Letters to the editor are an easy and effective way for you to voice your concerns to the people around you. Maybe you are forming your own opinions since coming to college and you’d like to share them. Maybe you’ve seen something going on locally or on campus that you would like to speak out about. You can also use letters to the editor to correct facts in response to inaccuracies, statements by government officials, to explain the connection between a news story and your issues, or to praise or criticize an article. The letters section is one of the most widely read segments of a newspaper.
Before writing your editorial, find out the newspaper’s policy for printing letters. Instructions for submitting a letter to the editor can usually be found on the editorial page (or section) of the paper or on the paper’s website. If you do not see any guidelines, call the paper. Some will have word limits and most all will require that you also submit your name, address, and phone number. Your address and phone number will not be printed, but the publication will probably call you to confirm you did write the letter and that you want to have it published. Don’t forget to sign your letter. Many newspapers will not publish a letter without a signature. Find out the correct way to send your letter – U.S. mail, fax, or e-mail.
Make your first sentence short, compelling and catchy. Be direct and engaging. Try to hold each sentence to a minimum of 20 words. Your whole letter should ideally be a maximum of 200 words. If you need more space than this, contact the newspaper about doing an op-ed piece. No more than four paragraphs total, two paragraphs is best. Keep it to one point and state this clearly in your first sentence. Follow this with a background sentence or two, state your position, and suggest a resolution. Use statistics sparingly. Avoid using a lot of emotion – no ranting or raving. If you are responding to another letter, don’t attack the author. Your goal is a healthy debate on the subject, not an all-out war.
Editors are more likely to publish a letter if it deals with a local issue. In order to do this, use local statistics whenever possible. Use personal stories when available. People want to see how an issue affects them directly. Use names to encourage action. If your letter mentions a Representative or Senator, they will notice. They care about how they are perceived by the district and they will pay attention to a letter that requests they take a specific action. You can also urge readers to contact their elected officials.
If you are writing in reference to an earlier letter or news article, reference it by date or headline. This makes your letter more relevant. It also lets the editor check the original item to verify your references. Be quick. The best letter in the world won’t run if it’s not received for several weeks. Make sure to read your letter out loud before sending it.
Small-circulation newspapers usually print most of the letters that they receive. It is more challenging to get a letter printed in a major metropolitan newspaper. Consider writing to the editor when you want to change a behavior, deliver a message, or set the record straight. If the first one doesn’t print your letter, go on to the next.
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