There are a couple of different ways to go about writing a cease and desist letter, but in most cases there are three essential things you’ll need to include: a statement of what you think the recipient is doing wrong; what you want them to do about it; and what you intend to do if they don’t comply. This sort of letter isn’t usually seen as a legal instrument, and as such it doesn’t normally have to follow any set format and it doesn’t have to be filed with a court. Neither does it have to be written by a lawyer. Just the same, it’s often a good idea to keep your tone formal and your statements brief and professional. Depending on the circumstances, this letter could become the basis of a lawsuit later on, and should this occur it’s in your best interest for the letter to be as polished and respectful as possible. Many legal groups offer free templates online that you can follow, often with sample language and model paragraphs.
Identify Your Goals
The first thing you’ll need to do is identify the problem as precisely as you can. There are many reasons a person might write a cease and desist letter. Personal matters like harassment or continuous trespass are some examples; harassment by a creditor, slander by a person or organization, or unauthorized uses of trademarks or copyrights are also common. These sorts of letters are usually sent when you believe that a judge would order the other party to stop the action if the matter went to court, but you want to avoid legal action.
It’s also important to realize what this sort of letter can’t do. For instance, it can’t actually make someone stop a behavior — it can only ask, and draw attention to the problem. If you are writing the letter to stop a behavior that is imminently dangerous or that puts your or others in harm’s way, it may be wiser to seek a more formal legal tool like a restraining order. You will also need to be prepared for the recipient to respond with demands of his or her own. Sometimes people get these sorts of letters and simply change their ways, but not always. Before sitting down to write, you should think through all the potential outcomes, and plan accordingly.
Set Out the Specifics
There are a few basic things all cease and desist letters should include, starting with the full names of both you or the organization you represent and all recipients. You should also specifically describe the action, including dates, times, and any details that are available. In many copyright and trademark matters, letter writers include extensive appendices demonstrating all of the allegedly improper uses. This can both highlight the scope of the problem and serve as an archived record of wrongdoing.
If the action you want stopped seems to violate any laws, you should name those, as well. You don’t need to get into specifics, but stating that a certain activity violates a certain named law is often more powerful and persuasive than simply asserting something vague like “your activities are illegal.”
State the Consequences of Inaction
Another important component of the letter is a brief statement of what you intend to do if the recipient doesn’t do as you ask. In most instances this is phrased as a direct demand that the action stop, and a deadline should typically be given. Sometimes, you’ll want the action to stop immediately; in other instances, a few weeks or months is more realistic. A lot depends on the circumstances. It’s sometimes also a good idea to tell the recipient that you intend to file a formal lawsuit if things don’t change as requested.
Focus on Actions, Not Emotions
It’s often the case that these sorts of letters are only written once problems have been going on for a long time, and in these situations emotions often run strong. It’s really important that you keep a neutral, formal tone, though. The cease and desist letter should not use abusive or profane language or make threats beyond those of following up within the legal system. Remember that, if further legal action is required, the letter will likely become part of the official court record. This would make the letter a document that would be reviewed by the courts and would make it a part of public record, and it could reflect badly on you if it’s unprofessional or highly emotional.
Think About Formatting
There isn’t really a “wrong” way to write this sort of letter, but erring on the side of formality is usually the best course of action. In general, the letter should be in the format of a business letter. Your name and address, the recipient’s name and address, and the date of the letter should precede the body. The letter should include your original signature at the end, and you should keep at least one copy of the original letter.
It's also a good idea to send the letter by certified mail, as this will force the recipient to acknowledge receipt and will give you a record of the same. This means that the person cannot claim the letter was not received should further legal action ever be necessary.