Writing to your member of Congress is one of the most effective ways to communicate your views to your representative. Putting your views in writing is a way to guide your representative as they determine which legislation to support or oppose. The act of taking the time to write a letter and mail it sends a signal to your representative that this is an issue you have thought about and put time into.
Is it worth my time?
Yes. Elected officials heed the opinions of those who are watching them. When they receive a letter, they know someone is taking an action to sway their community. A person who writes a letter with a reasoned opinion is a person who can be a great ally or opponent during the next campaign cycle.
Who reads my letters?
You put your letter in the mailbox and wonder what happens to it. Well, the letter arrives at the Congressional office and is typically read by a low level staffer or intern. The staffer will record your concerns which provide feedback to your Congressperson.
After that, it depends on the elected official. The best case scenario is that it ends up in the hands of your Congressperson. This happens more often than you’d think when you have a clear, succinct letter. President Obama was known for reading letters every night while he was in the White House. Much of the outcome is based on how local your politician is, how well they run their office, and how clear your letter is.
Well managed staff will send a response. This can end up being a form letter, especially if you are writing about a topic that many others are likely writing about. You may also receive a personalized response.
1. Determine reason for your letter
Pick one issue to write about. When writing to your representative, you want to keep things simple and straightforward. What compelled you to write in the first place? Was it a healthcare issue? Was it tax reform? Was it a crisis in foreign affairs?
You may have strong opinions about each of these areas, but keep your letter limited to one. When you start your letter, you will be able to open with, “I am writing to you about [issue].”
2. Decide where you stand on the issue
Now that you have picked the topic for your letter, you want to clarify your stance on the issue. Be direct. Be brief. The simplest way to do this is by stating whether you support or oppose an action.
Here are some examples taken from our “How to Call Congress” page:
Healthcare – you would say, “I support/oppose repealing the Affordable Care Act.”
(Instead of just stating, “I support/oppose healthcare.”)
Business – “I support/oppose lowering taxes on small businesses.”
(Instead of “I support/oppose small businesses.”)
Education – “I support/oppose greater funding for charter schools.”
(Instead of “I support/oppose charter schools.”)
In your letter, provide detail if helps to clarify the issue. Reference news articles or legislation if it directly relates to your issue.
To reference a news article just include these three bits of info in your letter: “Title of Article” Name of News Source (Date)
Example: I am opposed to tax cuts for the wealthy as reported by The World Post’s “Tax Proposal Eliminates Capital Gains Taxes” (4/1/17).
For legislation, you have the option of providing greater detail by referencing the actual bill/resolution. You can find legislation at Congress.gov. Search using keywords, or see if your topic is listed under the “Most Viewed” tab on the main page.
Example: I am opposed to tax cuts for the wealthy as provided in H.R. 5555.
3. Locate contact information
Now you know what you want to write about and why.
There are several websites dedicated to helping you locate your Congressmen’s contact information. We are going to use WhoIsMyRepresentative.com in this example because it will allow you to look up both Senators and your House Representative with one search. Here is a mini-walkthrough to retrieve this information within 60 seconds.
i.) Go to WhoIsMyRepresentative.com
ii.) Enter your Zip code.
iii.) A new page will load identifying both of your U.S. Senators and your U.S. Representative. Click on any of their names to start.
iv.) You will be taken to a page with their phone number, address, and website. Notice that the address listed is for their DC office. Writing here is fine – but you also have the option of writing to a local office. Local offices are less likely to be inundated with mail. To retrieve local office address info, click on the hyperlink labelled “Website.”
v.) Find the local office address. This is often at the bottom of the Congressperson’s webpage, so scroll down until you see it. A second place to find it is under any “Contact” links. Each Congressperson has their webpage designed differently, but most of them make their contact information easy to locate.
4. Write the letter
This part may seem the most daunting, but you’ve already done the hard work. Here is what you need to communicate in your letter:
– Who are you
– What issue are you writing about
– What action would you like your Congressperson to take
– How can the Congressperson reach you
This is a few short paragraphs. A good rule of thumb is to keep your letter to less than a page.
We will break this into smaller bites:
i.) Start with a header at the top left portion of the page. The header format should follow this standard:
The Honorable [Full Name of Congressperson]
Street Address (if writing to a DC office format: [Room #] [Congressperson’s name] [House/Senate] Office Building)
United States [House of Representatives/Senate]
City, State Zip code
ii.) Skip two lines and begin your letter with the salutation, “Dear Senator/Representative [Name],”
iii.) Open your letter by stating why you are writing. Straightforward – like “I am writing to you to express my support for the Affordable Care Act.”
Next sentence, state what you want your representative to do about it. Example: “I want you to vote against repealing the law.”
Now you’ve done the hard part. Start a new paragraph. Tell them who you are by stating your full name, where you live, and whether you have supported the representative in the past.
Follow that up with a reason this issue is important to you. Example: “The ACA allows me to afford insurance due to a pre-existing condition.”
Thank your representative.
At the end of the letter, beneath your signature, include ways for the Congressperson to reach you. Include your printed name, address, phone number and email.
There – you hit all the important points. You can fill add a little more detail if you’d like such as the reference information for specific legislation. But other than that, you are good to sign your name and send it off.
Share that you are taking action. Encourage others to do so. You did the hard work of articulating and justifying a stance. Now share that.
Some Congressional offices are good about responding to all mailed inquiries. If you receive a response, share that as well.
Now that you’ve written, check out “How to Call Congress.” You’ve already done the hard work of reasoning and locating your Congressperson’s contact information. Take another minute to dial.