How to Address a Letter to a Government Official

How often have we been advised to 'write our Congressmen' when we're up to our armpits in some sort of dilemma or challenge such as keeping video description on television, various dog guide issues, or runaway drug costs for senior citizens? So now you've decided to take action and ask for help from your Uncle Sam (or local Alderman). Good for you, let's get started!

  1. Start with: what, who, where? It helps to clarify exactly what your problem is, so you can determine who or where is your best source of help. For example, if you were plagued by bad sidewalks, you would first start with your local phone directory to check your town or city's listing for either Public Works, or a Department of Sidewalks. That local telephone directory is a decent source of some basic government information, from the municipal all the way to the White House.

  2. Search the Internet. Here are a few helpful sites that contain information about the government.

    You can get some great results by plugging in a few good keywords into your preferred search engine. You may find a more direct route to your answer.

  3. Consider letter etiquette. The Handbook for Writers, (Troyka, Lynn Quitman; Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall, 1990) suggests the following business letter format (shown below). Obviously, if you're writing from a business, you would use a company letterhead, but if writing as a private citizen, any plain stationary will do. The opening remains the same.

Sample Letter

Current date

Government contact name, Position
Department name (United States Department of Homeland Security)
Address line #1
City, State Zip

Subject: Why are you writing? Dear Government contact name,

Your problems, questions or statements should go in the body of the letter, here. Please keep in mind that though it's important to be able to vent out frustrations, a letter filled with profanities, insults, or poorly thought out ideas will not be well received at all. The old expression about 'catching more flies with honey than vinegar' still applies today.


(Your Signature Here)

cc: the name and title if applicable of anyone else who will be receiving a copy of this letter.

The "cc" at the end of the letter stands for "carbon copy." It's a relic from when people used to use carbon paper to make copies of letters as they were written.

Sadly, in the last few years, our government has had to be more sensitive to perceived terror threats. It's very important not to include threatening or inflammatory comments in your correspondence.


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