You know the saying, “If you want to be heard, write your congressman”—but your congressional representative might not always be the best person to contact, and it can be hard to know what to say in the letter. Here’s a quick guide to writing your representatives in government.

Commenting on Bills

If you feel strongly about a piece of legislation that Congress is currently considering, then you should definitely write your representative. Start by finding out who your representative is, and how to contact them—this information can be easily found online. When you write the letter, start by stating which bill you’re commenting on. Then give your position and explain why you feel that way before closing your letter politely. Even if you feel strongly about a certain position, keeping your letter professional will make your argument stronger.

Asking for Explanations

Another time where you might want to write your congressional representative is when you want to know why they have voted a certain way. Don’t be afraid to ask for an explanation if they have taken a stance you find unusual or strange. In this case, you’ll again want to start with the most relevant information—explain that you’re writing to ask about a specific position. Then briefly explain why you find this problematic and ask them why they made that decision. Again, being polite will get you much farther than ranting angrily. Congressmen and women almost always respond to letters like these, even if they’re only form letters.

Escalating Complaints

If you’re upset with an action taken on the local level, you might want to address your envelope to someone other than your congressman or congresswoman. He or she has little influence over the actions of your mayor or city council. If you’re trying to change the actions of local government, you might be better off contacting officials with direct jurisdiction over the area, such as your county leadership, state government, or even district attorney.

Your Voice Matters

Writing elected officials doesn’t always get you a direct response, but political leaders almost always read their letters. Staying in contact with political leaders is a great way to be an involved citizen.