Writing Tips

WRITING TO SENATORS AND MEMBERS OF CONGRESS

 

How to Address Members of Congress

Address letters to senators as below: 

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

Dear Senator:

Address letters to members of congress as below:

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

 

Dear Representative:

The above examples should be used in both email and letters sent via the postal system.

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.

 

Advice for Writing to Members of Congress

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,
  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.

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

Always

  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.

Writing a Letter to a Newspaper Editor 

A letter to the editor (LTE) is one way to reach large audiences — even writing to a small-town or city newspaper can have a big impact, because the letters to the editor section of the newspaper is read more frequently than any other. When published, letters are often perceived by legislators and other decision-makers as a highly credible expression of mainstream community and public sentiment.

Your letter to the editor can provide:

  • An explanation of how your issue relates to other current news items.
  • A chance to furnish insight on news and issues not being adequately covered by your local newspaper.
  • A correction of facts after a misleading, inaccurate or biased letter or story.
  • A response to other editorials.
  • A rebuttal to a news or feature story.
  • A chance to cover the local impact of national issues and raise public awareness of an issue in your city or town.

Writing an Effective Letter to the Editor 

  • Find out your newspaper’s policy for LTEs. Call the newspaper and tell them you would like to write a letter. Ask to whom you should address the letter, in what form you should send it, and what length or other restrictions the newspaper might have.
  • Be concise. Even if the paper you’re writing to does not explicitly limit the length of letters it publishes, it will be to your advantage to keep your letter short and succinct.
  • Stick to one subject. You’re much better off writing a widely read letter about one topic than writing a letter that touches on many topics but isn’t read — or, worse, isn’t published — because it’s too long.
  • Say something memorable. Make sure and include at least one sentence that makes an important point in a way that is concise but not overly strident.
  • Be timely. Newspapers will rarely print letters about subjects that aren’t in the news. Use a recent news event or recently published article as a hook for making your letter timely.
  • 
Don’t assume that readers will know what you’re writing about. If you are writing about pending legislation, explain what that legislation is, what its effects will be, and when it will be decided on. If you’re writing in response to an article or editorial, start your letter by saying which article you’re responding to and when it appeared.
  • Use your credentials. If you have personal experience or expertise in the subject area, mention it.
  • Concentrate on the local angle. Newspapers are community-based and the letters to the editor column is where they interact with the community most explicitly. Any local angle on the subject you’re writing about will increase the impact of your letter and increase its chances for publication.

Follow up. Call to make sure the newspaper has received your letter, and then call a few days later if it hasn’t been printed to find out if it will be printed. If they tell you it’s not going to be printed, make sure to ask why so you can incorporate changes into your next attempt.

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