One of the hallmarks of democracy is individuals’ ability to share their views, request information or help, and seek to persuade those elected to represent them. One of the most popular ways to communicate with elected officials is through a letter or email.
Personal letters and emails help your message stand out from the crowd of cookie-cutter letters and emails that your elected representatives receive every day. If you want your message to receive more attention, consider writing or printing a letter to send by mail. But if your message is about something time-sensitive like a pending vote, email might be the best means of connection for you.
Whether you’re seeking meeting minutes from a school board hearing, asking your city councilperson to fill potholes, or trying to get your US senator’s attention, this article will offer you a guide to writing a clear, respectful letter or email to have your voice heard. Read on to learn how to write a letter to your elected official, what to include, and find examples.
Why write a letter to your elected representative?
The purpose of writing to your elected representative depends on the outcomes you want to achieve. You may write your elected representative to express your opinion, ask them to act on a specific issue, or obtain public documents.
For example, you may write a letter to your city councilperson requesting they resolve an issue in your neighborhood. Or you could write a letter to your congressperson to tell them about a piece of legislation that’s important to you.
Whether you’re sending a handwritten letter or an email, the most direct way to let your elected representative know what’s important to you is by writing them a message.
When to write a letter to your representative
If you have time, a letter will probably get the most attention, but a personal email can also be effective. A letter is an appropriate way to request information, express your opinion, or convey a call to action.
Below are some circumstances in which you should write to your representative:
- When you need information or services
- When you want to call attention to an issue or need
- When you want to thank them for addressing an issue or need
- When you want to share your disappointment or frustration with their actions
How to write a letter, email, or message to your representative
Before you write a message, letter, or email, determine who should receive it. This might be a local council member, a state senator or representative, or a federal senator or representative. Once you know who you’re writing to, you can address them properly.
Then, clarify what you’re writing about and come up with three points to support your perspective. If you can, think of a personal story that you can share to humanize your message. Explain how the issue affects your life.
What are the rules for writing a letter?
Here are some rules you should follow when you write a letter to your elected official:
- Keep it under one page or five hundred words if you’re writing an email.
- Address only one topic in your letter.
- Include your home address.
- If using email, send it to only one representative at a time.
- State your subject clearly in the subject line or the first sentence of the letter.
- Include facts.
- Avoid personal attacks.
What tone should you use?
Letters to elected officials should maintain a respectful and more formal writing tone. Recipients may save letters for official reference or, on some occasions, may even read them in front of Congress.
It’s important to remember that your elected representatives, whether local or federal, are real human beings. Expressing your respect and appreciation for their time by using a courteous tone will help your message receive the attention it deserves.
If your elected official has acted in a way that you appreciated, either before or after you’ve written them a letter, consider sending them a letter of appreciation.
How should the letter be structured?
Your letter should be composed of about four paragraphs and no longer than one page or five hundred words.
Here is an outline you can follow when writing to your elected representative:
- Personal story
- Respectful closing
What information should the letter contain?
If you’re writing a printed or handwritten letter, include the date you’re writing the letter in the upper right-hand corner. If you’re writing an email, simply start with a salutation. Your first paragraph, the summary paragraph, should outline who you are, why you are writing, and what you’d like them to do. You can include your credentials—your job title or any honors you’ve been awarded—if they are relevant to the issue you’re writing about.
In your second paragraph, give the representative some context. Why is the issue you’re writing about important? This way, they know exactly what you’d like them to do about the issue. You might ask them to vote for a particular bill, take action on a pothole in your community, or include funding for your issue in a budget.
Then, provide three of your best supporting points. Those could be data, relevant events, or other key evidence points. You may break up your evidence into a bulleted list after your second paragraph or include them in the paragraph.
In the last paragraph of your letter, help them connect with you. Including a personal story can make your letter more convincing. If you have any personal connection, or you know someone who does, tell a story about it. You might add a transition sentence at the beginning of your fourth paragraph, too.
At the end of your letter, include a polite closing. You may write “sincerely,” “thank you,” or something along those lines. You can sign your name, but be sure to print it beneath your signature as well. You may add your title, if you have one, to your name.
After your name, include your address, phone number, and email address. This way, if multiple governing bodies are involved, your elected representative will know you are their constituent. They’ll also be able to contact you if they need more information. Don’t forget to proofread your letter, checking for spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes.
Examples of letters to a representative
We’ve written three example letters to representatives at the federal, state, and local level.
Letter to a US representative
The Honorable Representative [Last name]
US House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Representative [Last name],
My name is [X], and I reside in your district. I’m writing to urge you to increase funding for the [X agency/program/initiative].
As you may know, the [X agency] is responsible for [X]. With [X event] in our state, I hope you see how important it is to continue funding [X].
- Fact 1 about the importance of the program
- Fact 2 about the impact in the official’s district
- Fact 3 about how it impacts those beyond their district
The money invested in [X] contributes to communities across the country, including our state, creating jobs and stimulating the local economy. I personally know many people in my community who will benefit from [X].
I hope you will consider approving an increase in funding for [X]. Thank you for your time and consideration. Please contact me should you wish to discuss this further.
[Your phone number]
Email to a state senator
Dear Senator [Last name],
As the director of a nonprofit housing alliance, I am writing to urge you to vote yes on [Bill number].
As you may know, [Bill number] is a bipartisan, budget-neutral proposal to build more affordable housing in the [Region]. Approving this bill authorizes critical funding for your constituents’ essential basic housing.
[Bill number] is beneficial for your constituents for the following reasons:
- This bill creates local jobs and stimulates the economy by funding new housing projects.
- This bill will provide housing for more than two thousand families seeking affordable housing, many of whom are not currently housed.
- This bill will increase property tax revenue for the state government.
Through [personal connection or work or life experience], I know how important it is to provide constituents with affordable and accessible housing. There are thousands of families in our state seeking homes that they can afford to rent. I am urging you to vote yes on [Bill number].
Thank you for taking the time to read this email. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
[Full name], [Degree if relevant]
Letter to city council member
Councilmember [Last name]
Dear Councilor/Councilmember [Last name],
My name is [Your name], a resident of [Your city]. I’m writing to urge you to increase funding for the highway department in the 2023 budget.
As you may know, potholes and frost heaves have plagued the streets of [Your city]. They’ve gotten much worse this year and must be repaired before they get worse. Potholes can cause suspension, alignment, axle, oil pan, and tire damage in motor vehicles.
- Frost heaves and potholes combined cause over $200,000 worth of damage each winter in the northeastern United States.
- There are more than thirty reported potholes and 150 recurrent frost heaves in [Your city].
- It will cost just $1,350 to repair the reported potholes in [Your city].
I’ve personally spent more than $1,500 on car repairs over the past twelve months because of our roads. I urge you to provide funding to fix the potholes. I also would like to request that the city council considers repaving [Road names] to mitigate frost heaves.
I appreciate your time and consideration.
Write to your representatives to be heard
Many elected officials are responsible for the voices of thousands of individuals. They’re also tasked with navigating the ever-changing landscape of issues such as public safety, budgets, healthcare, urban development, and more. That’s why it’s important to take the time to write to your representatives.
Interacting with your local representatives through letters and email will almost always have a bigger impact than writing to officials at a higher level. Local officials represent fewer people and have more say on what affects you directly.
The letters that have the most impact are handwritten, personal, concise, and thoughtful. Establishing a relationship with your representative by writing to them may help your letters have a bigger impact. It’s important to have an active, engaged voice in government if you want to help make a change.