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Ten Tips For Contacting Congress

Email may be the fastest way for citizens to vent their views, but most of Congress has yet to hold its electronic traffic in the same esteem as the old-fashioned letter.

"Paper correspondence still may be the best way for the average voter to contact members of Congress, " notes Greg Harris, deputy communications director for Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Missouri). Most staff offices confirm that hand-written email gets top priority. After that comes typed correspondence, then faxes, and, lastly, electronic mail.

That's not to say that there are not some officeholders who take their email seriously. Vice President Al Gore is said to never be far from his laptop, and he answers a great deal of correspondence personally.

In a survey by, several members contacted by email lived up to their claims of checking and responding directly to electronic mail on a daily basis.

Of those to respond to the questionnaire within a day, the fastest to respond were Senator Max Cleland (D-Georgia); Representatives Peter Hoekstra (R-Michigan), Sue Kelly (R-New York), Zoe Lofgren (D-California), George Miller (D-California), Ron Packard (R-California), Ron Paul (R-Texas), Chris Cannon (R-Utah), and Robert Underwood (D-Guam).

Whether or not you choose to contact Congress electronically, observing these suggestions will help make your communication more effective.

  • Votes count. Make sure you're writing to the person who represents you. If a congressman is going to plead your case, he or she will likely require a face-to-face meeting, or at least have you sign some documents. While you are entitled to lobby any member of Congress for any reason, a congressman outside your district is not obliged to represent you.
  • When corresponding electronically, observe the proper etiquette in referring to senators, representatives, and delegates that is called for in formal correspondence. First, refer to the recipient as "The Honorable [full name]" when addressing the letter, as in, "To the Honorable Jane Doe." When opening the letter, it is proper to use an official title, as in "Dear [Senator, Representative or Delegate] Doe." When writing to the chair of a committee or the speaker of the House, it is proper to address that official as Dear Mr. Chairman or Madam Chairwoman, or Dear Mr. Speaker.
  • Clarity matters. Get to your reason for writing in the first paragraph. If you are writing with regard to a particular piece of legislation, identify it by its bill number.
  • Stay focused. Try to address only one subject, problem, or grievance each letter.
  • Be brief and keep your letter to one page. In email form, 750 words is considered a good length. Briefer is better.
  • Where possible, use concrete examples to illustrate your points.
  • When sending email, one will do. Sending multiple emails increases your chances of being deleted accidentally.
  • ry to address your topic in the subject line. If it's about a specific bill, the bill number will help.
  • Identify yourself.Always include your full name, phone number, and physical mailing address.
  • Avoid using all capital letters in your correspondence. This impairs readability, and is considered 'shouting' by Internet users.

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