How to write your congressional representative

Letters and faxes are an extremely effective way of communicating with your elected officials. Many legislators believe that a letter represents not only the position of the writer but also many other constituents who did not take the time to write.

These tips will help increase the effectiveness of your letter:

Keep it brief: Letters should never be longer than one page, and should be limited to one issue. Legislative aides read many letters on many issues in a day, so your letter should be as concise as possible.

State Who You Are and What You Want Up Front: In the first paragraph, tell your legislators that you are a constituent and identify the issue about which you are writing. If your letters pertains to a specific piece of legislation, it helps to identify it by its bill number (e.g. H.R. ____ or S. _____).

Hit your three most important points: Choose the three strongest points that will be most effective in persuading legislators to support your position and flesh them out.

Personalize your letter: Tell your elected official why this legislation matters in his community or state. If you have one, include a personal story that shows how this issue affects you and your family. A constituent’s personal stories can be the very persuasive as your legislator shapes his or her position.

Personalize your relationship: Have you ever voted for this elected official? Have you ever contributed time or money to his or her campaign? Are you familiar with her through any business or personal relationship? If so, tell your elected official or his staff person. The closer your legislator feels to you, the more powerful your argument is likely to be.

You are the Expert: Remember that your legislator’s job is to represent you. You should be courteous and to the point, but don’t be afraid to take a firm position. Remember that often your elected official may know no more about a given issue than you do.

Not sure of your congressional district or who your member is? This service will assist you by matching your ZIP code to your congressional district, with links to your member’s website and contact page.

Please review the frequently asked questions if you have problems using this service.

There is no central listing of member office public e-mail addresses. Each member of Congress establishes their office’s policy related to the processing and management of e-mail. Generally, if a member has a public e-mail address, it can be found on the member’s website. The office may list a public e-mail address or provide a form directly on the member’s website. The U.S. House of Representatives does not provide a listing of public e-mail addresses for the elected Representatives.

The Find Your Representative service matches the ZIP code information you provide with a list of congressional districts. If you receive an error due to a missing ZIP code or incorrect member information, please use the Contact Webmaster form to report the problem. Select the appropriate error category (Report an error in the Find Your Representative service.) and provide as much information as possible to assist us in researching the problem. Please be sure to include: Your Street Address, City, State and ZIP code, the member or congressional district information you are trying to reach and the member or congressional district the service is reporting that you feel is in error.

No. The webmaster will not forward messages to congressional offices. If you are having problems contacting your representative, you can report the problem using the Contact Webmaster form, write or call your elected representative, or visit the member’s website for alternate contact information.

If you know who your representative is but you are unable to contact them using their contact form, the Clerk of the House maintains addresses and phone numbers of all House members and Committees, or you may call (202) 224-3121 for the U.S. House switchboard operator. In addition, you may choose to visit your member’s website directly for further information.

There are several correct forms of address for a member of Congress including “The Honorable” and “Representative”.

How to write your congressional representative

Handwritten letters always receive more attention than preprinted 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.

That said, 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.

What happens to emails and letters once they arrive? A legislative correspondent reads the messages and verifies if the sender is a constituent. Messages are then routed or tallied:

  • Important or compelling correspondence is given to a legislative assistant.
  • Unique and moving messages are shared with the member of Congress.
  • A summary of emails and letters received is given at an issue briefing before a vote.

9 Essential Tips for Writing Your Congressperson

Write letters only about the issues of greatest importance to you. That way you don’t dilute your influence or your message. Each letter should be:

State your subject clearly in the email subject line or first sentence of the letter. Stick to just one issue in the letter.

Identify yourself as a constituent. State your views, support them with your expert knowledge and, when appropriate, cite the bill number of relevant legislation (e.g., H.R. 1234 or S.3456).

Ask for the policymaker’s point of view and how he or she plans to vote on relevant legislation. Expect an answer to a letter, though it may be a form response. Replies to email vary by office; not all reply.

Rely on the facts, but personalize the issue. Explain how the issue affects your life. Avoid personal attacks, threats of political influence or demands.

Be positive about your issue and offer recommendations about how you want the member to address concerns.

Always explain the hometown relevance of the issue. Use “I” statements and cite specific times and examples.

Offer to provide additional information if needed, and provide your contact information.

Remember to thank members for their attention. Follow the issue and thank them later if they vote your way.

Keep your letter to one page, or your email to 500 words or less.

Sample Letters

How to write your congressional representative

View a sample email (PDF, 239KB) to a legislator.

How to write your congressional representative

View two sample letters (PDF, 246KB) o a legislator.

Take the Next Step

Find out who to contact and stay informed.

Use the Senate’s locator to find your two senators.

Use the House’s locator.

Contact APA before your visit for additional guidance.

About APA Advocacy

APA represents the largest and most visible national presence advocating for psychology at the federal level.

APA advocacy efforts are guided by the Advocacy Coordinating Committee, which evaluates and prioritizes advocacy goals for the discipline of psychology and the professions of psychologists in scientific, educational, public interest, health service practice and applied practice settings.

How can you contact your congressional representative?

If you know who your representative is but you are unable to contact them using their contact form, the Clerk of the House maintains addresses and phone numbers of all House members and Committees, or you may call (202) 224-3121 for the U.S. House switchboard operator.

How do I write a letter to a government representative?

Below are some simple tips that you can use to write more effective letters:

  1. Use Proper Salutation. The salutation should be “Dear Representative Smith” or Dear Senator Smith” or “Dear Assemblyman Smith” depending on the office held.
  2. Avoid Righteous Indignation.
  3. Focus on Key Points.
  4. In Closing.

What is the freedom to petition the government?

The Freedom to Petition the government for redress of grievances is one of your Five Freedoms protected under the First Amendment. It is the freedom to encourage or disapprove government action through nonviolent, legal means.

Who can write to Congressman?

Our general “rule of thumb” is anyone who has a mailing address in the United States can write to Congress. The reason we say this is because, if you have a U.S. mailing address you live in that Congressional district and state; you live, work, pay taxes, send your children to school, in that district.

How do I write a representative?

9 Essential Tips for Writing Your Congressperson

  1. Direct. State your subject clearly in the email subject line or first sentence of the letter.
  2. Informative. Identify yourself as a constituent.
  3. Inquiring.
  4. Factual & Courteous.
  5. Constructive.
  6. Specific.
  7. Helpful.
  8. Appreciative.

How do you end a letter to a representative?

Restate your request at the end of the letter, for example urging them to support or oppose the bill. Thank the legislator for his or her support and offer to address any questions that he or she might have. Be sure to include your contact information, and sign the letter.

Why is freedom to petition the government important?

The right to petition grants people not only the freedom to stand up and speak out against injustices they feel are occurring, but also grants the power to help change those injustices.

Why should you write your Congressman?

Letters and faxes are an extremely effective way of communicating with your elected officials. Many legislators believe that a letter represents not only the position of the writer but also many other constituents who did not take the time to write.

How do I write my congressman about military issues?

When you contact your Congressional office, they usually ask you to sign a privacy release form that gives them permission to contact the military on your behalf. They also often ask you to summarize in writing the nature of the problem you are having and the help you are seeking.

Should I write to my senator or representative?

It’s usually best to send letters to the representative from your local congressional district or the senators from your state.

How do you write a letter to a congressional representative?

How do you format a letter to a senator?

Paragraph 1 – Introduce the writer and state the purpose of the letter. Paragraph 2 – State the position supported. Use supporting examples and facts. Paragraph 3 – Describe any action requested.

How to write your congressional representative

When calling your senator or representative’s Washington, D.C., office, you’ll speak with a member of their staff. Don’t expect to speak personally with your senator or representative.

Congressional staff work long hours—10 to 12 days are not uncommon—and have many demands and pressures on their time. Take the time before you call to craft a concise and compelling message.

4 Essential Tips for Calling Your Member of Congress

Making a phone call to your representatives to request action on specific legislation is a great idea. Here’s how to do it.

Know the issue you wish to discuss, your goal or the action you want the legislator to take. Before calling, have your message written in front of you and review it carefully so you know exactly what you want to say. Include a few compelling facts to convince them to take action. APA can help you develop talking points.

Identify Yourself & Ask for a Legislative Assistant

Identify yourself as a constituent. Briefly state your your title and position, if relevant. Ask to speak with the legislative assistant responsible for the issue.

State Your Purpose

Keep the message simple and concise. A good model to follow is: State the issue, support with facts and then state your goal, such as asking the legislator’s support for a bill.

Avoid emotional arguments, personal attacks, threats of political influence or demands. Thank the staffer for taking your call and let him or her know how you will follow up.

Sample Phone Call

This example focuses on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (EDNA).

Identify yourself and explain your relationship with the senator or representative:

“Hi, my name is NAME, and I am calling as a constituent and psychologist/graduate student from ORGANIZATION OR INSTITUTION.”

Explain why you are calling:

“It is very important to me that you pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”

Establish why your issue is necessary and the perspective you offer as a psychologist or graduate student:

“As psychological professionals, we work to improve the health and well-being of all Americans every day. Data indicate that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people suffer disproportionately from harassment and prejudice in the workplace. Federal workplace protections for LGBT people would serve to reduce discrimination, improve self-esteem, and heighten work productivity and satisfaction.”

Ask your member of Congress to take action:

“I urge the SENATOR/REPRESENTATIVE to vote YES to pass ENDA.”

Thank the staffer:

“Thanks for your time and attention today.”

Take the Next Step

Find out who to contact and stay informed.

Use the Senate’s locator to find your two senators.

Use the House’s locator.

Contact APA before your visit for additional guidance.

About APA Advocacy

APA represents the largest and most visible national presence advocating for psychology at the federal level.

APA advocacy efforts are guided by the Advocacy Coordinating Committee, which evaluates and prioritizes advocacy goals for the discipline of psychology and the professions of psychologists in scientific, educational, public interest, health service practice and applied practice settings.

One great way to advocate for a Citizen Cabinet is to write your Representative an email or personal letter. Personal letters tend to be superior to emails or form-letters because of the time invested in writing them, so Congressional offices take them more seriously. If you feel moved to write, here are some general guidelines:

  1. Keep it simple: Around three paragraphs and no more than one page is ideal.
  2. Make sure you’re sending it to the right person [click here to find the address of your representative], and make sure you include your own mailing address, otherwise it is unlikely to be read at all.
  3. For extra impact, call ahead and ask for the name of the staffer handling government reform issues, and send your letter straight to their attention.
  4. Be courteous. Don’t allow your frustration with Congress to get the better of you. A respectful tone is always more effective and persuasive.
  5. In the first paragraph, introduce yourself including any honors, accomplishments, or personal details, and say why you are writing, including the bill number and official name of any pending legislation (check in on the VOP.org website for the most current legislative alerts and updates).
  6. In the second paragraph, state your reasons why you think your representatives should support a Citizen Cabinet.
  7. Close by thanking them for their time and stating your appreciation should they support a Citizen Cabinet.
Sample Letter to Congress

Senator/The Honorable [Full name] United States Senate/U.S. House of Representatives
[Building Name and Room Number] (Look up on-line or call your representative)
Washington, DC 20510(Senate)/20515(House)

Dear [Senator/Representative] [Last Name]:

My name is [Name], and I want to ask you to support a bold new way to give the American people a greater voice in government. It is called the Citizen Cabinet and I would like to know if this is something you will support.

Our democracy is in real trouble today, between all the special-interests, the partisan gridlock that’s tying up Congress, and the feeling many of us share that our system is broken. We need to be looking at better ways to let the people’s voice come through loud and clear, which right now isn’t happening.

A national Citizen Cabinet would give the American people a greater voice and help resolve some of the more contentious issues Congress is wrestling with today. It would also give you a more clear and accurate picture of what all of us think on key issues, not just the few of us who come to town hall meetings or have time to write. The idea of giving the people information, letting them hear the best arguments from all sides, and then make their recommendations to Congress would really help. It would raise the level of the debate, lead to more common-sense solutions and help Congress come together for the common good.

Here is a link to a website that describes this proposal in detail: www.VOP.org.

I hope you will support this common-sense idea, which I think will help us fix what’s wrong in our democracy and get back to our founding principle that government ought to be guided by the will of the people more than anything else.

YOUR NAME
MAILING ADDRESS
CITY, STATE, ZIP

[NOTE: You must include your home address or your letter is unlikely to be read]

If you have a problem involving a federal agency, including one of the branches of the military, you may request assistance from your United States senator or Congressional representative. If you are on active duty in any of the armed services, you have the same right to communicate with your elected representative as any other American citizen without fear of punishment or retaliation.

Military Whistleblower Protection Act

Your right to communicate with members of Congress is protected by the Military Whistleblower Protection Act found in Title 10 U.S. Code section 1034. The act protects service members who file congressional complaints from demotion, discharge or other negative actions. An exception is for unlawful communications, including threats or bribes. However, a decision by the Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces – United States vs. Gorgas – allows military judges to consider statements of guilt made to congressional representatives to be considered in criminal sentencing proceedings.

Appropriate Issues for Congressional Representatives

Congressional representatives cannot help you with issues related to state agencies or private individuals, nor can they provide legal advice or represent you in court proceedings. Their function is to inquire about issues related to any federal agency, including a branch of the military, and to assist in resolving the issue, if possible. Appropriate issues for congressional complaints include fraud, mismanagement, discrimination, sexual harassment or violation of military regulations, among others.

Which Representative Can Help

As a rule, members of Congress can only assist with complaints from their own constituents. In general, you should contact the representative of the district where you vote, even if you vote by absentee ballot. The location of your current duty station does not matter when it comes to determining which representative to contact. For example, if the incident occurred at your duty station in Texas but you vote and pay income taxes in Ohio, you should contact your representative in Ohio.

Format of the Complaint

A congressional complaint is basically a business letter in which you clearly describe the issue and ask for specific information and assistance. Some offices ask you to submit the letter by email or online, while others prefer you to mail a paper copy to them. Always include your full name, Social Security number, branch of service, duty station and permanent address in your letter.

Privacy Act Statement

You must download a Privacy Act statement from the representative’s website, sign it and submit it by U.S. mail before the representative’s office can make inquiries on your behalf. Even if you submitted the congressional complaint online or by email, mail a paper copy along with the Privacy Act statement and any other documents that might be helpful to the representative. Locate the appropriate mailing address on the representative’s website, which may be found by accessing the websites of the United States Senate or the United States House of Representatives.

What to Expect

A member of the representative’s staff, called a caseworker, attaches a cover letter from the representative to your letter and forwards it to the appropriate military command. The command forwards this packet to an action officer for response within five days. The caseworker will also mail a copy of the response to you for comment. If necessary, the caseworker may request further information from the military, but the representative cannot direct the military to take any particular action.

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Democracy thrives when people’s voices are heard. The easier it is for you to contact Congress, the better. It’s that simple.

Failure to effectively reach members of Congress has disastrous consequences. Studies show that politicians fundamentally misconceive their constituents’ views, making it harder for them to represent us in the lawmaking process.

That’s why we built Democracy.io: a new tool to put you in touch with your members of Congress—with as few clicks as possible.

Simple and easy to use

We make it possible for you to email your two senators and representative through a single website. You submit one message—not three different messages on three different forms on three different websites.

Some key features:

  • All your senators and representatives on one website.
  • Say whatever you want. Many activism platforms want you to send a pre-written message about a specific topic. We let you tell Congress exactly what’s on your mind.
  • Free software. All our code is licensed under the AGPL, which means people can create new versions with different features and continue to improve on our original idea.

We don’t tell people what to say

This project is hosted by the Taskforce.is, but it’s a neutral tool. We don’t control or influence the messages that are sent through Democracy.io. We’re committed to free speech, and we support the free speech rights of our users.

Sometimes we may oppose what people choose to tell their legislators. Even in those cases, we won’t censor what individuals choose to say. We think society benefits from a plurality of voices speaking on a broad range of topics, and as a free speech organization this is a value we hold dear, even if we disagree with the message.

While we have tried to make the best tool we can, please understand that Democracy.io may have bugs or other technical issues, and is offered without any warranty; without even the implied warranty of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. See the license for more details.

Why we’re doing this.

First, we want contacting your elected officials to be easy. Then more people will do it. And that’s good for democracy.

We also want to show off the functionality of the tools Taskforce.is has been creating over the last several years. We are working from the contact-congress dataset originally created by the Participatory Politics Foundation and later adopted by and improved upon by the Sunlight Foundation, EFF, and several collaborating organizations. Together, we’ve been working on a large-scale project to improve how Internet users contact elected officials and other decision makers.

Democracy.io lets you test out one of these tools—emailing members of Congress—but we’re also creating simple ways to send Tweets to members of Congress, call Congress, sign petitions, and submit official comments to government agencies. If you’re an advocacy organization that likes how this works, check out our Github page and contact [email protected] to discuss whether these free software, user-focused tools are a good solution for your advocacy needs.

Who is behind this project

Democracy.io was built by three amazing programmers who want to make the world a better place—Sina Khanifar, Leah Jones, and Randy Lubin, as part of a project for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It’s maintained by Taskforce.is.

The backend system that delivers these messages to Congress was written by EFF employee William Budington. The contact-congress dataset that was completed with help from over 100 EFF volunteer web developers, (and in particular these five individuals). The dataset is now maintained by EFF, the Sunlight Foundation, and Action Network.

Jump in, change the world.

Want to help with this and future technology projects? If you’re a web developer who might want to occasionally volunteer, send an email to [email protected] and also sign up with Taskforce, a volunteer group that works with EFF on many projects to make the Internet more awesome and free.