Tips on Writing to Your Elected Officials
Letters and faxes are an extremely effective way of communicating with your elected officials. Many legislators believe that a letter represents not only the position of the writer but also many other constituents who did not take the time to write.
These tips will help increase the effectiveness of your letter.
- Keep it brief. Letters should never be longer than one page, and should be limited to one issue. Legislative aides read many letters on many issues in a day, so your letter should be as concise as possible.
- State who you are and what you want up front. In the first paragraph, tell your legislators that you are a constituent and identify the issue about which you are writing. If your letters pertains to a specific piece of legislation, it helps to identify it by its bill number (e.g. H.R. or S. _).
- Hit your three most important points. Choose the three strongest points that will be most effective in persuading legislators to support your position and flesh them out.
- Personalize your letter. Tell your elected official why this legislation matters in his community or state. If you have one, include a personal story that shows how this issue affects you and your family. A constituent’s personal stories can be the very persuasive as your legislator shapes his or her position.
- Personalize your relationship. Have you ever voted for this elected official? Have you ever contributed time or money to his or her campaign? Are you familiar with her through any business or personal relationship? If so, tell your elected official or his staff person. The closer your legislator feels to you, the more powerful your argument is likely to be.
- You are the expert. Remember that your legislator’s job is to represent you. You should be courteous and to the point, but don’t be afraid to take a firm position. Remember that often your elected official may know no more about a given issue than you do.
Letters to the editor are great advocacy tools. After you write letters to your members of Congress, sending letters to the editor can achieve other advocacy goals because they
- Reach a large audience.
- Are often monitored by elected officials.
- Can bring up information not addressed in a news article.
- Create an impression of widespread support for or opposition to an issue.
Tips on Writing Letters to the Editor
- Keep it short and on one subject. Many newspapers have strict limits on the length of letters and have limited space to publish them. Keeping your letter brief will help assure that your important points are not cut out by the newspaper. Use the “Tips on Writing to Your Elected Officials” as a guide.
- Make it legible. Your letter doesn’t have to be fancy, but you should use a typewriter or computer word processor if your handwriting is difficult to read. This will keep confusion to a minimum.
- Send letters to weekly community newspapers too. The smaller the newspaper’s circulation, the easier it is to get your letter printed.
- Be sure to include your contact information. Many newspapers will only print a letter to the editor after calling the author to verify his or her identity and address. Newspapers will not give out that information, and will usually only print your name and city should your letter be published.
- Make references to the newspaper. While some papers print general commentary, many will only print letters that refer to a specific article. If that is the case, refer to the story in the beginning of the letter.