Writing Letters to Politicians: A Guide
Researcher: Ellen Altpeter
Why do youth write letters to politicians?
Young people write letters to politicians to incite change, spread awareness, get answers, question and challenge elected officials, laws, etc, and to make their voices heard. Youth are often an underrepresented group when it comes to politics, and writing letters to elected officials is one way to help gain more representation.
Every day, politicians make loads of decisions about things that affect our community and our lives. If youth want them to make decisions that will be good for them, and their communities, they should let them know what they think and how these decisions affect young people.
Why write a letter?
“A letter shows that you’ve put time, planning and consideration into contacting someone. It can make a more lasting impression than an email, and will probably make you structure your thoughts so the end result has more impact.” Writing a letter can be a great way to show that you, as an individual, or if you’re doing a letter writing campaign, you and your community, care about what is happening in your country, province or locale. They also help provide officials with a perspective they may not have considered.
In a letter you can:
- explain to an official how a particular issue affects you or your group
- express support for a proposed law, policy, or course of action
- oppose a proposed law, policy, or course of action
How to get started
There are a few steps that will help you get started before you actually put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard):
- Figure out who you want to write to – find who made the decision you are contesting, or who has influence over the area you are interested in, etc.
- Next, you’ll need the name, title, and address of the official who will make the decision about your issue, or has influence in the area you are interested in, etc. Watch to make sure that all names are spelled right and that you have the correct address. Spelling the name wrong could mean that your letter is not taken seriously, and an incorrect address means your letter might not arrive at all.
- Map out the points you want to make, for example:
- Why you are writing the letter
- What you understand about the issue
- Your position on the issue – what you think is right or wrong with it
- How the issue affects you, and your community
- What you would like to see happen and why
Letter Writing Tips
- Use correct spelling and grammar
- Avoid using acronyms or slang, since not everyone (especially those in a different generation from you) will know what they mean
- Try to make the letter balanced – formal and polite but also sincere; letters are more effective when they are personal and use your own experiences
- Keep your letter concise – 1 or 2 pages should be enough
- Do a bit of research into the issue to show that you have a good understanding of it
- Be clear about your expectations – if you want a reply, ask questions; if you want action, outline what you want them to do as a result of your letter
- Include your full name, and contact information
- Save a copy of the letter to refer back to if (and hopefully you will) get a response
To Email, Or Not to Email?
- Email is faster and easier than mailing a physical copy of the letter.
- You don’t have to buy envelopes and stamps and actually mail the letter
- You may get a response faster
- Your letter could end up in a spam folder and never actually received
- The person could simply delete the letter
- The person could forget to print a copy, and also forget to respond