The Single Most Effective Method At Your Fingertips
Well written correspondence is likely the most effective way of successfully advocating for your position or requesting Congressional assistance. It can be easily referenced and documented, clearly state the issue or request, offer supporting documentation, and demonstrate a higher sense of respect. Again, this assumes your correspondence is well prepared in every way. To generate a more effective letter, here are some suggestions to consider before mailing. You will find example letters in PDF format at the bottom of this page.
1. Front-Load Your Point or Request:
Do not force staff to search through pages of unrelated “he said/she said” for the key points or nature of your request. Precious little time is available to spend pouring through each letter. If the purpose for writing isn’t easily found or must be interpreted, your points are already defeated.
2. Be an Objective Reporter:
Construct your letter with the basic information of who, what, when, where, and why. Think of the reader's questions before you write to help organize, and address only one issue per letter. If your letter deals with a specific piece of legislation identify it by bill number (e.g. House bill: H.R. 1234, Senate bill: S. 5678).
3. Keep the Letter Short:
Letters should be concise and to the point. If necessary, restate key points of previous letter in a bulleted format. One page is best. Shorter is also better with paragraphs. If a sentence you're writing is longer than it would be comfortable to speak, it's probably too long. And only have one extended idea or discrete event per paragraph.
4. Plain and Simple Grammar:
Nothing more quickly compromises the hard work you put in a letter than poor grammar, incorrect punctuation, and bad spelling. You don’t need to be a professor in English, but do be as clear as possible. If you're not confident about the grammar of a sentence, re-write it and strive for clarity. It's better to be plain and understood than to have people admire your style but with little comprehension of what you're trying to say.
5. Ensure Correct Punctuation and Spelling:
Appropriate punctuation is essential to communicating your message. Capitals are also important and should always be used at the beginning of sentences and for proper nouns. Learn to spell-check AND proofread. Nearly every single computerized writing tool has a built-in spell-check that will catch 90% of your spelling errors. But it will not know the difference between "their" and "there" or “from” and “form”. No one will notice if your letter is done well, but they will see your mistakes clearly.
6. Use Common Terms and Language:
It's nice to use impressive words from time to time. But if you use an impressive word incorrectly you could lose the entire meaning of your statement, as well as, have the reader question your own understanding of the problem. Also, avoid using a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or technical jargon if you can think of a common equivalent. If you’re worried your letter might not be clear, use simpler words and sentences.
7. Use Active Voice:
Active voice is stronger and moves the action along. Passive voice sounds like someone is trying to hide something or to avoid responsibility. Technically, active voice puts the dynamic agent first, followed by the verb (the action), followed by the object of the action. Passive voice reverses the order.
Active – The non-custodial father abducted our son.
Passive - Our son was abducted by the non-custodial father.
8. Support with Research:
Awareness of your Congress member’s policy interests, voting history, and leadership roles will greatly help you determine if, and how much, they may be able to promote your issues or intervene on your behalf. Using examples to support your position and referencing legislation they’ve introduced/passed will demonstrate your active interest in their service to the public.
9. Stress Benefits to Persuade:
To be successful eliciting a positive action, you must persuade. Persuasive writing stresses benefits instead of features. Yes, your Congress member serves to further the interests of the constituent public, but people are people. With so many conflicting demands, every decision will eventually filter through the question, “What is in it for me?” This won’t usually be easy to do, but if you can find the connection it can make all the difference. Help make their involvement easier and more favorable to you by briefly illustrating how the requested policy decision or intervention will strengthen their position.
10. Always Be Respectful:
Using the correct salutation to address your member of Congress is a good way to start. Be polite and objective in your statements, and avoid assigning blame, interjecting inflammatory declarations, or offering a discourse in the perceived failure of systems or ideals. NEVER attempt to threaten, demean, or otherwise include libelous, defamatory, offensive, racist or obscene remarks.