NMA E-Newsletter #201: The Latest, Old-Fashioned Way to Write a Letter

In this era of micro messaging (think Twitter and texting), sometimes it pays to sit down and tell your elected officials what you think with a good, old-fashioned … email.

That’s right. An email message to an elected official, if carefully constructed and written, can achieve much of the impact of a handwritten letter and help you get your point across on important issues. Here are some tips.

Put Some Thought into It

Policymakers want to hear from constituents, and they appreciate it when you write what’s really on your mind and in your own words. How does a proposal personally affect you, your family, your community? What would you like your representative to do about it? Tell a brief personal story. Write from the heart.

Avoid the temptation to send boilerplate emails generated from online templates. Policymakers and their staffs can spot them a mile away and don’t pay attention to them. State legislators we’ve spoken with have confirmed this.

While it’s OK to get personal, don’t get sloppy. Many people consider email a casual form of communication and believe they can cut corners on grammar, spelling and punctuation. Doing so in this case will only lessen your credibility.

Be Polite

Common courtesy will yield results. Threats and rough language won’t. If your representative did something you thought was worthwhile, let her know. Say thank you for something before you ask for something else. Politicians love their titles, so use them. Here’s an example of how to address your email:

The Honorable Mary Smith
Wisconsin State Senate
Room 112
State Capitol
P.O. Box 7882
Madison, WI 53707-7882

Dear Senator Smith:

Stay Focused

Only cover one issue in your email. Mention the relevant bill number in the subject line and in the message body. Tell your representative what you want him to do and why. Keep your entire letter to one page or less.

Who Are You?

Identify yourself as a constituent and include your full physical address. Some email programs will filter out your message if they can’t identify it as coming from a constituent. Including your address will help yours to get through.

Back it Up

Support your opinions with a few key facts. Cite your sources. Look on the NMA website for background material on all of our issues, which you can use to flesh out your arguments. If you’re responding to a news story, provide a link to it in your email. The most effective emails balance the emotional appeal (your personal thoughts and experiences) with logic (the facts and figures).

Before you hit “Send” do one last review and a spell check. Many legislators answer their own email these days. If you receive a reply that is only a brief acknowledgement or lacks specifics, follow up and ask for more details.

As a constituent, you have the right to know where your representative stands on an issue or whether or not she intends to support a particular bill. Following these tips will help you get the answers you need.

Editor’s Note: The above is not intended to discourage you from sending a well-crafted handwritten letter to your representative. In fact, this is the preferred way of doing it, but we realize that fewer and fewer people are taking the time these days.

Not an NMA Member yet?

Join today and get these great benefits!