Sending a Professional Email

With the emergence of e-mail, more people are communicating with their Representative or Senator more often.  However, the same guidelines that apply to letters also apply to e-mail messages.  Unfortunately, most messages loose their effectiveness or fail to generate a response at all because the writer used the lax standards practiced in regular email. 


Because of this, and other reasons, some members of Congress do not respond to e-mail, making their responses only to written letters.  Whether by post or e-mail, your correspondence says a lot about you. It causes the reader to form certain opinions whether to help or not.  To improve your success by sending email, you should be aware of some basic e-mail etiquette, sometimes called “netiquette”.

1.         Greetings and Salutations:

For official correspondence, things are much more formal but not complicated.  For the vast majority of people contacting a member of Congress, the e-mail message should contain the complete identification and salutation as it would in a regular letter.  Writing an e-mail message is not an acceptable excuse for informality, except for previously established personal acquaintances.  If you are unsure of your standing, stick to the formal salutation.

2.         Do Not Write in UPPER-CASE:

Use of upper-case words is very annoying and the equivalent of shouting in someone's ear. ONLY use upper-case words when trying to make a point. Even at that, it should be an exceptional instance when exchanging messages with members of Congress.

3.         Do Not Format HTML Messages:

Though most email client servers, including Microsoft Outlook, are able to receive HTML and rich text messages, using these special formats to display backgrounds, fancy fonts, unusual colors, or other attributes may cause your message to be received as gibberish if the recipient’s systems are only able to receive plain text emails.

4.         Avoid Using Abbreviations, Emoticons and Other Distractions:

Although use of abbreviations and other distractions are quite rampant with personal e-mail, when conducting official business, avoid using any abbreviations such as BTW (by the way) or email slang such as RU12 (are you one too).  The recipient might not be aware of the meanings of the abbreviations.  End a sentence with a period or question mark.  Using several exclamation points at the end of a sentence for added emphasis (called "bangs") detracts from your message.  The same restriction should be applied to emoticons, such as the smiley face or animations; all of which are especially inappropriate when sent as an official message to a member of Congress.  If something is important it should be reflected in your text, not in your punctuation or other visuals.

5.         Maintain the Message Thread:

When responding to an e-mail message it is best to keep the link between the original message and your reply.   Without the link, it can get difficult for the users on each end to follow the sequence of messages, especially if there are more than two exchanges. It will also help keep clarity to your message if your writing skills are not as polished as could be.  In other words click 'Reply', instead of 'New Mail' when responding to a message from your Congress member.

6.         Use a Meaningful Subject:

Try to use a subject that is meaningful to the recipient as well as yourself. For instance, when you send an e-mail to a member of Congress requesting information about a piece of legislation, or Congressional intervention it is better to mention the actual number of bill or the reason for the email such as “non-custodial parent access” than to simply say “request for assistance”.

7.         Do Not Send Attached Files:

Unless specifically requested to do so, avoid sending attachments.  E-mails with attachments can slow down the other user’s response to the point of annoyance.  Moreover, because of potential exposure to viruses, most if not all, offices will not risk opening attached files.  If a file must be attached, compress it as much as possible and send only the file(s) in the format requested.

8.         Do Not Request Delivery and Read Receipts:

This is an especially annoying e-mail feature and will almost always set the recipient in a less than receptive frame of mind.  At best, it makes the recipient accomplish a couple more steps than usual to read your message. And with a full inbox to go through, can become very inconvenient.  At worst, it suggests you don’t trust the recipient.  Neither reaction is helpful if you are asking for assistance.  If you want to know whether your e-mail was received it is better to ask the recipient to let you know if it was received by a return message, or follow-up with a telephone call.

9.         Identify Yourself:

Sending anonymous messages, however inadvertent, are not likely to receive a reply.  If you use a signature on your e-mail messages make sure it contains all the necessary information to clearly identify you as the sender.  Otherwise, simply type your full name, street address, city, state, zip code, and telephone number.  You should also include your district if writing to your representative.  Although security systems can easily track down the sender, making your information known upfront helps to instill a certain level of comfort with the recipient that your request is serious and sincere.

10.       Private E-mail Messages:

First, there is no such thing as a private e-mail.  Whether sent from your home or company, your message can be easily traced to the source and destination.  If your message is something you wouldn’t want law enforcement to see or would embarrass your family, friends or co-workers – DO NOT SEND!  Finally, if you are debating whether something is too personal to send by e-mail, then deliver it by hand or fax it.


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