Writing a letter to the editor (LTE) of your local or regional newspaper is an effective and easy way to reach a large audience with your message. LTEs generally are published online and on the editorial page, which is one of the most read sections in the print version of the paper. Congressional staffers also tell us that members of Congress keep a close eye on media coverage, including LTEs, in their local papers so they can keep a 'pulse' on issues of importance to their constituents.
Having a strong letter published helps you reach both a wide public audience and your elected officials with the same effort! Even if your letter is not published, it is important for educating and persuading editors. The more letters they receive on a given topic, the more likely they are to dedicate more time in their newspaper to that issue—both on the editorial page and in news articles. It clearly expresses the issue’s importance to the community.
How to write a letter to the editor
- Respond to an article in the paper. Unless your paper has a “free for all” section or prints letters about a lack of coverage on a specific issue, you should assume that it is the paper’s policy to only publish LTEs responding to a story, column, or editorial. Begin your letter by citing that piece by name, date, and author.
- Follow the paper’s directions. Most outlets publish instructions on how to submit a letter to the editor. Look for this in the Opinion section on the outlet’s website or simply google the name of the paper and “letter to the editor.” The directions will include the word limit, email address for where to send your letter, and often guidelines on what the paper looks for in LTEs. Failing to follow the instructions will greatly decrease the chances of your letter being published.
- Share your expertise. If you are specifically qualified to speak to the topic you're addressing be sure to include that in your letter. If you are a doctor writing about a health issue, an electric car owner writing about hybrid cars, or you are writing about energy issues and have solar panels on your roof—share that information up front.
- Refer to the legislator or corporation you are trying to influence by name. If your letter includes a legislator’s name, in almost all cases their staff will give the lawmaker the letter to read. Corporations also monitor the media, especially in areas where they have offices or plants.
- Write the letter in your own words. Editors prefer to run letters that are original and from a person living in the outlet’s circulation area. Be sure that you take the time to write the letter in your own words.
- Refute, advocate, and make a call to action. Most letters to the editor follow a standard format. Open your letter by refuting the claim made in the original story the paper ran. Then use the next few sentences to back up your claims and advocate for your position. Try to focus on the positive. For example: According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, capping global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius would save about 93 percent of the more than 1 million properties that are at risk of chronic inundation in Florida by 2100. Close your letter by explaining what you think needs to happen now; make your call to action.
- Include your contact information. Be sure to include your name, town of residence, and daytime phone number; the paper will contact you before printing your letter.