Communicating With Congress: Correspondence

[Source: American Institute of Physics, FYI #71, April 17, 1998]

Within the next few weeks, Congress will take steps to decide how much money the federal government will spend next year on science and technology programs. An important part of this process will be constituent input.

Senators and representatives receive thousands of letters every month. Members use this correspondence in making decisions on policy and budgets. Over the years, most Members report that they receive little mail about science and technology matters. Contrast this situation with well-organized letter writing campaigns from other interest groups, and predicting whose issues receive the most attention is easy.

You can help to change this situation by spending a few minutes to write to your representatives. Taking the time to write a letter shows that you care about science and technology issues, and will build support for S&T. Your correspondence will be more effective if you follow these guidelines:

Timing: A letter sent months before an issue is considered is likely to be forgotten; one sent after Congress acts is a missed opportunity.

Brevity: Legislative staffs are severely overworked. Limit your letter to one page and one subject. Resist the temptation to include many enclosures; they will, in all likelihood, not be read.

Scientific jargon: Most Members and their staffs freely admit that they know little about most scientific issues. As appropriate, use a few sentences to offer a nontechnical overview.

Your identity: Nothing is more frustrating for congressional staff than trying to decipher an illegible signature -- worse, an entire letter. Ensure that your letter is legible by typing it. Include your name, home address, and telephone number.

E-mail: While some congressional offices are equipped to handle E-mail, others are not. The safest course is to "snail" mail it.

Faxes: Many offices resent a fax campaign -- it clogs their machines and uses their paper. Next to any congressional fax machine is a congressional waste paper basket. Unless there are severe time constraints, avoid faxing.

Be specific: Congressional offices revolve around legislation. If there is a bill number, cite it. If you do not know it, or if the bill has not been introduced, be specific: "I write about the FY 1999 appropriation for...." Check our web site ( under "Budget Information," which is organized by department/agency, or contact us at

Use three paragraphs:

    Paragraph 1: Explain your reason for writing. Briefly describe your
		      "credentials" or experience.
    Paragraph 2: Describe the importance of the issue.  Cite relevant
		       facts and avoid emotionalism.  Frame your
		       discussion from a national, rather than a
		       personal perspective.
    Paragraph 3: Request - not demand - a specific action.  Thank the
		       Member for his/her consideration of your views.
		       Offer assistance.
Address style: The post office prefers that you do not use office numbers. The correct address style is:

	The Honorable ______________                    
	United States House of Representatives  
	Washington, D.C.  20515                     

	Dear Representative __________:            

	The Honorable _______________
	U.S. Senate
	Washington, D.C.  20510

	Dear Senator _______________:

Talking points and enclosures: Unsure of how to make the case for physics- related S&T programs? AIP has dozens of "Physics Success Stories" that briefly describe billion dollar industries founded on physics research. Draw from them for background material, or include them as an enclosure. Individual copies are free. See our web site at for titles and web versions. (Ask us for printed versions if you want enclosures; Write to or call us at 301-209-3095, 3094.)

Your comments and suggestions are appreciated.
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Communicating With Congress: Correspondence

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