How to File a Letter of Complaint to a Congressman

by Nicole Vulcan

As a citizen in a representative democracy, it's your right to vote for the people who will represent you in Congress -- and to let those elected representatives know when you think they've gone wrong. You could express your opinion if you happen to meet your representatives in person. Writing a letter, however, is a much more common method of communicating with them.

Email or Snail Mail?

Decide how you'll send your letter, and choose an electronic method whenever possible. If you choose to send a handwritten letter, plan for a delay in the letter getting to its recipient. Physical mail sent to Congress is radiated to check for threats, according to the National Council on Aging, so it will take longer than you might expect to reach its recipient. Your best bet is to use a congressman's automated contact form, or send an email directly from your email account.

Find the Address

If you're writing to the person who represents you in the U.S. House of Representatives, visit the House's "Directory of Representatives" web page. Click on the person's name to be directed to the appropriate web page. Then look for the person's "Contact" page to be directed to a contact form. If you're not sure who your representative is, use the U.S. House of Representatives' "Find a Representative" page, which allows you to search representatives by zip code. The House directory page does not publish representatives' office addresses, but you can find that information, as well as relevant email addresses, on the Congressman's individual website. To write to your U.S. senator, visit the U.S. Senate's "Senators" page. The U.S. Senate directory lists the senators' Washington, D.C., addresses and a link to a contact form where you can send a direct message to your senator.

Fill Out the Form

Congressional contact forms include a number of fields to fill out, including your name and address. The address portion is crucial, because members of Congress tend to respond only to requests or concerns from their constituents. Fill out these fields completely to ensure that the recipient receives all the necessary information needed to craft a response -- whether that response is from a congressional staff member or from the member of Congress. Use the "Message" section of the contact forms for the bulk of your complaint, keeping in mind that some contact forms may have a limit to the number of words allowed.

Physical Letter Details

If you're writing a physical letter, write the recipient's name and mailing information at the top of the letter, along with the date. The appropriate way to address a letter for a member of the House of Representatives is "Dear Representative" and their last name, or "Dear Congressman" or "Dear Congresswoman." For the U.S. Senate, address the person as "The Honorable," followed by their first and last name. To identify yourself as a constituent, include your name and full address either at the bottom or top of the letter.

Writing the Letter

As you would with any persuasive letter, state what you are going to discuss. For example, say, "I am writing to discuss my concern about water rights in my community." State your affiliation with this topic, such as "I am the water steward for my community." Then provide details to support your complaint. For example, you might say, "In September, the federal government changed its policy on water rights in my area, which has affected by ability to properly hydrate my livestock." Refrain from making threats or using demeaning language, and keep your complaint short and to the point. State what action you would like and request a response. Sign the letter cordially.

About the Author

Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.

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