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Letter Writing Tips


Note: While the following are suggestions on writing effective letters to your Congressperson, the same basic principles should be applied to writing your state or local official.

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Sample Letters:


Please share your well written Op-Eds, letters to the editor and letters to policy makers.  Upload them to our site for others bicyclists to use as samples.






  • Use complete, proper addresses

    The correct addressing for
    Representatives is:
    The Honorable __________
    United States House of Representatives
    Washington, D.C. 20515

    Dear Representative__________:

    The correct addressing for
    Senators is:
    The Honorable __________
    United States Senate
    Washington, D.C. 20510

    Dear Senator __________:

    Use your complete return address:

    Ms. Jane Doe
    123 Main Street
    Springfield IN 98765-2468


    Write on company letterhead if you can.

    If you know the Member or staff aide, say so at the start of your letter. That may alert the aide reading it to give it special attention.

  • If you live in the Member's district, say so early in your letter.
  • Above all, be brief!
    • Congressional staffs are severely overworked.
    • Only one typewritten page and only one subject; a second page only if you must.

  • Be courteous
    • Ask for the Member's views; ask for their support, do not demand it.
    • Be constructive, not negative. If a bill deals with a problem, but seems to be a wrong solution, propose constructive alternatives. Recognize that you might have to compromise.

  • Write in your own Words
    • Be yourself.
    • If you are copying a model letter, put it into your own words.

  • "Three tells" organization
    "Three tells" is common public speaking tactic and a great way of organizing your thoughts in a letter:
    • Tell them what you're going to tell them
      In the first paragraph, explain your reason for writing (one single subject or issue). If you are writing about a particular bill, use its House or Senate bill number and/or title. (use "Thomas" for lookups) If you support a particular bill, say so. If you are writing in opposition, include specific examples of how the measure would adversely effect you, and suggest an alternative approach if possible. If it's relevant, describe your "credentials" or experience.
    • Tell them
      In the middle paragraph(s), discuss the issue and explain your stand. Frame your discussion in a national, rather than a personal perspective. Cite relevant facts, avoiding emotionalism. Give the legislator information he or she can use, including what you are hearing from other legislators and from people back home. Relate the points of your message to your experience and/or the Member's committee assignments and/or constituents' interests. Be specific and practical.
    • Tell them what you told them
      In the last paragraph, request - not demand - a specific action. Thank the Member for his/her consideration of your views. Offer assistance. Ask a question (needing more than just a Yes/No answer). This requires a response.
  • Other tips
    • Show an understanding of both the issue and the legislative process, so that way your message will be taken more seriously. For example, name the bill's sponsoring Member(s), and/or whether the bill is supported/opposed by the President.
    • Avoid jargon and acronyms.

  • Timing
    • A letter sent months before an issue is considered is likely to be forgotten; one sent after Congress acts is a missed opportunity.
    • Most Congressional mail arrives on Monday, Tuesday or Friday.

  • Follow up
    • Write back! React to the Member's response. This is a two-way communication.
    • Follow up your Congressman's response (or lack thereof) with another brief letter, regardless of the position they have taken. If your Member agrees with you, send a letter of thanks for his or her stand. If your Member disagrees with your position, reply with a brief letter quoting the section of his letter with which you take issue, restate your position, and supply individual additional evidence to support it.
    • Maintain an extended, informed dialog with your Congressman.
  • And don't forget . . .
    • Elected officials are people too, and they like to be told when they've done something right. Send a congratulatory note when they do something that merits approval.









    

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