As many of you know, I work in the Iowa State House on the floor for one of the Representatives. Part of my job is to take phone calls and read emails from constituents, and often times to help answer them. In doing this, I have observed many things that people who want to get through to their legislator should be doing, and many things they need to fix for their legislator to take them seriously. Currently, we are nearing the end of session, but there’s still many important bills to get through, including the bills that determine yearly appropriations-therefore, an excellent reason for you to contact your legislators. If you enjoy being politically active and want to be taken seriously by your local representation (even if they don’t necessarily agree with you), here’s a short list to help you communicate effectively.*
#1. Spell check is your new best friend.
It seems like something so stupidly simple that you would think most people should know this, but you would be amazed by the amount of emails and messages that we receive that are full of grammatical and spelling errors, or are simply rambling and incoherent. Write out what you mean to say…and then read through it about five times to fix things. Take that extra little bit of time to make your message look and sound professional- you would be amazed at how much it makes you stand out.
#2. What email are you sending this from?
Sorry folks, but the second I read “firstname.lastname@example.org” in the “from” line, I am already extremely doubtful of the content of your email, and if I’m having that reaction, your legislator is definitely having that reaction. You don’t necessarily have to create a whole new account just to send one email, but if you want stand out as someone who sounds professional and should be taken seriously, email addresses that are nonsensical, created when you were twelve or containing profanity are just not going to cut it.
#3. Check your length.
If you send an email that is about a sentence long or simply says, “Vote for/don’t vote for (insert bill here),” your email does not stand out. Is it easy to reply to? Yes, but it does not truly make your point stand out in the legislator’s mind. Even adding a tiny bit of content can help you stand out.
On the flip side, if you write an email that is pages (or really even more than fiveish paragraphs long), it is usually hard to find your point, write a reply back, and also doesn’t stick with your legislator. The key here is balance; work on finding that optimum length that will make your email stand out but not take forever to read.
#4. Ask questions.
I am going to be completely blunt here. When there are mass amounts of email coming in about the same subjects, I generally send a form letter containing information about that issue that can be sent in reply to the emails that are simply someone supporting/opposing that topic and just speaking their mind. Legislators are busy, mine sometimes barely has time to eat, but we still want you to know we’re listening so we try to reply to every constituent email, if even with a form letter. However, if someone replies with interactive material (for example, questions and suggestions), my legislator generally sits down, processes and tries to write a very specific response. Want a detailed reply? Send an email that calls for it.
#5. Avoid rudeness completely.
One of the things that bothers me most is when people send rude, arrogant or obnoxious emails voicing their opinion. That is easily the fastest way to keep your legislator from supporting your cause. They’ll most likely send you a nice response…while rolling their eyes and muttering under their breath about it. If you disagree with something they have done/are doing, feel free to do so, but do it in a kind and professional manner (and definitely do not add expletives!). Being polite even when you disagree with them gets you SO much farther than rudeness, trust me.
Well, there you have it. Just know that these rules don’t just apply to emailing your legislators, they apply to any professional email you will send. When being politically active, follow these to make sure your online voice is actually listened to, not just merely heard. **
(Originally posted February 2015 at kelveyolivia.blogspot.com)
*Know that even as I write these, every legislator is different and handles email differently. However, these are a pretty good blanket that apply to most everyone you would email.
**Your legislator still might disagree with you, but at least you know that you were doing your best to get them to see your opinion.