edition.)

Once in a blue moon

This means hardly ever or rarely.
She gives me a ring once in a blue moon.

Means she does ring me, but rarely.


A year has twelve calendar months and a full moon every month.

But a year also has just over 11 days more than twelve calendar months.

These extra days accumulate and so every two or three years you get a 13th full moon in the year.

This extra moon is called a blue moon.

When I began this article I thought that a blue moon was the second full moon in any month but dash it – those pesky academics at Southwest Texas State University have shown that it ain’t necessarily so.

Seasons of the year usually have 3 full moons.
When a season has four full moons the third one is the blue moon. (Go figure!).

But to keep it simple

January 2010 will have two full moons.

Quiz Answers

1. Wellington
2. Brasilia
3. Cairo
4. Seoul
5. Sacramento
6. Kabul
7. Albany
8. Lisbon
9. Copenhagen
10. Pretoria (administrative); Cape Town (legislative); Bloemfontein (judicial)