Tips for Writing for a Legislator
These tips are adoped from the "Fundamentals of Writing for Legislators" session that took place at the Make Your Boss a Rock Star - Personal and District Staff Professional Development Training at the 2009 Legislative Summit in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Keep it Simple
- Letters, memos and talking points should be short, simple, clear and concise.
- Anything more than a page, wordy, or complex might cause the reader to lose interest.
Don't Reinvent the Wheel
- If your boss has served previous terms, look to see what he/she and other staff have written.
- Often times, bills are re-filed and hot-button issues re-emerge and it is helpful to know what was written/said in previous years.
- Keeping tabs on previous letters and written documents, helps you to ensure that your boss is consistent on the issues.
- If you are working for a newly elected official and starting a new office, get into the habit of keeping organized files and document so anyone can step in at anytime to take over.
Use Writing Resources
- Use and refer to a dictionary, thesaurus, and/or grammar guide.
- There is no excuse for a poorly written document.
Find a Mentor
Proof-read, proof-read, proof-read
- Ask a colleague to review your written work before you seek final approval from your boss.
- Ask your mentor for any "insider" tips about writing for a Legislator.
- Confusing or grammatically incorrect documents reflect poorly on your boss.
Create boiler-plate documents for letters, memos, talking points
- Work with your boss on a standardized format for all correspondence and documents leaving the office.
- Consistency is extremely important and makes your boss and your office look professional and organized.
- For memos and speeches, use a font and format that allows your boss to read it easily.
Conduct thorough research before writing anything
- Remember that every document that leaves your office has the potential to be printed in newspapers, discussed on radio programs and posted on blogs.
- Make sure that correspondence and written documents are thoroughly and accurately researched and facts/figures are attributed to the source.
Be Compassionate and Responsive
- For constituent letters/emails, be sure to address all issues in the incoming letter/email.
- Sometimes, constituents share personal information to make a point. Acknowledge their own experiences in a compassionate way. Doing so shows that your boss cares and that the letter was thoroughly read.
- Remember: constituent letters are sometimes the only contact that a constituent will have with your boss. Make it count!
- Letters/emails should be drafted in 1st person (from the perspective of your boss).
- Address constituents with proper salutation (Dr., The Honorable, etc).
- Define political or legislative terms and don't use alphabet soup.
- Make sure all responses are timely and acknowledge when responses are not timely.