HOW TO WRITE A LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Letters to the editor are one of the best (and easiest) ways to get an unfiltered message about a particular issue out to the community. They are generally brief, to the point, and in response to a previously written article, or other public event. One of the reasons that they are so effective is the fact that after the front page and the comics page, more people read the editorial page than any other section of the paper (even Sports!). Furthermore, letters to the editor carry a certain credibility because they come from average citizens, and the public does not view them with the same bias with which they view the rest of the paper. You can usually find the address to send your letter to the editor on the editorial page of the paper.
Letters to the editor are used to respond to a news event, not to create news. Therefore, in writing a letter to the editor, you generally want to begin by referring to a previously published article in the newspaper, or to a well-known event. Referring to a previously written article helps make the letter relevant to the newspaper staff, and it is more likely to get printed. The reference to a previously article or event should generally be in the first line of your letter to the editor, to help set the stage for whatever point you are going to make.
Following your opening sentence, you should immediately begin to make the case for why you are writing the letter. If the news story that was written missed an important point, say so, and explain why it is important. If a news event did not provide the full story, give the full story. If someone gave an explanation that was unclear or misleading, clarify the point for the newspapers’ readers. One word of caution, however: While letters to the editor can be used to criticize an elected official, they should usually only be used in this way as a means of last resort. Office holders generally remember those people and organizations that have criticized them publicly, and they are not likely to forgive or forget a harsh letter in their local newspaper.
Finally, when you close the letter to the editor, you should include some call to action for the general public. What exactly this is will depend on the circumstances, but it could be calling their member of Congress, attending a meeting, or writing a letter to the school superintendent. But it is important that there be some call to action to round out the letter.
The length of your letter to the editor depends on your local paper. Different papers like different length letters. If you send in a letter that is too long, either it won’t be printed, or it will be cut down to the size the paper wants. The best thing to do is to read the letters to the editor that are printed, and count out how long each on is. This should give you a good idea of how long your letter should be. In general, it is better to have a shorter letter than a longer one, as it is more likely to be read. However, you still need to make all of the points that you want to make.
When you send in your letter to the editor, you must include your name, address and daytime telephone number. Your name is needed because anonymous letters are not as credible as those that are signed, and the large majority of newspapers will not publish them anyway. Your address is critical because newspapers prefer to print letters from local readers, and once again, it has more credibility to elected officials. Your phone number is necessary because a newspaper will only print your letter once they have verified that you actually wrote it.
Many newspapers now allow you to send letters to the editor by e-mail. Visit here for contact information for media outlets in your area, or to submit letters to the editor online.
Developed by the Public Policy Collaboration for The Arc. Adapted for use by The Arc of Massachusetts.