Writing a letter to the editor is an effective way to express your opinion about an issue that is important to you while also trying to persuade others who will read your letter. A letter to the editor can also be used as a way to propose a course of action to your fellow citizens or invite them to an event. Letters in response to some article that has appeared in the publication are sometimes given preference. If you see an article that you feel is particularly pertinent to you, write to let the publisher know about how the article affected you.
Newspapers, pamphlets, blogs, etc. are all part of the important public discourse that affects everyone as citizens of our local communities, counties, and states and as a whole in the United States of America. You don’t have to get your letter published in a major publication such as The Washington Post or The New York Times to make a difference. Regional newspapers, free weeklies, and pamphlets are just as important as national publications. Sometimes small papers hold more influence in local communities than national papers because your message will resonate more with people who are interested in the issues in your letter.
As always, tell us about your success. E-mail us at email@example.com and tell us how you are doing getting your letters to the editor placed and what issues you are talking about!
1. Choose one issue or topic that is important to you and focus the entire letter on that one topic.
Letters to the editor in most venues are not long (150–250 words, depending on the publication), so if you try to fit too many issues into the same letter, it will not be as powerful in getting your point across to your readers. If you want to write about more than one issue, write more than one letter.
2. Be concise and straightforward.
Do not beat around the bush—get straight to the point. Tell your readers what the issue or topic is, why you think it is important, why you support a particular position on that issue or topic, and why they should support it too. Publishers will often edit letters to make them shorter. If you ramble too much, the editor’s edits may change the meaning of your letter. Do not risk letting the editor change the message of your letter.
3. Tailor your letter to the publication and its readers.
Know your audience! Choose which publication you will send your letter to and be aware of who reads or subscribes to that outlet. If you send your letter to a local newspaper, its readers are not as likely to care about an issue in another state unless you make it personal and relate the issue directly to them. If you send your letter to The Washington Post or another national publication, readers and editors will not necessarily be interested in publishing a letter that deals with a local issue relevant to a fraction of its readers.
4. Provide credibility.
Include what kind of work you do, what school you attend, your age, or the area where you live to strengthen your credibility with those who read your letter. If you are a nurse or some other health care professional, that gives you more credibility if you’re writing on health care issues. If you are an employee of a small business or own your own business, that will increase your authority to speak on issues relating to business, employment, etc. If you have served in the military, that will bolster your argument on matters relating to foreign policy, homeland security, and defense. Include firsthand experience in your letter, if applicable, to strengthen why readers should listen to you. Never make up facts or fictionalize a story. If you include any detailed information or numbers, include the source so that others can look it up and make sure that you are not making up the facts.
5. Begin with a witty or catchy beginning.
You need to catch your readers’ attention immediately; otherwise, they may skip over your letter.
6. Write your letter.
Write your thoughts as concisely as possible while ensuring that you focus on that one issue or topic. Be sure to check grammar and spelling. Choose your words carefully and use words that will be understood by a majority of readers.
7. Set your letter aside for a couple of hours and go do something else.
This will help you to focus your thoughts and fine-tune your points.
8. Come back and read your letter again out loud.
Reading your letter out loud will help you to catch any little mistakes such as a missing word or incorrect verb tenses. Double-check your grammar, spelling, and sources.
9. Let someone you trust read your letter.
Does it make sense to them? Does it inspire them? Does it persuade them? Listen to what they have to say.
10. Include contact information (not always applicable).
Most publications will not publish anonymous letters to the editor. Double-check the individual publication’s requirements for submissions. Newspapers often require address, phone number, or e-mail for any letter they publish. Newspapers will not publish your information, but they require it so that they can contact you if they so desire.
11. Send your letter to the editor.
Check with each individual publication for its preferred method of sending letters to the editor. Some prefer e-mail; some wants faxes; others still use standard mail.
12.Check the Letters to the Editor section to see whether they chose your letter for publication.
Some publications will notify you if they choose to publish your letter, but most will not. If they do publish your letter, make sure that they didn’t change its meaning with any of their own edits. If they decide not to publish your letter, do not let it bother you. Publications have a limited amount of space for letters and may have had a lot of letters that week. Tweak your letter and send it again.
13. Do it again!
Expressing your opinions is one aspect of America that makes this country the best in the world. Write a letter to the editor frequently. If you demonstrate an ability to write well and explain your issues clearly, editors will begin to recognize your writing and may publish more of your letters.
14. Read other letters to the editor and editorials and take note of how other writers present their issues and topics.
15. Last—but perhaps most important—remember that anything you write that is published lasts forever.
Whether it is on the Internet through an electronic search engine or in hard-copy archives, people will have access to what you write. So be responsible in what you write and confident in your opinion because you may be reminded about it in the future.