small business Guide 
to Comment Letter Writing

Advocacy encourages small businesses to express their concerns about a regulation directly to a federal agency during the open comment period. Advocacy and other interested organizations often use the public comment period to express small entity concerns to an agency after talking with affected small business owners and other stakeholders. It is invaluable, however, for the agency to hear directly from small businesses impacted by the regulation.

Taking the time to comment on a rule can be a hassle for small businesses, but it is important because not all small businesses are the same. Regulated small entities can have different business concerns, different cost pressures, and different perspectives. Also, while associations work hard to represent their members, they generally represent numerous small business stakeholders. That means your specific concerns might not get expressed.

Federal agencies are generally required to seek public comment on their proposed and final rulemakings, which occur at the end of the rulemaking process. This helps to ensure that the public has input into the agency’s regulatory proposals, including the rule’s business and economic assumptions and regulatory alternatives.

When the regulation is published in the Federal Register, it contains the date that the comment period closes. You have until that date to file your comment. The agency is not required to accept your comment after the comment deadline, so file your comment on time.

In general, there are three reasons that small businesses should file public comments:

• Your comments could help an agency make decisions on the requirements of the rule. Federal regulators will often listen to feedback that is targeted toward specific parts of the rule designed to improve its overall quality. In addition, regulators will often look to reduce the economic impacts of the rule on the businesses being regulated.

• Only you can understand and explain how a regulation will impact your business. This is your opportunity to highlight how a regulation will affect your business practices, employees, and revenue.

• Your comments could be used in any judicial review of the rule. Courts often look to the public comments filed when reviewing the legality of regulations.

It is exceptionally rare for a public comment to result in an agency making a complete reversal on a regulation, especially if the rule is mandated by Congress. However, that does not mean that writing a comment letter is useless and a waste of time. Just the opposite – a good comment can be useful to improve the rule, defend the parts you like, and aid in any judicial review of the rulemaking.

Download the Small Business Guide to Comment Letter Writing (PDF, 6.59 MB)

Expand each section below to learn more about how to structure a letter.

Every letter, regardless of the rule you are commenting on, should contain the following items.

  • An introduction. The introduction should specify who you are, the name of the rule you are commenting on, a brief overview of your business and/or experience that is relevant to the rule, and a summary paragraph briefly describing the parts of the rule you are concerned about and why.
  • A section that describes the parts of the rule you support or oppose, with explanations as to why each provision helps or hurts your small business. Be specific and offer any data that will support your position. Small businesses are often understandably reluctant to offer propriety information in their comment letter. Please try your best to provide the agency with any information that will allow them to understand your argument without disclosing any confidential information.
  • A conclusion. The conclusion should summarize your main points, in about a sentence or two each. You should also thank the agency for considering your comment.

When writing a comment letter, carefully consider what your argument will look like. The three principal components of a good argument are as follows:

  • A claim, which is the statement that contains your main argument. This should be at the very beginning of each section.
  • Some data to support your claim. You should, as best as you can, quantify how the regulatory proposal will impact your business. Some data points to consider are:
    • Agency assumptions on the overall costs associated with the rule, or costs for the individual provisions of the rule.
    • Compliance costs associated with acquiring new equipment or hiring employees.
    • Costs and time necessary to file new forms or other paperwork requirements associated with the rule.
    • An argument why a certain alternative to a provision is better than the provision proposed in the rule.
    • How the agency may have overestimated or underestimated how the rule will impact your business revenue.
    • A response to an agency’s argument that the regulatory provision will serve as a cost benefit and not result in a cost impact on your business.
  • The impact of the data on your claim. This is where you make clear why the evidence you provide matters. Tie together the claim and data and explain to the agency exactly why the rule is burdensome, or why an alternative is better. You might also offer alternative suggestions on lessening the harm the rule has on your business. For instance:
    • A suggestion to alter a specific section of the rule that will minimize the harmful impact on your business.
    • A delay in the compliance date to give your business more time to comply.
    • An exclusion for a particular part of your industry that may not be contributing to the problem the rule seeks to correct.

A good comment letter contains arguments either for or against parts of a proposed rule. These arguments likely look a bit different, depending on context. However, there are some common pieces of advice you should keep in mind.

  • Be specific. The more specific information you can provide, the better. Agencies are more likely to listen to arguments that call on specific data or use clear, real-world examples that are full of details. Likewise, being specific in your comments makes things clearer for the regulators you’re working with. Remember that the person writing the rule is human too- if you can explain to them in very clear terms what the issue is, you improve the likelihood they will listen to you.
  • Cite your sources. When you provide data and documentation, make very clear where they come from.
  • Bolster your own credibility. Take some time and make clear why the agency should listen to you. Agencies are more receptive if they believe that you’re an informed party, so make sure to mention your experience in the field related to the rule and contextualize the information you provide. Be careful not to overstate or over-inflate your estimates. This only serves to undercut your argument.
  • Be careful about your tone and language use. Avoid an angry tone or sarcasm at all costs, but also avoid making your letter too complicated. Write in plain English as best you can. Your goal should be a clear and accessible tone that lays out the facts as you see them.
  • Proofread. Ideally, you should give the letter to someone trusted to review for both errors in grammar and spelling and places where your argument is unclear. If you do not feel comfortable or cannot find a suitable volunteer, give yourself some space from the letter before editing. You might also read it aloud to yourself- this allows you to catch more errors.