Writing an Effective Letter to the Editor: Tips to Help
Writing an effective letter to the editor can be a great way to share your reviews and inspire others to take action. Perhaps there’s an issue in your community news or in the national news that you want to comment on. Maybe you are upset about something happening in your community or want to draw attention to a problem. Or maybe you want to offer praise for something a public official has done to address an issue. A letter to the editor that is well-written can get your point across, catch the eye of public officials, and further community discussion of an important issue.
Putting together a great letter to the editor is not difficult but competition for available space is fierce. Even compelling and well-written letters with amazing perspectives can go unpublished. So how can you stand out from the crowd? I’ve written letters for myself and on behalf of clients, and they’ve been published in the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and many other publications. Here are a few tips to help you write an effective letter to the editor:
- Check the newspaper’s guidelines and submission requirements. Most newspapers post their policies for letters to the editor on their website. Take a look at the requirements, paying attention to submission directions and word count requirements.
- Reference what you are responding to. Many letters to the editor respond to an article in the newspaper, or perhaps a quote or comment in an article. Letters often reference this point up front, drawing a connection to the prior story.
- Start with a feeling. Many people like to start their letter with a feeling. Some sample starters are: I was disheartened to hear… I applaud efforts by…. I thoroughly endorse… I am overjoyed to… I am dismayed by…. I am sad to hear… I am thrilled to see… I heartily agree… I strongly disagree… I’m perplexed by…. I’m confused by…. I am so grateful for….
- Keep it brief. Many published letters to the editor are under 250 words. Try very hard to stay within the word count guidelines if you can. This can be tough when you are passionate and knowledgeable about a subject. Shorter letters have a better chance of being published. so it’s to your advantage to be brief.
- Write well. Be professional in your remarks. Your writing should be articulate and knowledgeable. Yes, your letter is a nugget of opinion, so your personality can shine through. But you always want to come across in the best possible light, so take the high road while sharing your take on the issue.
- Focus on one issue in your letter, not several. Some letters do just “vent” about a topic, but great letters may also offer a statistic or story. Some issue a call to action or heap praise (or shame) on a public official or business.
- Check your facts. While you are offering an opinion, truth still matters – and not just your version. Any evidence offered, research cited or statistic quoted – you should be able to back up with a reference. If chosen for publication, the newspaper staff may ask for your sources, and it needs to be better than “an internet meme.”
- Be timely. Getting a letter in print is almost always aided by timely submission. That means you should get to work right away! If you are responding to an article published today, try to submit your letter to the editor today.Waiting more than a few days nearly always means a letter will not be published.
- Use your real name. All newspapers require letter to the editor submissions to use your real name. You may also want to list your professional title or the organization or business you work for, if they are relevant to the topic at hand. This also covers your bases. If you don’t mention your affiliation with the topic or organization, someone else may notice you didn’t reference this information and write a letter to the editor the next day criticizing you for “hiding” this information. Disclose if you are doing business, volunteering, or working in some capacity for an organization or business that touches on the topic. Many organizations have a formalized approval process for letters to the editor, so check with your communications staff if you want to write a letter to the editor on behalf of an organization before hitting send.
- Include your phone number and email address. The newspaper staff will usually call to confirm your name for the submission, and review any edits with you. They will not usually publish your contact information.
Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your project, review our portfolio, sign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven