Writing a personal letter to your representatives in Congress is an effective way to let your voice be heard. When done well, a carefully crafted, concise letter is a powerful tool that can influence lawmakers and bring about change. Nonetheless, congressional leaders are incredibly busy, so take the time and put forth the effort to make your letter well-written and powerful.
1. Though it is tempting to fire off an e-mail, write a letter instead.
Letters do take more effort, both to send and to receive, than e-mail messages, and they therefore warrant more attention. It is easier to overlook an e-mail than it is to disregard a letter (particularly a handwritten letter).
2. State your purpose.
Be specific. Keep your letter focused by addressing only one issue or topic, and state your main purpose in the opening paragraph of your letter.
My name is Janet Calloway, and I am writing this letter to ask that you vote in favor of SB 2222.
3. Make your letter personal.
Keep your letter unique; don’t just copy a form letter and send it. Sending one hundred (or even one million) copies of the same letter is not an effective way to communicate the real concerns of real people.
Instead, write a personal letter, from your heart. Make sure to introduce yourself, and explain who you are. If there is a particular reason (such as professional or personal credentials or experience) that you are qualified to address the topic you are writing about, say so.
Because of the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of our neighbor, Mary Tucker, I know first-hand that this bill, if implemented, could save lives.
4. Support your stance.
Be informed when you write your letter, and as you write, be honest and accurate in the information you present. Use specific statistics, numbers, or examples. Saying generally that you don’t like a certain law or regulation won’t get you very far. Instead, mention how the problem or issue you are addressing directly affects you or those of your community. However, though it is important to write with passion, it is generally best to keep your letter factual, rather than emotional.
According to the Associated Press, in addition to the death of our neighbor Mary, last year in this country more than one hundred other people were killed in similar circumstances. That is more than 100 families whose lives will never be the same.
5. Make your request.
Indicate the specific action that you would like the representative to take, and by when (if applicable). For example, indicate whether you are writing in favor of or against a new bill or particular policy, and state what you hope that the representative will do. Be sure to identify the bill or other policy correctly. You can request, but do not demand, a response to your letter.
I urge you to join with thousands of other concerned individuals who support SB 2222. Please vote “Yes” on February 13.
6. Remain professional and courteous.
No matter how upset you might feel, be courteous and professional. Again, it is perfectly acceptable (even preferable) to show your passion for the topic in your writing, but that does not mean you should resort to mud-slinging, name calling, swearing, or similar tactics.
7. Keep you letter clear and concise.
As you write, don’t resort to waxing flowery or being long-winded. Your representatives are busy; make their lives easier by stating clearly and concisely what you want, why, and by when. Generally, you should keep your letter to one page.
8. Close your letter.
Close your letter by restating your purpose for writing the representative and repeating your request for action. Then thank the person for taking the time to read your letter.
9. Know to whom to send your letter.
Send your letter to your local representatives (your house representative and your two senators). You may think it worthwhile to really let your voice be heard by sending a letter to every member of Congress, but they will likely forward the letter on to your local officials (who in turn may get quite annoyed at receiving dozens of copies of the same letter from the same person).
You can find the name and address of your representative by going to Congress.org. When addressing your letter, use the following format:
For Your Senator:
The Honorable (full name)
(Room Number) (Name) Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Senator (last name):
For Your House Representative:
The Honorable (full name)
(Room Number) (Name) House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Representative (last name):
10. Proofread your letter.
Before you sign and seal your letter, make sure to proofread it first. Ensure that you have not left out any important, pertinent information. If you’ve repeated yourself or if something isn’t as clear as it could be, revise. After making any necessary changes, read over your letter one more time to check for spelling, punctuation, grammar, and other errors.
11. Know that your vote counts.
Congressional leaders exist to serve you, a representative of the American people. Most of them truly want to represent faithfully the concerns of those they serve. And they understand that without your vote, and that of others like you, they will not remain in office. Moreover, because representatives receive relatively few personal letters, your letter may hold more sway than you think. So write with confidence!
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