1. What is effective commenting?

    What is effective commenting? Discover how to make comments that count--and maybe change the outcome!

The key to writing effective comments is understanding how rulemaking decisions are made. Unlike members of Congress or the President, agency rulemakers aren’t allowed to decide based on majority vote. Instead, they are supposed to study the problem, collect information, and use expertise, experience, and good judgment to come up with the overall best answer. The courts would overturn a rule that the agency adopted just because a lot of people support it.

This means that the best comments explain not only what the agency should do, but why. One person with some new information, a relevant personal experience, or a good idea will have more impact on the outcome than 1,000 people who just say they are for or against the proposed rule.

So, how do you make comments that count?

Invest some time learning what the agency is actually proposing, and why.

  • What is the agency trying to do? Will this proposal do that successfully?
  • What information is the agency relying on? Is this information correct? Is the agency missing important facts?
  • What does the agency predict the costs and benefits to be? Is it missing something?
  • What questions does the agency want commenters to answer?

Focus on parts of the proposal that will affect you directly, or that you know about or have personal experience with.

  • Explain how you know what you're talking about.
  • Give details and specific examples.
  • Provide data if you know about any, or at least identify the kinds of information that would be important to have.

Express your views, concerns, or ideas clearly.

  • Stay on topic.
  • Always give reasons for what you want the agency to do -- whether you agree or disagree with the proposed rule.
  • The strongest kinds of reasons are ones that help the agency do the job that Congress told it to do. So pay attention to anything in the topic posts that explain the goals, requirements, or limits of the agency's statute.

Show that you’ve considered the pros and cons. Make suggestions for how to improve the proposal.

  • There's almost always at least two sides to any issue, and the agency often has to balance many different goals (e.g., consumer protection, cost, efficient operation). Showing that you realize this makes your comments seem more well-thought out.
  • Even good proposals can often be made better. Help the agency improve its work.
  • If you think the proposal is a bad idea, maybe there are ways it could be made less bad. Sometimes Congress doesn't give the agency a choice about doing something, but the agency may still have different options on how to do it.

If you disagree with other commenters or the agency, do it in a polite way.

  • The agency is supposed to take all viewpoints into consideration. If you just attack or ignore people who take a different position than you, you aren’t helping the agency figure out why it should decide one way or the other.
  • Stay away from ridicule, sarcasm, and personalized attack. It isn't useful to the agency-and you'll probably be violating the site use guidelines.
  • Even if you think the proposal is a bad idea, real people in the agency worked hard on it. You're not likely to change their minds by insulting them or their work.

Don't just repeat what's already been said.

  • If you can add to what someone else has already said and make it better, reply to their comment and add your idea, reason or information.
  • If you can't improve what others have said, you can still ”Endorse” their comment. This lets you be part of the discussion without saying more of the same thing.

Recognize what the agency can, and can't, do.

  • The federal government as a whole has a lot of power, but individual federal agencies have only the specific powers Congress gives them.
  • The agency can't do much with a comment that complains about something only Congress can change.
  • RegulationRoom topic posts try to give you information about statutory limits or requirements. If you have a question about what the agency can (or can't) do, please ask us.

Check out "Recommended" comments.

  • Comments with are “recommended” by the moderators as examples of effective comments. No one's comment is perfect, but these comments do the things described on this page.
  • The RegulationRoom team is neutral, meaning we don't take a position for or against the agency proposal. So, comments are recommended not for what they say, but for how they say it.