Nearly every newspaper in the country prints Letters to the Editor. They are selected to provide concise opinions on relevant issues. Often, the opinions express a perspective not presented by the newspaper.
Letters are an effective way to communicating your opinion with a newspaper’s readership. If you can help illuminate an issue or find a way to bring attention to an issue you care about, then writing a letter is the worth the time.
So should you write a letter?
If you want to amplify an issue to the public – then yes.
If you want to share your opinion on relevant news and believe your opinion differs from mainstream coverage – then yes.
Let’s go through this step-by-step. If you have looked at our “How to Write to Congress” then you will find that there is some overlap when it comes to formulating your thoughts.
Before we begin, note that even though the section is always titled “Letters to the Editor,” your audience will actually be readers of the paper. Your letter will be selected by an editor. Then they may make minor edits to the letter – often this is done to trim down for space/printing reasons.
1. Determine reason for your letter
Letters to the Editor are most likely to be printed if they are timely. Therefore, choose to write about a news event relevant to within the past few days or since the last edition of the paper.
Also, letters are more likely to be printed if they respond to an article in the paper. Avoid bringing up topics covered months ago. Occasionally letters can deviate from this standard if the writer is a public figure or has expertise in a field frequently covered by the paper.
Now – pick one issue to write about. Letters will need to be brief to even be considered for printing. If you want to cover multiple issues, then your best bet is to write multiple letters. That’s fine. There are many local papers that seem to showcase the same residents’ letters.
When you have picked your one issue, it is timely, and it is relevant to the paper (either in scope or as a response) then move onto the next step.
2. Decide where you stand on the issue
You chose your issue, now you form your stance on the issue. We recommend the simple method of stating whether you support or oppose an action.
Here are some examples. A few are taken from our “How to Call Congress” page:
Healthcare – you would say, “I support/oppose repealing the Affordable Care Act.”
(Instead of just stating, “I support/oppose healthcare.”)
Business – “I support/oppose lowering taxes on small businesses.”
(Instead of “I support/oppose small businesses.”)
Education – “I support/oppose increasing funding for our town’s schools.”
(Instead of “I support/oppose our town’s schools.”)
If your letter is a response to an article, you want to be sure to reference that. Make a note of the title of the article and when it was printed. If you looked at our “How to Write to Congress” page, this will be familiar to you.
To reference a news article just include these three bits of info in your letter: “Title of Article” Name of News Source (Date)
Example: I am opposed to tax cuts for the wealthy as reported by The World Post’s “Tax Proposal Eliminates Capital Gains Taxes” (4/1/17).
3. Write the letter
You have an issue, you have an opinion, and you have the source article you are responding to. That is the hard part. Now you need to communicate it.
Each paper will have its own guidelines for printing letters. Look those up by finding the “Letters to the Editor” section of the newspapers website or printed version. They will have guidelines listed. But all of them will require they be no longer than a few hundred words. Around 200 words is standard. How long is 200 words? Scroll up and look at the intro. That’s about 200 words.
So you will have just enough space in your letter to communicate the most essential components:
– What issue are you writing about
– What is your stance on the issue
– Reference which article you are responding to
– List any expertise you have on the issue (if applicable)
– Suggest a course of action
As you write, just start with the barebones. Write a sentence stating what issue you are writing about. Follow that with a sentence stating the title of the article and date of the article you are responding to. Follow that with a third sentence stating your stance on the issue. Wrap up with a sentence suggesting what should happen to resolve the issue.
As you go through this, you may find areas where you can provide an extra sentence or two of detail.
If you have expertise in a field, state that. National papers are more likely to publish from experts than from concerned citizens, even if you do write like Shakespeare. For example, a response to Russian hacking tactics is more likely to be printed if the writer is a cybersecurity professor. Local papers have a much lower/non-existent barrier for expertise. This is because being a resident of the local paper’s district qualifies as expertise on local matters.
Suggesting a course of action should be a brief recommendation. You can recommend that the person covered in the article take a specific action or you can choose to recommend the readership take action.
Now you are done!
Wait to see if you hear from an editor at the paper.
Share that you are taking action. Encourage others to do so. You did the hard work of articulating and justifying a stance. Now share that.
If your letter does appear in the paper, share that with your networks. It is a worthy opinion to share and can help others begin to think about an issue.