Writing a Letter to the Editor (LTE)

Thank you to Thomas Young for creating this guide

Why LTE’s are important

  • They are an important way for the public, policymakers, and the press to get a better informed understanding of an issue and how the public views it.
  • LTEs are an excellent media tactic for “rapid-response” situations and campaigns where we need to demonstrate public support/opposition/pressure to a decision-maker.
  • LTEs are especially effective for campaigns related to politics and legislation, because Congressional staff closely monitor the opinion pages of newspapers in their districts.
  • Because many people read letters-to-the-editor (LTEs), they are a quick, effective and continuing means of communicating your campaign message to a wide audience.
  • They can be used to correct and clarify facts in a news story, editorial or op-ed piece, oppose or support actions of an official agency, direct attention to a problem, spur news editors

How to write your letter:

Pick a Timely Topic — Newspapers rarely publish letters about topics that are not being covered in the news. Referring to a previously published article or column will increase your letter’s chances of being published. Look at each paper to see how they like to reference the article in LTEs they publish. A specific reference is not always necessary and you shouldn’t let not having a reference keep you from submitting.

Just Write — As soon as you feel inspired to write, sit down and do it.  Do not wait, do not look up data, do not get distracted. Just write.  Get you initial thoughts out. Add data, correct and edit later. Make sure not to wait too long before submitting or it will no longer be timely.

Research the Guidelines — Most papers’ length limit on LTEs is around 250 words. Stick to this so that an editor does not cut out the important points of your letter. Often newspapers want your address and phone number so they can verify that you wrote the letter. You can usually find a paper’s guidelines on the letters page in print or online. If not, call the paper directly. Spend some time looking at letters that the paper has already published to get a sense of what opinion editors usually choose to publish.

Tips:

Assume Nothing — Do not assume that your readers are informed on your topic. Give a concise but informative background before plunging into the main issue. Refer to any newspaper article or editorial by date and title. Also include any relevant credentials that prove you are informed about your topic.

Be Brief — State your position as succinctly as possible without eliminating necessary detail. Keep your paragraphs short. Long rambling sentences and digressions will cause people to lose interest quickly. Stick to one subject.

Maintain Composure — It is okay to express outrage, but it should be kept under control. Avoid personal attacks and focus instead on criticizing specific policies or ideas.

Find a Local Angle — Readers are more interested in an issue when they see how it affects their lives and communities. Find a way to show how budget cuts or environmental policies will affect this particular readership.

Make it personal — Personal stories and anecdotes are particularly compelling to editors and readers  than facts and figures alone. The less impersonal a letter is the better.

Adapt Form Letters — If you are working from a form letter or a sample letter that was provided to you take some time to personalize and localize it. If you don’t have time, don’t let that keep you from sending it in. Something is better than nothing.

Follow Up — If your letter doesn’t get published within a week, resubmit it and call the paper.  Ask for the opinion editor and ask the person if (s)he received the letter and if it will be published.

Sample LTEs And LTE types:

  • Letters used to thank or scold officials
  • Support for campaign issues
  • Rapid response to urgent issue
  • Long-term case
  • Personal perspective