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TIP SHEET: Writing Letters to the Editor

Writing a letter to the editor is an easy way to make a big impact in your community.  It’s a great way for you to voice your opinion on a topic you’re passionate about or a topic that’s ignored by the mainstream media.  Even though the odds of having your letter selected by an editor is competitive, especially in larger publications, you can improve your chances of being seen by the editor with these helpful tips:

Keep a Format

Like traditional news articles and opinion pieces, letters to the editor follow a format.  Here’s an example of how a traditional letter-to-the-editor is structured:

Dear Editor,

In reference to the article published on May 28, [Article Title (hyper-linked if possible]), the author failed to mention _____. 

 [Supporting Facts]

 [What results you would like to see]

Sincerely,
[Name]

[City, State]

Keep it Local and Issue Specific  

If you’re writing for a local or state newspaper, keep the focus of the letter local. If you want to write about a national issue, find a local hook.  For example, if you’re writing about a specific issue such as agriculture or education, consider pitching your letter to a trade publication.  You’re more likely to get your letter read by an editor and published if you keep your letters local or issue specific.  When you write a letter to the editor, you want to influence your fellow community members.  Maybe you want other citizens to see your perspective or consider a perspective they’ve never thought about before, and the way to do that is by making an issue relate-able to the community you’re writing for.

RESOURCE: If you’re not sure where to submit your letter, PublishALetter.com will help you find your local paper and other places to submit your letter.

*NOTE: When submitting to a publication, be sure to look up the submission requirements such as the number of words allotted and what e-mail address you need to use to send your letters.  Make sure to do your own research by looking at their publishing schedule and find out whether the publication has a print or online edition.

Keep it Short

Most papers limit letters to the editor to 250 words, but most letters that run are less than 150 words. Keep it shorter than 150 words if you can.  If you’re looking to write something longer, op-eds are the way to go, but those usually run no more than 750 words in length and are used if you are writing about very specialized topics.  Don’t write an essay.

Keep it Focused

Make sure to stay on focus and make your point in the first two sentences. The rest of the letter should be supporting facts.  Although you want to be persuasive with your writing, you also don’t want to try to change someone’s mind in one letter to the editor.  It’s like dating or courting- you have to build trust with the readers before asking them to join your cause. You can be direct, but don’t be pushy or aggressive. We’re opinionated people, but keep it simple to get many people on board.

Keep it Simple

The topic you choose should be easy enough to explain in 150 words or less.  Depending on your audience, you may want to take a more casual tone with your letter as if you were chatting over coffee with a friend.  If you’re writing to an elected official, you may want to be a little more formal and assertive in tone.  Regardless of who you are trying to persuade, you’re inviting your intended audience to consider your perspective and you’re more likely to grab their attention if you keep it simple.

Keep it Timely

Timing is important.  Write about issues that are being talked about in the news, or have happened very recently but haven’t been talked about.  The best way to do that is to follow current events in national news and find those that have local significance.  For example, you could write about energy issues such as drilling, unemployment or sales taxes, but focus on how your state or local town is handling those issues.  You can also write about trends that happen around holidays to make your opinion relevant.

If you’re writing in response to a story, send in your letter a day or two after the story is posted online but don’t be discouraged if it’s not printed right away. Sometimes it’s a busy news week and they need the space. They may wait a few weeks later when they are short on content or when it is more timely.

Keep it Digital

Make sure to email your letter as opposed to mailing it. Editors are pressed for time, and they’ll prioritize digital versions over items they have to type up.

 

Want to learn more about writing letters to the editor?  Contact info@watchdogwire.com for guidance!

 

Katherine Rodriguez

Katherine Rodriguez is a former Citizen Outreach intern for Watchdog Wire. Twitter: @krod315

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