How to Address a Letter to a Member of Congress

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

There comes a time in most citizens’ lives where they feel driven to contact their elected representation in Congress. For many it will be by email, but there are probably still some letter writers among us. Perhaps your letter is simply an added exclamation point in a flood of mail complaining about a major topic. Perhaps it’s a personal anecdote attached to a plea for careful consideration on issues like immigration or tax reform.

It could be critical or positive — the content ranges as widely as do our viewpoints, but one thing each letter has in common is that you begin at the beginning. So how does one go about addressing a member of Congress correctly? Unsurprisingly, there really aren’t any hard and fast rules when it comes to this, but there are a few different routes one can go depending on their goal.

The safe classic

“Dear” is the customary greeting in a business letter, so unless you’re planning on confessing undying love to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in a sonnet, this is a safe bet. It’s also polite enough to add a degree of professionalism to an otherwise angry tone, though, of course, even the most civil “Dear” can’t make up for a long stream of obscenities. This is also how officials begin letters of their own as you can see here, so it places you on equal footing — which is as it should be. You do, after all, elect them.

The ol’ nickname

Take a note out of George W. Bush’s book if you’re feeling gutsy and spice up “Dear Representative Fred Upton” with “Dear Freddy Boy,” or replace “Dear Representative George Miller” with “Dear Big George.” This is honestly not the best strategy for overly serious letters in all likelihood — in fact, probably a greeting best reserved for more negative contact.

The jump right in

There’s an argument to be made for starting off your letter with a bang. After all, there’s a good chance it won’t be read or it will be shuffled through alongside an enormous number of letters. So if you want to make sure it’s read, you really want to make it stick out at the very start. One way to do that is to use a simple statement as a greeting, for example: “Families like mine need help,” “I want to thank you,” or something along those lines. If you email, this can go in the subject line as well so as to be extra visible.

Signing off

There is room for a little bit more flexibility when it comes to how you leave off a letter. “Sincerely” would be about as safe and formal as “Dear,” and thank you letters can predictably be closed out with a final statement of appreciation. “Kind Regards” and “Best” both have slightly warmer sentiments to them, while something along the lines of “From a Concerned Voter” manages to be both polite and threatening, as it hints at election implications.

Follow Anthea Mitchell @AntheaWSCS