Writing a letter to a Member of Congress is an excellent way to communicate your support for biomedical research and related policies or legislation. Members and staff value letters to keep them informed of constituent concerns. A well-thought-out letter conveys your seriousness and concern about the subject matter. AAA can assist you if you need more information about the issue or the best people to contact.
Addressing a letter. Use your own personal stationary, not your institution's-unless you are writing on behalf of your institution.
Addressing a U.S. Senator:
The Honorable Jane Doe
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Doe:
Addressing a U.S. Representative:
The Honorable John Smith
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Representative Smith:
Be brief. Limit your letter to one page if possible, but no more than two pages. Get to the point. Identify yourself as a basic biomedical researcher in the community and explain succinctly why you oppose or support a particular regulatory or legislative action. Refer to the specific bill number or title, if applicable. Make your case explicitly and avoid scientific jargon. Address one issue if possible, but never more than two different issues. You can add an attachment to your letter that contains more detail. Express appreciation for past (or future) support. Ask that the official state his/her position in a letter to you.
All politics is local. Remember to make the link to your Member's district or state. Stress the contributions that your institution can make and the benefits the community and country receives from supporting biomedical research.
Make no demands. Give the Member and staff a recommended course of action, but never condemn, threaten, or inject partisan politics into your letter. Doing so can only undermine your credibility. Keep focused and stick to the points you want to make. Avoid personal criticism, but remind the official of your relationship, if applicable.
Timing is critical. A letter arriving by mail or fax after the House or Senate has taken action is meaningless. Be aware of when action is scheduled on your issue and make your points in time.
De-brief. Be sure to send a copy of your letter to AAA.
Making a phone call. For a time-sensitive issue, make a phone call instead. The U.S. Capitol switchboard (202-224-3121) will connect you to any Member's office. State your name, affiliation, and why you are calling. Tell the staffer what action you would like the Member to take. You might ask colleagues and students who also have a stake in the issue to contact the public official.
Use e-mail with caution. While many offices increasingly rely on e-mail for constituent contact, surveys show it is not as effective as a typewritten letter. Offices receive a great deal of e-mail from non-constituents, which is deleted, and your message could get lost in the shuffle. E-mail also tends to be written more quickly and informally than letters, which increases the chance of errors in grammar and syntax that would make your message unclear.
Spread the word. Enlist others at your institution by sharing information you receive from AAA. Invite them to join and become part of the network.