Writing Effective Letters, Emails, and Faxes

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Writing letters to members of Congress is one of the most powerful things you can do to encourage change to the United States policy towards Latin America! Members of Congress place a great deal of stock in the correspondence they receive from constituents, whether it’s a handwritten letter, fax, or email. That’s because their jobs depend upon you—the voters! While your emails and faxes will certainly be read, many congressional offices only require their staff to respond in writing to each letter that you send via snail mail to their offices, giving you an opportunity to get your elected official “on the record.” However, in the post-anthrax world, it can take a while for your letter to arrive at its destination, so only write a snail mail letter if your “ask” or request for information isn’t urgent.

Where to Send Your Letter: You can get addresses and phone numbers for your members of Congress from the U.S. Capitol switchboard by calling (202) 224-3121.

Where to Send Your Faxes and Emails: Check out congressional webpages for contact information, including e-mail addresses. For members of the House of Representatives, go to www.house.gov; for senators, go to www.senate.gov.

Identify Yourself: To grab the reader”s attention, begin each correspondence by telling them that you’re a constituent. Because congressional offices receive hundreds of letters, faxes, and emails a week, it’s also really important to personalize your letter. If it’s personalized, you increase the chances that you’ll receive a more personal response, perhaps directly from the member of Congress or their senior staff, which is ideally what you want. So personalize those letters!

Get to the Point: It’s best to put your request at the very beginning of your correspondence (the subject line in an email). By the second sentence, you should identify the issue that you are writing about, and how you want your representative to act on that issue. Because staffers read so many things from constituents, it’s important to grab their attention right away. Don’t be afraid to state your positions strongly. Use bold to highlight your opinions!

Say It Like You Mean It: While we hope you’ll take the “instant actions” on our website and draw from our educational materials, the rule still holds that the more your correspondence stands out, the more attention it will receive. Tailor it with your own language and any special concerns that you might have. Make your voice heard!

Be Clear as a Bell: You should always be exactly clear on what piece of legislation you want them to co-sponsor, how you want them to vote on a particular bill, what letter you want them to sign, or on what issue you want them to become active. The more specific your ask, the more you force them to take a specific stand on your issue.

Getting a Response: Although it is standard practice for congressional offices to respond to all constituent mail, always be sure to clearly state that you would like to hear back on how you are going to be represented on your issue. This lets the office know that their response matters to you.