Contributing letters to your local paper as well as other media outlets is a good way to help spread the word. See our issues page for topics to consider. Before you write, consider the following tips that were put together by Mary Newhouse using information from Organizing for Action.
The letter to the editor section is one of the most widely read parts of a newspaper. These letters can help win issue campaigns by:
- Raising awareness: An LTE is a great way to raise the profile of an issue in your local community.
- Responding rapidly: Many publications print LTEs within a day or two of receiving them, making them one the most effective actions when trying to respond quickly to new developments or announcements.
- Sending a message to lawmakers: LTEs show unsupportive lawmakers that their constituents care passionately about an issue and will hold them accountable. Our legislators pay attention local newspapers, esp. LTE’s. The more letters from different authors on a topic the better.
- Energizing supporters and thanking supportive members of Congress: Published letters fire up local supporters and show lawmakers that their constituents have their back when they lead on important issues. Remember, you are not going to reach everyone on the other side, but you can enlist support from like-minded citizens.
- Persuading: LTEs can show how an issue affects local people in a way that those on the fence—including lawmakers—can sympathize with.
WHY PEOPLE READ LTE’s
People (and legislators) read LTE’s to find out:
- How local people think or feel about an issue.
- How an issue is affecting their community.
- What the major impacts of an action could be.
People do not read LTE’s for:
- In-depth policy talk: LTEs should be short and personal, demonstrating the local connection to an issue and the views of community members. You don’t have to be an expert to share your personal story.
- National political debates: People turn to TV and other media/publications to learn about the national debate on the issues. LTEs that focus on the community are most likely to be published. If you write about a national issue, find some tie-in to how it will affect you or your fellow citizens.
WRITING YOUR LETTER
- Keep it short. Stay within the publication’s rules—likely no longer than 250 or 300 words. Shorter letters are the most effective. Get to the point. Don’t ramble on several topics — have a theme and a main point you want to get across and lead your reader through the logic of your position.
- Tell your story. Make it issue oriented. This is not a philosophical discourse on your personal beliefs. Stick to something currently in the news and actionable. Make the issue human by describing how the issue affects you or someone you know. Start your letter with a brief personal story—yours or someone else, like family, a coworker, or a friend.
- Know your audience. What type of publication are you writing for, and who is reading it? Use a story the audience can connect with. Which story would touch this audience?
- Do your homework. Take time to read available background material on an issue so you don’t make unfounded statements.
- DON’T delve into policy. Avoid using a long string of dull facts—there’s not enough room in 300 words to make a nuanced policy argument, and your passion is more powerful.
- Use powerful language. Let your feelings show. Use powerful verbs and descriptive nouns. Write short, punchy sentences. Vary sentence length. This will help your letter stand out and make it more likely to be published. A little humor can also make a good point.
- Make a call to action. End your letter with a specific call to action — to your local lawmakers, community members, legislators, etc. Your LTE will only be effective if it gets others to take action! You are not just on your soapbox complaining or commenting about an issue, your goal is persuasion. Try to make a positive case for your view.
- Check for proper grammar and spelling. Ask someone to take a look at your letter before you submit. Letters with errors may not be published, or they might be published with your errors, which sheds bad light on the writer.
- Here is a sample template to help you structure your letter:
- First paragraph: If you are responding to or referencing another article, reference it by the title of the article, the name of the publication and date it was published. If not, you can start here with the reason why you’re writing, but it’s not always necessary. Sometimes it’s best to include some kind of interesting hook here that also explains why you’re writing, without saying “I’m writing because…”
- Second section: Tell your personal story. How does the issue impact you, your family, or someone you know? Why is this issue important, and why should readers care about it? Be concise and relate to the community you know best by touching on the values you share with them. If you include contrast—what the opponents think—be respectful.
- Call to action. Are you encouraging readers to contact their legislator? Are you asking them to take some other action? Don’t be afraid to make a specific ask of the people reading your letter. Stress the urgency of acting now before and important vote, or other issues is decided.
- End on a positive note. You have gone to all this trouble to entice your readers, you don’t want to turn them off to your opinions before you’ve sealed the deal.
[YOUR NAME] [Address] [Date] [Daytime telephone number] [Email]
They publish only name and city with your letter
P.S. If you are not interested in writing a letter to the editor, you can still use some of these pointers for writing or sending an email to a legislator or other official — tell your personal story with powerful language and make a call to action.
- After you send your LTE, keep an eye out! Some publications may not tell you if you will be published because you have already given your permission by sending it.
- If you are published—Success! Congratulations! Your message is being heard.
- Get more mileage out of your letter by sharing the message on Facebook, or other social media outlets, Indivisible sites, Progressives, etc. More will see it there and it may give them ideas about writing themselves. More than one letter on a topic from different writers can have a bigger impact. If your story is about a specific legislator you can send that person a copy also.
- Follow up with the paper if they don’t print your letter, ask why, so you can improve next time. They may just not have enough space, so don’t get discouraged.
Above information adapted from Organizing for Action https://www.ofa.us/