A letter to the editor is an opportunity for readers to correct and/or comment on an article or statement that recently appeared in a publication, voice their opinions to policy makers, and educate people in a community about issues. You can use letters to:
- explain the connection between a news item and your priority issues;
- clarify an issue after a misleading, inaccurate, or biased letter or story;
- respond to other editorials;
- rebut a news or feature story; or
- compliment the publication for a recent article or editorial.
Writing Your Letter
Make it Timely. If you’re responding to a news story or someone else’s letter, try to mail your letter within a few days.
Be Brief. Your letter should be between 250 and 300 words, typed and double-spaced.
Use Plain Language. Write as if you are addressing a friend.
Localize Your Letter. Editors will be much more likely to publish a letter, and the letter will have much more impact if it demonstrates local relevance.
Use Your Credentials. If you have expertise in the area you are writing about, say so. Sign your letter to the editor with your affiliation if the letter is the only one (or one of a few) being sent. On the other hand, if you and coalition members are writing letters to the editor as part of a targeted campaign, you should not include your affiliation. Publications will usually not print letters that they think are part of a letter writing campaign.
Address it Properly. Your salutation should be “Dear Editor.”
Keep a Copy. If your letter is published, compare your original with how the newspaper or magazine printed it to make sure the intent of your letter wasn’t changed by editing and that no crucial points were eliminated. It will also help you write a better letter next time.
Sign it. Remember to sign your letter and provide an address and phone number. The publication will usually contact you if they’ve decided to print your letter.
Letters to the editor are used to respond to a news event, not to create news. Therefore, in writing a letter to the editor, you generally want to begin by referring to the article to which you are responding. In the first paragraph, give the title of the article and the date it was written. The first paragraph should also state your reaction to the article.
The body expounds on the article you are responding to and explains why you agree or disagree. If the article that was written missed an important point, say so, and explain why it is important. If it did not provide the full story, give the full story. If someone gave an explanation that was unclear or misleading, clarify the point for the newspapers’ readers. Inject anecdotes, quotes, statistics, and any other information that supports your point. (Make sure all facts and figures are correct.)
In your final paragraph, include a call to action for members of the community. This will vary depending on the circumstances. It could be calling their legislator, attending a rally, or organizing a campaign. Whenever possible, suggest a call to action to motivate readers. Often the letters to the editor section of the paper give guidelines for sending a letter. If this information is not published, call and ask the paper’s desired method (mail, e-mail, or fax) of receiving letters and the preferred letter length. Be aware that the newspaper or magazine may shorten your piece if they decide to publish it.