Letters to policymakers, whether they be to Members of Congress or local elected officials, can be an effective means of influencing public policy.  Some letters, of course, are more effective than others.

Below are some tips on making your letters and telephone calls more effective:

Have a Specific Message.  Make sure to have a specific action request before you write.  If you want a decision changed, a vote cast a particular way or to communicate specific facts, be clear and concise.  For legislative action, be sure to include the name and bill number of the legislation you are advocating (i.e. The Regulatory Transition Act, H.R. 450).

Be Brief.  Your letters are more likely to be read if they are brief and to the point.  Include one or two arguments for your position — presumably, those arguments in which your opinion would be given particular weight by virtue of your position or those that are simply powerful on their own merits.

Target Your Letters.  Elected officials – particularly federal officeholders — seldom read their own mail. This duty normally falls to a staffer — often one with little influence over policy decisions.  To increase the chances that your letters will have an impact, make sure to direct them to staff members who have some responsibility for issue(s) in question. For letters to Congress, these individuals will most often be Legislative Assistants or Legislative Directors. You may also wish to consider sending letters to your Congressman’s or Senators’ district offices rather than their Washington, D.C. offices. Washington offices are inundated with mail, while district offices are not.  As a result, a dozen letters in support of a particular position can be perceived as a groundswell of public support, while hundreds of letters to a Washington office would scarcely be noticed.

Personalize Your Letters.  Although mass-produced postcards and letters can demonstrate to policymakers that a large group of people hold the same point-of-view, individually written postcards and letters are much more effective.  A policymaker knows the letter-writer is genuinely concerned about an issue when he or she has taken the time to write a personal letter.

Use What You Know About the Official.  Before writing to a Congressman or Senator, take the time to learn what motivates them.  For example, if he or she is motivated by his/her desire for re-election, demonstrate in your letter how your position would enhance his/her re-election chances. If he or she has a background as a farmer or rancher, show how your position would strengthen family farms.

Be Timely.  If you wish to influence a policy maker’s opinion on a specific issue, write early.  Your letters will be most effective if sent before the official has developed an opinion.

Be Courteous.  Rude comments in your letter will make it less effective.  One can be firm while being courteous.

Follow-up.  If you receive a vague response from an elected official, write again and request more specific information.  And, should the policymaker do as you ask, make sure to send a thank you. Thank you letters are rare and thus most appreciated.

Utilize letters-to-the-editor and Op-Eds.  If you get a letter-to-the-editor or an opinion editorial published, send a copy of it with your letters to elected officials. This will show policymakers that you are more than casually interested in the issue and that you have credibility.

Sign Your Letters. Include your name, address, and telephone number in your letter, so policymakers can respond.

Type or Print.  Make sure your letters are legible by typing (or word processing) them.  If that is not possible, they should be printed neatly.