Overall, we recommend that you at least give your contacts a pre-written message for them to start from instead of just a blank form. When advocates are presented with a blank form to write their own message, many bail out of taking any action at all because they don't know what to write, or they don't even know where to begin. By giving a pre-written message they have at least something to send right away.
That being said, those pre-written messages you craft for your contacts to send to elected officials should be as short and to the point as possible, getting the main points of information across as efficiently as you can. Most groups push their contacts to customize the pre-written message you provide and add in their own personal story, or provide an additional set of talking points in Guidelines (Guidelines + Pre-Written Message option) for them to pull from.
Let's say your message relates to a bill in Congress, where you want the officials to vote against it. You want to get across:
- the bill
- how you want them to vote
- a short summary of why you want them to vote that way
Something like this:
Please vote no on HR 1234. As a moisture farmer, I take a strong stance against this bill because it will increase my costs, and place an undue burden on my day to day operations. This bill is a solution looking for a problem. HR 1234 limits which kinds of fertilizer I can use, and prohibits me from making my own choices about how I run my farm.
Please help me in fighting this onerous legislation.
Avoid adding very lengthy explanations of the issue. Keep in mind that most officials have staff in place so that, even if they don't know all the technical details of the issue, they can find out very quickly. If you do feel like you need to provide a very lengthy, technical, or legal explanation of the bill; you might want to host that content to a page on your website (or in a blog post in VoterVoice) and provide the URL to that full explanation in your message. Avoid excessive amounts of punctuation like quotes, parenthesis, dashes, etc.
Keep your audience (the recipients) in mind.
The people reading these messages will either be the elected officials themselves or their staff. Very likely, they already have some background in the issue. If you are referencing other officials in your message (for example to mention sponsors), you also don't need to do things like include their district or the state/county they represent. The person reading the message already knows that. Just keep it simple (e.g. "Senator Johnson.")
Keep your advocates (the senders) in mind.
In many groups, your advocates are not legislative experts. You are tailoring a pre-written grassroots message for them to help them out. With that in mind:
Are most of your advocates technical experts in the issue area? If so, you may want to include some more technical language related to the issue.
Are most of your advocates 'Average Joe' types who don't have a lot of technical knowledge about the issue? In that case, you should avoid a lot of technical language and "legalese" in the message. You may want to include some guidelines where you ask your contacts who are experts to add more details to their message.