November 21, 2014

Write a Letter

Join our letter writing campaign. Write a letter to your elected representative or local newspaper explaining your thoughts on federal finances and the importance of fiscal responsibility.

How It Helps

If you are trying to change policy, you have to change people's minds. Individual letters are a great way to deliver a clear, concise, and structured message that will make the reader personally consider your perspective. Whether in a newsroom or a legislator's office, you'll find people who are working hard to figure out what is important to Americans. They have their own goals and rules that govern them, but each is a person that you can reach out to as an individual, and they will listen to what you have to say. Each letter an editor or legislative assistant reads will have an impact on the decision-making process that results in the policies that govern us.

Steps

1

Decide on an audience. Choose which newspaper or legislator will have the greatest interest in your message. Remember that "all politics is local." Your story can have the greatest influence in your local community and if you are successful there, your story will be even stronger when you take it to the national stage.

2

Locate your recipients. Use the tools listed on the right to find your congressmen and local newspapers.

3

Investigate the rules. Check you recipients' websites or call to ask for guidelines, especially for newspapers. Adhere to those guidelines meticulously.

4

Prepare your letter. Try to be concise. Choose one point to focus on and announce it in the first paragraph. Structure the rest of your letter to support that point. Even if you expect your reader to disagree with your opinion, be polite; this will increase the likelihood that your letter is read, respected, and redistributed.

5

Double and triple check. Re-read and re-write your letter to ensure accuracy. The end influence of your letter depends largely on its credibility, which can be damaged by mistakes or unclear wording. Ask friends to review your work as well.

6

Submit and follow up. Send your letter and be prepared for a follow-up to confirm authenticity and answer questions. Think of other ways to use your letter by sending to it friends, colleagues, and the organizations that share your convictions. Finally, send Concord a copy so we can track your efforts and impact!

 

Additional Tips

LETTERS TO YOUR CONGRESSMAN

  • Keep it short and simple. Legislative assistants lead very busy lives; they are much more likely to read and reply to shorter, concise letters.  
  • Include a reply address. Look for a reply, stay involved, and discover your legislator's stance on the issue.
  • Be aware of upcoming legislation. The more specific you can be in regards to legislation, the better. Reference a relevant bill and tell your congressman whether to vote for or against it.
  • Communicate the same message in different ways.  Try email, phone, and facebook to reinforce your message. Persistence goes a long way in the legislature.
  • Follow this link. Find Your Congressman.

LETTERS TO YOUR LOCAL NEWSPAPER

  • Know the newspaper’s rules. Somewhere in the paper or on its website, the newspaper should have its guidelines for writing a letter to the editor. Make sure to follow them.
  • Use your own words.  Newspapers generally take a dim view of form letters or those that appear to be part of an orchestrated campaign, so don’t copy website material. Write from your own perspective.
  • Pick a single topic. You can make two or three supporting points about your main theme, but don’t jump to unrelated subjects. If you’ve got another subject, write another letter.
  • Stick to the length limit. Exceeding the newspaper’s limit can significantly lower your chances of getting published. Shorter is often better anyway.
  • Be accurate. Make sure that any factual statements you make are correct. If you aren’t sure, don’t guess; check with a reliable source. If you use facts that might be questioned, it can help to include a short note to the editor about your sources of information.
  • Tie your comments to a recent news event. This isn’t absolutely necessary, but it makes your letter more timely.
  • Consider including a little information about yourself if it is relevant to your topic. “As a college student struggling with tuition .  . . ,” “I worry about the future that my five grandchildren will face . . .” Information like this adds a personal touch and helps distinguish your letter from others.
  • Use sarcasm with care. Many people read everything literally and won’t get it.
  • Avoid spelling mistakes. They make editors nervous. If in doubt, check a dictionary or dictionary.com online.
  • Avoid libel problems. Different states have different libel laws, but libel generally involves written statements that injure someone’s reputation by making incorrect factual assertions about that person. Quoting a false factual assertion that someone else made can be a problem as well. Don’t say someone is guilty of a crime unless that person has actually been convicted in court. 
  • Edit carefully. After you finish writing, wait at least a few minutes before editing your letter. You are more likely to spot mistakes and unclear wording.  
  • Ask two or three people to read the letter before you send it in. If they are puzzled about something you wrote – even if it seems perfectly clear to you – you should probably reword it.
  • Include a phone number or email address where you can be reached during the day. The editors may want to verify that you wrote the letter or ask you a question about something in it.
  • Contact the newspaper if you have a question. One editor usually handles the letters section; that person should be able to answer almost any questions you might have. Getting to know that person a little over the phone may help your chances of publication as well.
  • Don’t get discouraged. Newspapers often receive far more letters than they can publish, but the numbers can fluctuate quite a bit from one month to the next. Letters sometimes aren’t used simply because several others make similar points. Other times, a big news event may eat up a lot of the space that would otherwise be available for letters on other subjects. Don’t get discouraged; keep writing!
  • Follow this link. Find your local newspaper.