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How to Write Your Elected Representative

By Stephanie Edelman Zarate

It may come as a surprise in the digital age, but writing an old-fashioned letter to your local elected representatives or to members of Congress is still one of the most effective ways to influence lawmakers. You can also send letters to justices of the Supreme Court. The detailed instructions below, reposted from USGovInfo, walk you through the steps to writing letters to elected officials, with helpful tips on substance and format: how to address your representative, how to put forth a detailed and persuasive argument, how to reference specific legislation, what to avoid, and how to properly send your correspondence.

How to Write Effective Letters to Congress

Real Letters Are Still the Best Way to Be Heard by Lawmakers
So, you’re going to write a letter to Congress? Good idea. Make it a good letter.

People who think members of the U.S. Congress pay little or no attention to constituent mail are plain wrong. Concise, well thought out personal letters are one of the most effective ways Americans have of influencing law-makers. But, members of Congress get hundreds of letters and emails every day. Whether you choose to use the Postal Service or email, here are some tips that will help your letter to Congress have impact.

Think Locally

It’s usually best to send letters to the representative from your local Congressional District or the senators from your state. Your vote helps elect them — or not — and that fact alone carries a lot of weight. It also helps personalize your letter. Sending the same “cookie-cutter” message to every member of Congress may grab attention but rarely much consideration.

Keep it Simple

Your letter should address a single topic or issue. Typed, one-page letters are best. Many PACs (Political Action Committees) recommend a three-paragraph letter structured like this:

  1. Say why you are writing and who you are. List your “credentials.” (If you want a response, you must include your name and address, even when using email.)
  2. Provide more detail. Be factual not emotional. Provide specific rather than general information about how the topic affects you and others. If a certain bill is involved, cite the correct title or number whenever possible.
  3. Close by requesting the action you want taken: a vote for or against a bill, or change in general policy.

The best letters are courteous, to the point, and include specific supporting examples.

Addressing Members of Congress

The addresses below should be used in email messages, as well as those sent through the Postal Service.

To Your Senator:

The Honorable (full name)
(Room #) (Name) Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator:

To Your Representative:

The Honorable (full name)
(Room #) (Name) House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative:

Finding Their Addresses

SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

U.S. Senators (web sites and mailing addresses)

Write Your U.S. Representative (A service of the House that will assist you by identifying your Congressperson in the U.S. House of Representatives and providing contact information.)

U.S. SUPREME COURT

Contact Information – US Supreme Court

The Justices do not have email addresses, but they do read letters from citizens.

To Conclude

Here are some key things you should always and never do in writing to your elected representatives.

  1. Be courteous and respectful without “gushing.”
  2. Clearly and simply state the purpose of your letter. If it’s about a certain bill, identify it correctly. If you need help in finding the number of a bill, use the Thomas Legislative Information System.
  3. Say who you are. Anonymous letters go nowhere. Even in email, include your correct name, address, phone number and email address. If you don’t include at least your name and address, you will not get a response.
  4. State any professional credentials or personal experience you may have, especially those pertaining to the subject of your letter.
  5. Keep your letter short — one page is best.
  6. Use specific examples or evidence to support your position.
  7. State what it is you want done or recommend a course of action.
  8. Thank the member for taking the time to read your letter.

Never

  1. Use vulgarity, profanity, or threats. The first two are just plain rude and the third one can get you a visit from the Secret Service. Simply stated, don’t let your passion get in the way of making your point.
  2. Fail to include your name and address, even in email letters.
  3. Demand a response.

Identifying Legislation – Some helpful tips

Cite these legislation identifiers when writing to members of Congress:

House Bills: “H.R._____
House Resolutions: “H.RES._____
House Joint Resolutions: “H.J.RES._____
Senate Bills: “S._____
Senate Resolutions: “S.RES._____
Senate Joint Resolutions: “S.J.RES._____

List of House & Senate Committees

House and Senate Committees by issue

If you have something to say, speak up through a letter.  The more that elected officials hear from their constituents, the more likely they are to listen … and know that they’ll be held accountable.