Writing an Effective Letter to the Editor

The editorial page is one of the most important sections of any newspaper. More people read the “Letters to the Editor” section than many other portions of the paper. This is an ideal forum for conveying your message about conservation issues.

Editors view this section of the paper differently, usually depending upon the circulation size of the newspaper. Some editors may see the “Letters to the Editor” section as a community bulletin board where various opinions are sought to be printed. For a widely circulated newspaper, hundreds of letters to the editor are submitted to the newspaper each day. With so many letters to review, Editors mostly look for letters that criticize, praise or provide feedback to the stories and columns that have recently appeared. Editors are also looking for new ideas and facts about issues that are local or hot topics. By providing your editor with information on your issues, you are helping them to do their jobs. Keep in mind that editors are not required to print your letter, but usually they feel responsible for equitably and accurately depicting all sides of an issue.

Editorials educate the readers on important topics of the day, shape public attitudes, affect elected officials, and influence key policy decisions at the local, state and national level. A legislator is very sensitive to the editorial opinion published in papers in their jurisdiction.

Large papers, like the Albuquerque Journal, have an editorial board. Each of the two or more editorial writers on the board may develop specialties or a group of topics about which he or she writes. Editorial writers generally have two charges: to lead or reflect opinion on local or state issues and to add to the body of opinion on national and international issues. Whether you wish to discuss a local issue or a global one, the editorial writers should be interested in your point of view.

The followings are some tips and suggestions for writing a letter-to-the-editor of a widely circulated newspaper or your community newspaper.

Learn the newspaper’s style. Read several letters to the editor in the paper which you wish to send a letter to in order to gain a sense of the style of letters the editor prints. Understand the newspaper’s audience and its circulation size.

Use your own words. Don’t use a form letter. Let your personality and thoughts show by being serious, humorous or ironic, but don’t be nasty or offensive. Remember that a hint of restrained anger is often more effective than strident outrage. Plus, creative letters using humor or irony will have a more lasting impression on the reader.

Localize your letter. Explain how the issue will affect your area, community, or hometown

Know your subject. Be sure you know your subject or issue if you are going to criticize or attack someone or something. Use facts and take the time to do research if necessary.

Offer a solution. Whether stating a specific or general approach to an issue, solutions are always a more intelligent manner of following up on criticism.

Identify the responsible person in your letter. Name the decision maker, elected official or person in your letter. If you want the public to contact a specific legislator, include their phone number, e-mail or address in the letter.

Keep it brief. Keep your letter succinct and more readers will read the entire text. Avoid rambling sentences and big words. A letter less than or well under 250 words has a better chance of being printed. Another rule of thumb is to write no more than four to six paragraphs with each paragraph consisting of two to three sentences. In addition, limit the number of points you make and stay on the same subject.

Be aware that your letter may be edited for length and content. Check the “Letters-to-the-Editor” section of the newspaper for word limit instructions. Some editorial writers will edit letters for readability and length.

Type your letter. It is best to type your letter or legibly handwrite your letter to the editor.

E-mail or fax your letter to the editor. If the newspaper is circulated daily, e-mail or fax your letter so it will get there quicker and possibly printed faster.

Sign your letter. Most editors will not accept a letter unless it is signed by the author.

Include your address and daytime phone number. Most editors will not accept a letter unless you include your address and daytime phone number. Be aware that someone from the newspaper may call you to verify facts and make sure that you are the person that submitted the letter. Check for any other requirements in the “Letters-to-the-Editor” section of the newspaper.

Watch the newspaper for your letter. If it does not show up within a few days or in the next issue, call the editor’s office to politely ask about the letter. They may be able to offer an explanation or other tips to help you the next time you submit a letter.