a shortlist of tips for writing effective public comments

The most valuable public comments are unique, fact-based, and succinct. The agency will have to sort through many identical form letters and expressions of personal opinion. As a scientist, your ability to synthesize data and research is your greatest strength when writing a public comment.

A few general guidelines: 

  1. Your comment can report on scientific evidence that opposes or supports the theory behind the regulation. Providing additional supporting evidence helps strengthen the agency's position by creating a stronger scientific foundation for their action.
  2. Include a heading that states the regulation name and the docket ID number. While this may seem superfluous, it demonstrates that you are taking the time to carefully review the document and be well informed. 
  3. Use an opening sentence to establish your credibility. State who you are and summarize any of your experiences that are relevant to the topic of the proposal.
  4. Use the next few sentences to succinctly summarize the data or research that you have provided. You can (and are encouraged) to go into further detail later in your comment, but starting with the equivalent of a discussion section will help the agency respond more effectively.
  5. You do not have to come to a conclusion or judgement regarding the entirety of the regulation, but you do have to clearly communicate the implications of the research you present. Avoid leaving it up to the agency to infer how research or data relates to the regulation. 
  6. If you are citing specific papers in your comment, including your sources will help the agency staff find them later. 
  7. Check out the agency's mission statement and any statutes relevant to the regulation. Federal agencies' actions are driven by their mission and held to the standards dictated by statutes, so make your comment stronger by explaining how your information contributes to their mission. (See our statute summaries here.)


Still uncertain as to what a unique, fact-based, and succinct comment might look like? A recent regulation proposal to list a freshwater mussel species under the Endangered Species Act contains contrasting examples of a substantive comment and a non-substantive comment.

You can also check out the templates, examples, and other resources below!

templates AND EXAMPLES

Not sure how to structure your comment? We have put together a few broad outlines you can follow. Browse our templates

We have also combed through submitted public comments from scientists and scientific organizations for comments with exemplary structure and content. See how others have responded to different comment opportunities - from regulation proposals to calls for nominations - across Featured topic areas. Browse select comments →

learn from other scientists

We are collecting stories from scientists who have used public comment to make an impact with their research, and reporting them here. Use them as guidance and inspiration. Read our blog →

track your comments

You can learn from your own mistakes (and successes) by following up on agency responses to your comments. When you submit a public comment through the online portal at Regulations.gov, you can sign up to receive email alerts when the agency responds to all substantive comments in the final rule. Did the agency respond to your comment? If so, how did they respond? How can you change your writing technique to better communicate your message? Start tracking regulations →

some helpful links

We've selected a few external resources that we have found particularly helpful. We encourage you to browse other federal agency websites, as agencies often have tips for commenting on their regulations and notices. 


Alaska Fisheries Science Center

Environmental Protection Agency