Sending Your Message to the President

When you write to the president, you want to make sure you're following the proper etiquette both for form and function.

Etiquette Tips When Writing the President

Writing a letter to the leader of the free world isn't really the same thing as whipping out a quick thank-you note to Grandma for the horrible sweater she gave you last Christmas. When you sit down to write a letter to the president and other high-profile recipients, there are a few etiquette tips that are worth keeping in mind.

First Impressions Matter

It's common for more professional letters -- those written to heads of state, your local government representatives or even business letters -- to serve as the only interaction you'll have with the recipient. Certainly, it's typical for your letter to be the first contact that the reader will have with you; that means your letter will be responsible for creating the all-powerful first impression.

A lot of qualities contribute to establishing a positive first impression via writing:

  • Format: Using the proper letter-writing format gives your letter a crisp, professional feel before the recipient even reads a word. For more formal letters, typing is best; however, if you have very neat handwriting and prefer the personal touch a handwritten letter offers, you may consider physically writing your letter as well.
  • Opening: The way you address the reader is important. When writing to the president, you should always use his title as a sign of respect, even if your letter is lodging an official complaint. Whether or not you agree with President Obama's policies, he does hold the highest office in the country; respect is required. Letters should be addressed to "President Obama," or at the very least "Mr. Obama," though the former is preferred. "Mr. President" is also completely acceptable.
  • Manners: Manners have a place in writing as they do in real life. So, just like you probably wouldn't pour ketchup all over your entire plate at a fancy dinner party, you wouldn't want to be rude in a letter to President Obama. Always keep your voice and phrasing polite; this not only shows respect for the president, but also keeps you off the radar of the Secret Service.
  • Spelling and Grammar: Finally, keep an eye on the technical aspects of your letter, like using correct spelling, proper punctuation and grammatically correct English. Poor use of language diminishes the credibility of the writer, and you definitely want your voice to be heard.

Finally, definitely take the time after writing to make sure your letter conveys the tone and thoughts that you intended. Having someone else read it as well is also a good idea, because a fresh pair of eyes will often catch mistakes that you've missed.

The Write Frame of Mind

So, now that you have a basic idea of the tone and formatting your letter should include, how do you get started? The first step is to get into the right frame of mind.

If you feel strongly enough about a subject that you want to write a letter to the president, it's a safe bet that you are passionate about the subject itself. This is totally normal; politics can be a very passionate subject to many people. It's common to feel over the moon about policies you think are fantastic, or upset about policies you disagree with. However, the way you word these intense emotions in a letter that goes directly to the president is critical.

It's usually pretty easy to tell a writer's state of mind simply by reading his or her words, or at least the state of mind the writer was in as the letter was written. A letter to the president is no different. A disrespectful tone and angry or disrespectful language is totally inappropriate, no matter how vital you feel it is to express your stance. Similarly, an overly gushing or enthusiastic and emotional letter is also inappropriate. Wait until you feel calm before beginning your letter to President Obama.

Proper Structure

Once your thoughts are collected and focused, it's time to begin writing the body of the letter. The typical structure for writing a letter to anyone is to open with a greeting, move on to a brief introduction and/or explanation why you're writing, include a few supportive sentences that further expand on your viewpoint and finish with a closing and signature.

This same basic format applies when writing President Obama as well. Make sure that your thoughts follow a logical progression within your letter. For example, you wouldn't want to start with your ideas for a solution to a problem or congratulations on a success without first explaining why you felt there was a problem to handle or success to be celebrated in the first place.

Plan on doing a few rough drafts before writing a final version. It's a good idea to get help from a friend who can read your letter over as you go, and determine whether the flow of your letter is well-organized and sensible. In the end, you should have a polished, concise letter to President Obama that's been well-planned and well-executed, and may be brilliant enough to change the course of our country's future. Okay, maybe not. But at least you'll make a great first impression, and finally be able to share your personal views with the leader of our country.