HOW TO WRITE A LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Since May of 2019, my letters to the editor and op-eds have appears in many publications. Between May of 2019 and August of 2022, I have been published 82 times. That is an average of 2 per month.
And now, I will share with you my tips and advice on how to write a letter to the editor.
In the United States, the Constitution guarantees the right to free speech. There are many ways through which we exercise that right. One of those ways is to write a letter to the editor of a newspaper. Any established newspaper would have a section where letters to the editor, on a range of topics, are published.
I have been involved in writing for years. In addition to writing essays and academic papers, I have written articles for newspapers, op-eds, letters to the editor, etc.
You may ask – what is a letter to the editor?
A letter to the editor is a short piece of writing that expresses opinion on an issue. When you are watching the news on television, or listening to the radio, or reading a newspaper, and you learn about something that happened in your state or country, or find out about an event of international significance, or hear about an incident in your community – you may have an instant reaction to that. You may feel that it is time for you to pick up the pen and paper and share your reaction through writing. That is when you can write a letter to the editor. It can be a very sudden activity. I know in my case, that is often true.
The length of a letter to the editor is usually 250 words or less. And in most cases, newspapers would prefer if you wrote a letter to the editor that is 200 words or less. It depends on the newspaper. Some papers offer greater flexibility with word count, than others. I believe that if you have an opinion on an issue, you should be able to explain it in 200 words or less.
Remember, we are not talking about a research paper. You are not explaining a complex science project or writing about a major business plan. A letter to the editor is about an issue, and so you should focus on one issue only.
Most of the time, the topic of the letter to the editor would be something from currents affairs or an ongoing matter of importance to the public. For example, a letter to the editor can express your opinion about a local government issue – such as public safety concern, transportation issue, or housing problem. Or it could be state issue – such as an idea to improve the efficiency of public welfare programs, comments about a pending legislation, or something related to an upcoming election. Or a letter to the editor could be about a matter of national importance, such as national security, inflation, countrywide supply chain crisis, etc.
As someone who is trained in public policy, most of my letters to the editor tend to be about public policy issues. However, topics could be about cultural, social, or other matters of importance to the community.
A letter to the editor could highlight a problem or issue, could propose a solution to a crisis, could identify and comment on the government’s failure to properly act to address a problem, could praise a certain entity such as a not-for-profit organization for their community efforts, could challenge the status quo and talk about the need for change regarding any aspect of the community, and so much more.
To write a good letter to the editor, it is important to declare one’s position clearly. Do not use language that creates ambiguity. For example, I wrote a letter opposing the wheel tax imposed by the city of Madison and the county of Dane, where I live. I stated, in clear sentence: “As a Madison resident, I strongly oppose such high wheel taxes in the city and county.” Anyone reading the letter would know my opinion regarding the issue of wheel tax imposed by local government entities.
The next thing to remember is to use facts and figures where appropriate. In this case, I wrote clearly that I paid over 156 dollars to renew my license plate, and that includes 28 dollars for Dane County wheel tax and 40 dollars for the City of Madison wheel tax. Additionally, I wrote that the Wisconsin Dept of Transportation also informed drivers that there is a convenience fee of just over 3 dollars for using my credit card for the transaction.
In the letter, through these figures, I explained the financial burden that such high wheel tax imposes on drivers. Not only did I express an opinion, but I backed up my opinion using data.
A key point regarding writing a letter to the editor is to have a solid focus. Talk about one issue, and not about several issues. Remember, a letter to the editor must be short. You do not have the luxury of addressing a range of topics or issues in a single letter.
In my letter, I only wrote about my opposition to wheel tax. I did not go into other transportation and taxation related topics that also pertain to local and state government, such as property tax, income tax, speed limits, road repairs, etc. If I wish to write that the speed limit should be increased or decreased on city roads, then that would need to be a separate letter to the editor. If I wish to complain that the city roads are not being repaired or if I wish to propose that the interstate highway needs to have an extra lane on each side, then those would be separate letters to the editor. Therefore, keep the letter short and have a specific focus.
Also, if you are using information from other sources, give proper credit to those sources. Use language such as, according to [insert a name] organization, or according to a new report by [insert a name] organization. Make sure that you are not claiming credit for something that is not yours.
And then, I think one of the most important things to remember is that to not engage in name-calling or insulting someone. If you do not like the new legislation that your state assembly voted to approve, then you can criticize the legislative activity pertaining to the bill. You can suggest a different course of action. You can criticize your state representative for not representing the will of the people. But do not call somebody insulting names, do not insult people personally. Express your disagreement on issues, but do not engage in name-calling and insulting.
If you want to establish your credibility as a writer, focus on the issues.
Also, make sure that you are always checking your spelling and grammar. Do not make spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. If you submit a letter to the editor with errors in it, then the letters editor would know that you have not paid much attention during the writing process, and that may then decrease your chance of getting much published.
Finally, check the submission guidelines of the newspaper where you wish to submit your letter to the editor. Some newspapers have a website form where you can type your letter. Or you can type your letter in a word processing software and then copy and paste the letter into the website form of the newspaper. And then, a newspaper may also provide an email address that you can use to send your letter. Just make sure you read their submission guidelines and word limits.
Just to recap:
- Follow the word limit.
- Focus on a single issue.
- Write your position or view clearly.
- Use relevant facts and figures.
- State the source of information and give proper credit.
- Do not engage in name-calling and personal insults.
- Always check your spelling and grammar.
- Make sure you read the submission guidelines of the newspaper.
There are some of my tips on how to write a good letter to the editor. If you have questions, please reach out to me. Also, you can check out my letters here.