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Tips for writing effective letters to the editor

2015 | Berkeley Media Studies Group

Letters to the editor can signal community interest about a particular public health issue and send a message to policymakers. But what makes for a compelling letter, and how can advocates increase their chances of getting published?

Letters should be short and punchy, and if it the subject matter is in response to a news article, it is best to respond the same day the article is published. As with other media strategies, always keep your overall objective in mind. It can be tempting to respond with anger to an article or column "to set the record straight," but will your response further your overall advocacy goal? What would you like readers to do? What solutions would you like them to support as a result of reading your letter?

When writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper or magazine, keep the following tips in mind:

Respond quickly. If you read or see something you want to respond to, send your letter by email (or use the news site's online form if they have one) the same day, or by the next day at the latest.

Mention your reason for writing, preferably in the first sentence. If you are responding directly to an article you've read in the publication, state the article headline and publication date. If you are commenting on a local current event, be specific about the issue or event.

Limit the content to one or two key points. A letter to the editor offers the chance to make a concise statement or argument, not an in-depth analysis. Focus on the overall message you want readers to get from your letter.

Take a strong position. Letters section editors look for fresh facts, honest statements of opinion, and creative takes on news. If you can, offer a compelling fact that shows the urgency or importance of your issue. Include a call to action.

Make sure to include your full name and contact information. You may be contacted to verify your identity before the letter is published.

Look up the editorial policies for each outlet you submit to. Some have different word count restrictions or policies on how many letters they will accept from the same individual in a specific time period.

Don't send the same letter to competing publications. Newspapers and magazines want to publish original content. Engaging your allies may be a way to have several different letters published that are worded differently but point to the same policy solution. Also, follow the news your target follows. Your choice of where to submit your letter should be a strategic one.

Practice. Use this letter to the editor template to help you organize your ideas.

Authors:

Lori Dorfman

Produced through PHI's:

Berkeley Media Studies Group