Here are tips — gathered from several sources — about writing a Letter to the Editor. These tips apply to all Letters to the Editor — big newspapers, small newspapers, local papers, regional papers, dailies, weeklies — all papers.
Writing a Letter to the Editor is Easier Than You Think!
Letters to the editor are great advocacy tools. After you write letters to your members of Congress, sending letters to the editor can achieve other advocacy goals because they:
reach a large audience.
are often monitored by elected officials.
can bring up information not addressed in a news article.
create an impression of widespread support for or opposition to an issue.
Make it legible.Your letter doesn’t have to be fancy, but you should use a typewriter or computer word processor if your handwriting is difficult to read.
Send letters to weekly community newspapers too. The smaller the newspaper’s circulation, the easier it is to get your letter printed.
Be sure to include your contact information. Many newspapers will only print a letter to the editor after calling the author to verify his or her identity and address. Newspapers will not give out that information, and will usually only print your name and city should your letter be published.
Make references to the newspaper. While some papers print general commentary, many will only print letters that refer to a specific article. Here are some examples of easy ways to refer to articles in your opening sentence:
- I was disappointed to see that The Post’s May 18 editorial “School Vouchers Are Right On” omitted some of the key facts in the debate.
- I strongly disagree with (author’s name) narrow view on women’s reproductive rights. (“Name of Op-Ed,” date)
- I am deeply saddened to read that Congressman Doe is working to roll back affirmative action. (“Title of Article,” date)
How to write a letter to the editor
- Respond to an article in the paper. The best letters are those that are in response to an article that ran in the paper and many papers require that you reference the specific article. Your letter will have a greater chance of being printed if it is in response to an editorial, op-ed, or front page story. Begin your letter by citing the original story by name, date, and author. Some papers do occasionally print LTEs noting a lack of coverage on a specific issue. If this is the topic you are writing about, begin by stating your concern that the paper hasn’t focused on this important issue.
- Follow the paper’s directions. Information on how and to whom to submit a letter-to-the-editor is usually found right on the letters page in your paper. This often includes guidelines on what the paper looks for in LTEs. Follow these guidelines to increase the likelihood that your letter will be printed. If you can’t find the information you need, simply call the paper and ask how to go about submitting a letter in response to a recently published article.
- Share your expertise. If you have relevant qualifications to the topic you’re addressing be sure to include that in your letter. If you are a doctor writing about a health issue, a Prius owner writing about hybrid cars, or you are writing about energy issues and you have solar panels on your roof—share that information up front.
- Refer to the legislator or corporation you are trying to influence by name. If your letter includes a legislator’s name, in almost all cases staff will give him or her the letter to read personally. Corporations also monitor the media, especially in areas where they have offices or plants. Be sure if you are trying to influence a legislator or corporation that you include the full name in your letter.
- Write the letter in your own words. Editors want letters in their papers to be original and from a reader. Be sure that you take the time to write the letter in your own words.
- Refute, advocate, and make a call to action. Most letters to the editor follow a standard format. Open your letter by refuting the claim made in the original story the paper ran. Then use the next few sentences to back up your claims and advocate for your position. Try to focus on the positive. For example: According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, investments in renewable energy would bring over $200 million to our state and create 36,000 jobs by 2020. Then wrap your letter up by explaining what you think needs to happen now, make your call to action.
- Include your contact information. Be sure to include your name, address, and daytime phone number; the paper will contact you before printing your letter.
Finally . . .
- Keep your letter short, focused, and interesting. Stay focused on one (or, at the most, two) main point(s); and get to the main point in the first two sentences. If possible, include interesting facts, relevant personal experience and any local connections to the issue. If your letter is longer than 200 words, it will likely be edited or not printed.
- Be timely. Respond to an article within two or three days of its publication.
- Write your letter in your own words. Editors want letters in their papers to be original and from a reader. Be sure that you take the time to write the letter in your own words.
- Follow-up with your legislator or corporation. If your letter is printed, and targeted to a specific decision maker or corporation, clip out your printed letter and send it to the target with a brief cover note. This way you can be certain that the appropriate decision maker sees it.
- Keep it brief — Keep letters to 250 words or less. Discuss only one issue in a letter. Many newspapers will edit letters. Keeping the letter short will help ensure that the newspaper does not edit out important points.
- Get to the point — Start with a compelling introductory sentence. Follow the introduction with short, clear factual points. Don’t make broad statements you can’t back up with facts. Check the NEA Web site for statistics to use in letters. Focus on what is most important rather than trying to address every aspect of the issue.
- Relate it to home — Newspaper readers care about how an issue will impact them or their families locally. Including brief information on the economic or other impacts of an issue in the community will draw readers’ interest.
- Personalize the issue — Provide an example of how the issue impacts a real person in the community to help readers understand the issue and encourage them to take action. Avoid submitting “form” letters.
- End with a call to action — Ask readers to follow-up, such as joining in calling on policymakers to address the issue.
- Be timely — Try to place letters when they will be most effective. For example, letters supporting or opposing legislation will have the most impact when legislators are considering the issue.
- Be professional — Letters should be typed or neatly handwritten and should follow the submission rules of the particular newspaper. Language should be polite but persuasive.
- Identify yourself — Sign the letter personally. Include any information highlighting your expertise on the issue. Provide contact information, including an address and daytime phone number so the newspaper can verify the letter’s authenticity.