Writing a Good Letter to the Editor
Letters to the Editor are timely, provocative and brief essays that express an opinion on an important issue, typically in response to a previous article in the newspaper or a current event.
They can be a powerful and cost-effective way to get your message out to your community and to policymakers. Most policymakers or their staff read Letters to the Editor as a way to track issues important to their constituents.
What makes for a good letter? Here are some tips:
- Be brief. Most publications post their desired word limits, usually between 150-200 words for letters to the editor; 700 words is a good target for an op-ed. Do the research on your target publication before you submit.
- Plan your message. Pick one point and make it clearly. Avoid jargon.
- Have a hook. Make it timely and relevant to the publication’s audience. Use a recent article or editorial as a hook or piggyback on a current issue, pending legislation or event.
- Identify yourself. For example, "I am a mother as well as a teacher in the public school system." Or “I am a young person with first-hand experience of this issue.”
- Use examples. Real life stories engage readers and can often make a point in far fewer words than a page of statistics.
- Have a clear call to action. Make a specific recommendation or call to action that you want readers to do.
- Be accurate. Check all of your facts and numbers before you submit. Briefly included sources wherever possible.
- Do your homework. Read the publication’s editorial and “letters” section(s) before you submit, to get a sense of what they are looking for.
How to Submit a Letter
You’ve written a short, powerful piece and the local angle is clear. So now what? Here’s are a few tips to submit and land your Letter to the Editor:
- Follow the publication’s instructions for submitting. That will tell you who to send it to and what format to use. We said this above but it is worth repeating: follow their word counts!
- Include your name, address, a phone number where you can be reached, any appropriate organizational affiliation, and a one-sentence description of that organization. However, you do not have to be writing on behalf of an organization to get published.
- Ask others (friends and colleagues) to submit letters on the same topic. This will increase the likelihood that one of your letters is run.
- If you can, call the editorial page editor or the appropriate contact the day after you submit your letter.
- If your letter is published, use social media to spread the word. Send it to policymakers too.
Template for Basic Letter to the Editor
Name of Publication
Title of Your Letter
To the Editor:
Engage your readers immediately. Start with a personal hook or story that explains your reason for writing. If you’re responding to an article or editorial in the publication, include the title and date it was published.
Make your case in a short paragraph (two at most).
Link your issue to an action. What needs to happen and/or what can readers do about this issue? Be brief and clear.
End with a clear, positive statement in support of your point.
Include one or two very brief sentences about your organization or work/club/affiliation so readers understand your point of view and crediblity. You can include a (single) link to your website or social media page.
- Invitation to a Dialogue: Helping Boys Succeed (New York Times).
Read about how Letters to the Editor made a difference for Pell Grant advocates.
Get op-ed and Letter to the Editor templates.
See more tips and templates from SparkAction.
This post was originally published in September 2012, and was most recently reviewed and updated in 2016.