Civic Engagement 101: How to Write to Your Legislators

Photo of United States Capitol building

U.S. Capitol, photo by Flickr user ctj71081

Regardless of your politics, values, and opinions, chances are that at some point you have considered writing to a senator or elected representative. Whether you are writing in support of an action or in opposition to one, a few key techniques can ensure that your position is clear and that your voice gets counted.

1. Know whom to write to.

This is important. Members of Congress serve specific people: their constituents. Writing to a senator or representative who does not serve you is often a waste of time. For example, if you are writing to oppose or support a house of representatives bill, and the representative who introduced the bill is not your representative, writing that representative probably won’t get your voice on record. Instead, write to your own representative and ask them to oppose or support the bill. (It’s also helpful to know the process by which a bill becomes a law, so you know if and when your representative will have an opportunity to vote on the bill.)

What if you are a student attending college away from home? Just as you can choose to vote in either your home state or your school’s state, you can contact legislators from either your home state and district or your school’s state and district.

To find out who represents you in Congress (your state Senators and elected representative), enter your address at Note that different parts of a city, and even different parts of the same ZIP code, may be in different congressional districts. This is true in Austin, so if you move off campus or within Austin, your representative may change.

Members of Congress often do not make their email addresses public, so you may need to do a search for the person’s website, which will have a “contact” form. Other options are to send a physical letter, make a phone call, or make an appointment to visit in person.

2. Identify your purpose.

Identify one specific reason for the letter: Do you want to urge the person to oppose or support a piece of legislation? Do you want to request that they take action on a specific problem? Stick to one specific purpose per communication so that your position can be easily counted by the staffers who have to slog through all the mail.

3. Write formally and cordially.

Whether you’re writing an email or a physical letter, this is a formal letter—as formal as it gets! Use a clear and concise subject line. Use a salutation such as “Dear Senator Smith.” Then, identify yourself as a constituent and state your purpose. You may follow this with a second paragraph that briefly explains how the action or issue affects you or other constituents. End with a short paragraph that reiterates your position and thanks the person for their time or service. Use “Sincerely” before your name, and include your address (this is important, as it verifies that you are a constituent).

Do not make demands, be rude, use all caps, use all lowercase, omit punctuation, or use slang abbreviations.

4. Proofread.

Make sure the message is clear, professional, and error-free.

Interested in more resources on email writing? Here are three we like.

Featured Resources: Writer’s Block

Comedian Steve Martin once said, “Writer’s block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol.” We know he was joking (isn’t Steve Martin always joking?) because anyone who has written as many books, magazine pieces, and plays as he has cannot have avoided writer’s block.

What is writer’s block? (Psych students, hold off—it’s not in the DSM.) Feel free to self-diagnose. Can’t figure out how to get started? Do you repeatedly write a line and then delete it in disgust? Have you found yourself in the middle of a paper without any idea of what you’re doing there? Sure, you have writer’s block! Here are some resources to help.

Overcoming Writer’s Block: This Writing Center handout suggests that maybe, if you’re stuck, you need to read your sources a bit more carefully, do some prewriting to develop your purpose and strategy, or work with a consultant in the Writing Center.

How to Crush Writer’s Block: This episode of Austin’s own Two Guys on Your Head podcast investigates the psychological and emotional reasons why writers get stuck and how they can get unstuck.

And finally, the Writer’s Block Instant Cure:

Follow any of this advice and you’ll be writing fluently again in no time. Happy writing!

Campus Publications at St. Edward’s University

Do you want to publish your art or writing? Do you enjoy reading the work of others and talking about writing? Do your friends always ask you to help proofread their papers? Getting involved in a campus publication is a great way to get some résumé-building experience with writing, editing, design, publishing, and even marketing and event planning.

Following is a list of campus publications at St. Edward’s, with links for more information. Note that each publication has different guidelines, policies, schedules, and needs, and most are staffed by students and faculty who juggle many responsibilities. If you want to get involved, be sure to read the information on the publication’s website, if it has one, and be respectful and professional when emailing publication staff. (Here are Five Tips for Better Email.)

  • Arete, published annually in print, is the university’s academic journal. Submission guidelines are on the web.
  • Cabra is a student-run fashion magazine on the web. For contact information, see the Masthead section of the website.
  • Hilltop Views is the campus newspaper, which publishes in print and online. To learn how to get involved, see the Contact Us and Submission links at the bottom of the website.
  • J-Source: A St. Edward’s Undergraduate Research Journal is the faculty-edited journal of SOURCE (Symposium on Undergraduate Research and Creative Expression), an annual event. For more information, contact Dr. Victoria Hill.
  • New Literati is an arts and literary journal published online and in print. See the journal’s website for contact and submission information.
  • Pangaea: Global Connections  is an online journal publishing student perspectives on global issues and processes. For more information, contact Charles R. Porter, Jr., MLA.
  • The Sorin Oak Review, published annually in print, is an established arts and literary journal at St. Edward’s. Visit the website for contact and submission information.

If you have information to add to this list, please email us at

Hacking Your Proofread

""What do you do when your piece of writing no longer looks like the ideas, shapely rhetoric, and graceful sentences you put into it but a pool of melting ugh on the page? Ideally, you put it away—for a few hours, a day, a weekend, a decade. But if your deadline is within the hour? Hack the system.

The system, in this case, is your brain. It is so smart that it knows how to read misspelled words and glosses over all kinds of minor obstacles to glean meaning. Also, it doesn’t spend time noticing stuff you’ve already seen; it’s after novelty. This system is great for the survival and development of our species but not so good at catching small (but potentially annoying and reputation-busting) errors in our own work.

How to Trick Your Brain into Noticing Errors

  • Have someone read the paper to you. No one around? Read it out loud to yourself.
  • Print it out. If you don’t usually do that, your brain will pay more attention.
  • Change the font. Make it really big. Make it ugly. If the writing looks good in Comic Sans, it’s probably pretty good writing. (Just don’t forget to change it back!)
  • Change the background color.
  • Change your environment. Usually write at the kitchen table? Take your laptop or printed copy to a coffee shop, a library, your backyard—anywhere you don’t usually work on your writing.

Tech Hacks for Proofreading

Prefer to use an app to help you proofread? Here are some strategies to try:

  • Use a speedreading app, like Readsy (on the web) or RushReader (for mobile). These apps use a technology called Spritz, which presents one word at a time in the same place, so your eyes don’t have to move. The purpose of these apps is to train you to read faster, but if you keep the adjustable speed on a slower setting, they’re great for proofreading, too. Here’s an example of what Readsy looks like in action:

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  • Use a text-to-speech app to have your computer or device read the writing to you. Most devices have some sort of text-to-speech app built in: VoiceOver for Mac and iOS devices; Narrator for Windows, Talkback for Android devices.

Do you have more proofreading hacks? Let us know!

When Is It OK to Use the Singular “They”?

Feel like you’ve been getting mixed messages about “they” and “their”? Keep the following resource handy as you edit and proofread.
""Can’t read the image? Download the PDF version.

How to Be a Scholar in a Digital Environment

You find the article in an online database but print it out for highlighting. You show up to class with a laptop (dead battery, no charger) and a pen (no paper). You’re reading an ebook, but your style guide is full of advice for citing print books. It’s not just you—today’s reading and writing environment is beautiful mess, a hybrid of the print and the digital.

This hybrid environment can leave all of us writers and researchers—students and professionals alike—confused about how to get started, keep track of research and organize a project, facilitate focus amid constant distractions and massive amounts of text and information, and iterate drafts. But entrepreneurial readers and writers can take advantage of this environment by developing unique combinations of strategies and methods that leverage their strengths and make sense for their projects.

With our pals in the Munday Library, we’ve developed the following big-picture sampler, with links to many resources on campus and online, of strategies that readers and writers might pull from as they develop unique processes.

If the embed isn’t working for you, download the PDF file.

Need help developing a unique process for your project? Contact the library or Writing Center services.

The Singular “They”: Now in HaikuDeck

Without going into too much backstory (if you’re interested, go right ahead), this HaikuDeck explains the controversy over the singular “they” and how to decide whether or not to use it.

The Singular “They” – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Five Tips for Better Email

Good email messages can help you get what you want and represent yourself well. This HaikuDeck presents five tips for writing better email.

How to Write Better Email – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

How to be a graduate-level writer

New graduate students often wonder how writing in grad school is different from undergraduate writing. The brief answer is that it’s more in-depth and more complex: graduate-level writing often requires more research, more synthesis, more attention to craft, and more time than college writing does. In grad school, you’re expected to actually contribute to the “conversations” in your discipline or field, so you’re often writing about real people and real problems—with real consequences.

So how do you do that kind of writing? There are five practices you can adopt to help yourself become a graduate-level writer:

How to Be a Graduate-Level Writer – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Writers on Writing on YouTube

Need inspiration for your writing weekend? Here’s our Youtube playlist of writers talking about writing: