Here are some things to keep in mind when writing to an elected official:
* First, focus on why you are writing. Writing to your congressman doesn't always have to be a complaint. You could be asking for a favor, like applying to a military service academy, such as West Point, or maybe you just want to compliment your representative on something he or she did. Whatever the reason for your communication, be succinct and sum it up in one sentence in the beginning of the letter.
* Know to whom you should be directing your communication. Some things don't need to go to the federal or state level. Maybe your issue can be handled by someone at the ground level. The fewer people who have to handle your request, the sooner you will get a response. If you are concerned about things that are happening at a local level, then local officials would be your best choice to contact. Issues involving your state, specifically, would be better directed to state officials.
If you aren't sure who to contact in your jurisdiction, go to the websites of your local, state and federal governments, and you should be able to find a list of officials. Federal officials can be found on www.govtrack.us, and local officials can sometimes be found on the League of Women Voters website in your area or the Indiana General Assembly website, https://iga.in.gov. All of these sites have a lot of information and can help direct you on making a request or voicing your complaint, etc.
* Choosing to email, write a letter or telephone depends on why you are communicating. If it is a hot topic and time is an issue, an email or telephone call may be the fastest way to share your opinion. Or, send an email and a hard copy letter for maximum impact. Sometimes things do get lost in cyberspace.
Regardless of whether it's an email or hard copy, be attentive to spelling and punctuation and be respectful in your tone. Lashing out or using abusive language isn't effective in getting people to listen to your point of view.
* A written letter should be on good quality plain stationery, if possible, and set up in a formal business letter fashion. Be sure and have a return address on the envelope and at the beginning of the letter itself so the representative knows who you are and that you are from their district.
* Address elected officials formally. For instance, for a Representative or Senator, “The Honorable John Smith on the outside envelope and inside the salutation would be Dear Senator Smith or Dear Mr. Smith if the elected official is at the state level. U.S. representatives are addressed as Mr. or Ms. with their last name.
* In your correspondence, be specific as to why you are writing. If it is related to a bill, try to mention the number and title of the bill so your vote can be easily known. If a response is important to you, be sure and state that in the letter. Do be aware that receiving a response depends on a lot of variables. For instance, if there is a high volume of communications that need to be answered, those response may take some time. Also, mail at the federal level goes through a lot of security before it gets to the elected official, which can also slow down the response time.
* If your representative has done something special for you, be sure to follow up with a hand-written thank you note.
Karen Hickman is a local certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy. Email questions to email@example.com.