Letters in newspapers and magazines are prime forums for getting your message to a wide audience. These tips will maximize your chances of getting your letters to the editor (also called LTOs) published and increasing the impact of your letter.
- For large publications, respond directly to an article or commentary that was recently published. Follow the target publication’s norm, but a typical response format is: Re “Talking With the Taxman,” (news, Jan. 13). Your report neglected one key fact… Smaller papers may have looser rules, leaving you free to raise an issue without responding directly to something published.
- Focus on one important point and don’t try to address separate issues in one letter. Be sure to follow the publication’s guidelines and word count limit (up to 250 words is common for local papers, but some larger publications demand more concise letters).
- Maximize your chance of being published by removing every non-essential word. For example, don’t say, “I think…” It’s obvious. This also minimizes the chance of editors changing the letter.
- Use verified facts. Take the time to check original sources rather than repeating a “fact” cited in another media outlet.
- Create immediacy by indicating how readers will be affected by the issue that you are addressing.
- Balance criticism with a positive call to action. This includes your elected representatives — by including their names in the letter and asking for action, you can get their attention. Point people to a source for information or to engage when practical.
- Speak in the language and literacy level of the publication’s readers. Envision a person you seek to influence when writing. This will help focus your message better than writing for “everyone.”
- When writing to your local newspaper (not recommended for large publications), follow up with a polite phone inquiry about its status if it doesn’t appear within 4-5 days.
- E-mail your letter in the body of the email (never send unsolicited attachments) and put “Letter re: your topic or article name ” in the subject line. If you wish to copy others or submit to more than one publication, do so in a separate email. Include your address and phone for verification.
- Pay attention to letters and comments by others. Note effective and ineffective approaches (especially letters that argue a position you oppose), style, length, etc.
- Don’t limit yourself to critiquing articles. A story that reports favorably on your group or issue presents a great opportunity to repeat a key point while adding one of your own. This also helps build the perception of being a positively-focused group.
- Though URLs may not be included in print, if your target publication includes links in letters published online, include relevant link(s).
- Use quotation marks to indicate the title of a book, article, etc.
- Have someone proofread your letter before submitting and ask them to read your letter before seeing the original article! (Many readers will not have read or won’t recall the original, so your letter must stand on its own).
- Magazines: Acceptable lengths for letters in magazines vary widely, so look for guidelines and observe the range and style used in each publication. Many magazines tend to be read by like-minded people, rather than the broader cross-sections of society who read most newspapers. Consider the typical reader of the publication, and keep her in mind when writing.
- Don’t overstate/exaggerate your points. One overstatement makes every following point suspect.
- Don’t insult your opponents.
- Avoid jargon or acronyms (spell out any name the first time you use it, followed by the acronym in parentheses).
- Don’t use all capital letters or bold text to emphasize a word. It will rarely be printed and may prevent you from being considered.
Don’t consider your effort a failure if your letter to the editor isn’t used in large publications, even the best letters face long odds. Each LTO is read and plays a role in molding the thinking and selection of the editors.
We love to get copies of letters written by our supporters and we’re happy to offer editing help. Send your letter to the editor drafts via our contact form.
If you wish to write an article for us, please email us your query and at least two published samples (links to publication preferred). These may include letters to the editor. We have written a similar primer on op-ed writing that is available upon request.
- Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, a great writers guide
- Tips for Effective Calls to Talk Radio
- Write Effective Op-eds & Get Them Published
- How to Organize an Editorial Board Meeting (and why you should)