Writing Op-Eds and Letters to the Editor
An op-ed is a timely, provocative essay that expresses an opinion on an important issue. Letters to the editor (LTEs) generally respond to a previous article in the paper. Each can be very useful and cost-effective tools for advocates trying to get out a message. Most policymakers or their staff read op-eds and LTEs as a way to track issues important to their constituents.
Ten things to keep in mind when you start writing:
- Have a hook, piggyback on an issue, event or pending legislation.
- Identify yourself to readers. For example, "I am a mother as well as a teacher in the public school system."
- Be brief. 750 words is a good target for an op-ed. For a letter to the editor, 150 words.
- Plan your message. Get to it quickly – and choose just one message.
- Check your tone. Depending on your audience and the issue, you may want to be light and conversational in tone, or academic.
- Avoid jargon.
- Check your facts. And then, check them again. (Here are some tools to help you.)
- Use examples. Real life stories engage readers and can often make a point in far fewer words than a page of statistics.
- Make a specific recommendation.
- Include your name and contact info (address, email and phone number) as well as any appropriate organizational affiliation, and a one-sentence description of that organization. You can indicate, “I work for X Organization, but these views are mine alone.”
Note: you do not have to be writing on behalf of an organization to get published.
Most editors will respond to you within a week. They should call you to confirm that you really wrote the piece before they publish it. They may want you to make some changes or they may make the changes and send it to you for approval.
Do not get discouraged if they don't print your article. Find out as much as you can about why your piece was not published.
If you do get published, save the clipping and send it to policymakers to be sure they see it. Use SparkAction’s Contact Elected Officials & Reach the Media tools to identify and contact policymakers and reporters:
People to Know in your State
- Child Advocacy Action Centers
- Advocates in Your State: Voices for America’s Children and KIDS COUNT
- Contact information for local and national media