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Writing an Effective Letter to the Editor
Why write an LTE?
- Great way to influence your community and your legislators. The letters page is among the most widely read pages of the newspaper.
- It’s free.
- It’s easy.
- You can influence the newspaper even if your letter is not printed. Editors take note of how many letters they receive on a given topic. It’s like sending an action alert to a legislator – a large volume of letters can determine what topics they are going to cover.
A – B – C, 1-2-3.
A = About. Write about something that’s in the newspaper.
Take as your starting point a recent item in the newspaper. Cite the article by headline, author and/or date. Best chance of being printed: responding to an editorial, op-ed, or front-page story.
B = Brief.
Most newspapers have a policy limiting the length of letters. Typically 200-250 words. The policy is usually posted on the paper’s letters page or website.
C = Concise.
Keep it short and simple. Make one central point, then stop. (If you have to give a lot of background information or cite a lot of facts, you may need to write an op-ed article, not an LTE.)
1. State the issue.
- Refer to the issue as reported in the newspaper, then say why you agree or disagree.
= OR =
- State the issue as you understand it:
“Climate change is happening, it’s happening now, and it’s hurting our community.”
“Climate change is not just about polar bears any more. It’s harming our children’s health.”
2. Build your case
- Say your piece in your own voice. Be yourself, be authoritative.
- As a health professional, as a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, you have an identity and experience that convey authority. Make them audible.
- Your words, your expertise, yourexperience.
- “In my 14 years of nursing experience, I have observed…”
- “My patients’ health/my child’s health/my health is affected by climate change.”
- “We need to transition to renewable energy. The solar panels on my roof…”
- While you stick to the facts, don’t be afraid to let your feelings be known too. If you’re terrified by climate change… if you’re worried sick for your patients, or for your kids or your grandkids, say so. People don’t remember facts. They do remember when you speak from your heart.
3. Call to action.
We’re PSR. We inspire people to take action. So try to:
- Say what the reader can do. Be specific. Suggest an action with a big enough effect to actually reduce climate change: passing a piece of legislation… supporting the closure of a local coal-fired power plant… advancing the transition to clean, healthy, low-carbon energy.
- If a legislator or a corporation should take action, mention them. Use their full name.
- If your letter is published, send it to the target legislator or corporation with a brief cover note. This doubles your impact.
Tips and rules.
- Timeliness is critical -- submit by e-mail.
- Local connectionssell newspapers – newspapers love ‘em. So be sure to mention if you:
- live/work/study in the newspaper’s home area;
- can cite local climate effects;
- are talking about a local politician.
- Sign with your full name.
- State that you’re a PSR member.
- If you’re a medical professional, use your medical credentials.
- For verification purposes, include your home address, e-mail address and daytime telephone number. These will not be published.
- Disclose any personal or financial interest in the subject matter.
- Edits. Your letter is subject to editing by the newspaper for length, clarity and style. Avoid unhappiness by keeping your letter short.
- Frequency. Most newspapers will print a letter from the same person only every so often, like once a month, especially in large, high-circulation newspapers. So if your intention is to be published, don’t submit more frequently. However if you want to demonstrate reader interest in a subject, you can submit more frequently, especially if you are part of an organized effort to increase editorial coverage of an important topic.
- Uniqueness. Your submission must be unique. When the newspaper runs your LTE, it becomes part of their product - they want to know you have not submitted it to or published it in any other media. Respect this requirement.