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The Art of Writing a Letter to the Editor

Want to make a difference? Want to make your voice heard? One way to do both of these things is to share your viewpoint via a letter to the editor.

What is a letter to the editor? At times referred to as an LTE, these short op-ed pieces are typically written in response to a news article, current event, or community concern. Because of space limitations, please note that every character counts. Fact: Punchy, succinct letters to the editor are much more likely to be published than pieces that opine on a particular issue for hundreds and hundreds of words.

Why write a letter to the editor? If sharing your standpoint on an issue you care deeply about isn’t enough, consider this: Letters to the editor could help determine news coverage. Why? Because the job of news editors is to help determine what issues are most important to readers. At a time when local newsrooms are understaffed, clear indicators of what stories most impact and interest readers are the stories assigning editors will dole out to their reporters. 

LTEs also send a clear message to policyholders (think your municipal and county representatives, as well as those who serve in the House and Senate) about the issues to which they need to devote more time and attention.

Now that you know WHY letters to the editor are so important, here are some pro tips on HOW to write an LTE that will actually get published:

  • Check with the publication to which you intend to submit your LTE so you know their requirements. Letters to the editor often have strict word limits. They often also require the letter writer to disclose their name, address, and phone number. Don’t worry: Personal information like your address and phone number won’t be published. The editorial editor will just need this information to verify your identity should she decide to publish your piece. Expect an email or phone call from the publication to confirm any details of your letter.

  • Remember that background matters. Write your letter assuming that most people don’t know the intimate details of the issue you’re writing about - consider opening your letter with a reference to the story or event in question. Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to mention your occupation, educational background, or professional designations/affiliations if they help add credibility to your point/argument. 

  • Facts are king. You have limited space to make your argument: Make sure it’s fueled by evidence that supports your position - think studies, statistics, recent relevant administrative actions or votes, as well as personal anecdotes. 

  • Consider the “inverted pyramid.” In the journalism field, “inverted pyramid” refers to a style of news writing where the most important information is included in the first paragraph few paragraphs so that readers will get the most pertinent information first. Articles written in inverted pyramid style are also typically easier to edit because they are structured with the least pertinent information near the end. 

  • End it with a call to action. What do you want people to do right after they read your letter to the editor? Do you want them to vote a certain way? Support a specific piece of legislation or administrative action? Let readers know!

  • Give it one last look before you hit, “Send.” Here are some things to ask yourself: Did I use jargon? (If so, get rid of it) Did I use abbreviations people might not get? (If so, spell the words out and put the acronym in parentheses following the term) Can you make anything shorter and more concise? In one of the premier books on writing, “Elements of Style,” William Strunk Jr. advised: “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” Consider this when you’re proofing your final LTE submission.

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