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
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.
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:
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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. SUPREME COURT
The Justices do not have email addresses, but they do read letters from citizens.
Here are some key things you should always and never do in writing to your elected representatives.
- Be courteous and respectful without “gushing.”
- 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.
- 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.
- State any professional credentials or personal experience you may have, especially those pertaining to the subject of your letter.
- Keep your letter short — one page is best.
- Use specific examples or evidence to support your position.
- State what it is you want done or recommend a course of action.
- Thank the member for taking the time to read your letter.
- 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.
- Fail to include your name and address, even in email letters.
- 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.