How To Write a Letter to the Editor

Read some sample op-eds and letters to the editor here.

If you have a specific point to make or want to rebut an inaccurate news report or column, you might also consider writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper or magazine. Because letters are short, they are easy to write, and since they appear as part of the official publication, they are read more than comments.

Some tips:

  •     Keep it short: 100-200 words maximum.
  •     Keep it direct. Use simple language and emphasize one point.
  •     When possible, frame your letter as a response to the newspaper’s coverage of the story.
  •     Aim low. While national papers will print letters from around the country, your letter is much more likely to be printed in a smaller paper that receives fewer submissions.
  •     Make it local. Readers will give your ideas more attention if you are able to explain how your argument affects the area. For example, rather than saying “Cuts to higher education will mean that students will have fewer opportunities,” try saying “Cuts to Springfield State University in our own town will mean fewer class sections and dramatically larger classes for our children here in Springfield.”
  •     Include contact information. Most papers will verify before they publish.
  • Check out these letter guidelines for the 100 biggest U.S. papers

Keep in mind that when news outlets receive many letters on a topic, they will typically run one or two. Even if your letter is not the one printed, it helps convince editors that the topic is worth covering. The same may apply to their topic assignments to reporters.

Things to Avoid:

  • Don't overstate your point.
  • Don't insult your opponents.
  • Avoid acronyms (spell out any name the first time you use it, followed by the acronym in parentheses).
  • Don't assume that a general audience is familiar with concepts like shared governance or academic freedom.
  • Don't use all capital letters, bold text, or lots of exclamation points. It will not be printed that way and may prevent your letter from consideration.

About Magazines

  • Lengths for letters in magazines vary widely; look for guidelines and at the letters printed in the publication.
  • Consider the typical reader of the publication, and keep her in mind when writing. Many magazines tend to be read by like-minded people, rather than the broader cross-sections of society who read most newspapers.

More tips at: