Whether writing a traditional letter or an email, there is a right way to stand out among the hundreds of letters that flood a representative’s office daily.
Email or traditional letter?
Before you begin, you need to choose how you want to write your member of Congress: email or send a physical letter. Both have positives and negatives.
When deciding which to use you should consider the urgency of the matter. If you are writing concerning a pending vote, email is your best option as security screenings may delay receipt of a physical letter by up to three weeks.
But hand-written letters always receive more attention than pre-printed materials. So if you are writing about a general inquiry or topic, taking the extra time to send a physical letter may be worth it.
Write your letter so that it is:
Direct. State your subject clearly and stick to just one issue in the letter.
Informative. Identify yourself as a psychologist or graduate student (and constituent!). State your views, support them with your expert knowledge and, when appropriate, cite the bill number of relevant legislation (H.R. 1234 or S.3456, for example).
Constructive. Be positive about your issue and how you want the representative to address concerns.
Factual/courteous. Rely on the facts. Avoid emotional arguments, personal attacks, threats of political influence, or demands.
Specific. Always explain the hometown relevance of the issue. If permitted, use your institution’s stationary.
Selective. Write only about the issues of greatest importance to you. That way you don’t dilute your influence or your message.
Inquiring. Ask for the policymaker’s point of view on the subject and how he or she plans to vote on relevant legislation. Expect an answer, even if it’s a form letter.
Helpful. Offer additional information if needed and provide your contact information.
Appreciative. Remember to thank readers for their attention. Follow the issue and thank them later if they vote your way.
Concise. Keep your letter to one page, or your email to 500 words or less.