How to Write a Letter to the Editor

by M.J. Salamone, studioD

Writing a letter to the editor can be a cathartic way to express your viewpoint on a subject that you are passionate about. The letters to the editor section of a publication offers a platform for community opinions covering everything from local municipality issues to national politics, but editors usually can't print every letter they receive. Following some basic guidelines can help you convince an editor to choose your letter for print.

Organizing Your Thoughts

Writing an effective letter to the editor involves deciding exactly what it is that you want to convey. An effective tool for doing so is drafting a quick outline of your viewpoints and message. Identify a topic that you care about and the publication that you will be writing to. If there is a specific article or editorial that you are responding to, mention the piece in your letter, including the title and date of publication. Outline the specific points that you want to make, and organize your thoughts so that they are clear and flow logically. Reading other letters to the editor in the publication to which you are writing can help you decide how you want to present your letter and give you an idea of what sort of letters the editor will publish.

Understanding the Publication

Every publication has its own rules and standards for the letters to the editor page. Familiarize yourself with the format and standards of the publication you are writing to. Read and understand the guidelines so that your letter is not disqualified for failing to meet the requirements. Some publications require your phone number or email address so that they can contact you before printing your letter. Many publications have word-count limitations. Some publications have multiple opinion sections, with different rules for word counts. If this is the case, choose the section you write to based on the topic that you are writing about.

Crafting Your Letter

Start your letter with a salutation such as, "Dear Editor." Be concise. Offer sources for facts. If you're making an argument for a specific issue, such as a local school board initiative, clearly state that in your opening sentence. If you're appealing to a public official or organization, make that clear in the first paragraph. Sign your name by signature if you are mailing the letter, or with text if you are submitting it electronically. Many publications will disqualify any letter that lacks a signature. Take time to read your letter over several times, and make edits where necessary. Trim any repetitious statements and stay within the publication's word-count guidelines. The average letter to the editor is around 200 words. You may be competing with others who have written about the same issue. Responding directly to an issue the publication has written about and making your points succinctly and clearly are the surest route to publication.

Other Considerations

Many people send the same letter to several publications. If you do so, follow the instructions of each publication you are sending letters to. Many publications will not accept form letters. Some publications, like "The New York Times," require that you reply to an issue that the newspaper has written about. Each publication has different guidelines as to how it wants to receive your letter. Some publications will only accept letters by email, while others require that letters be sent through traditional mail. Due to timeliness of print deadlines, some publications, like the "Washington Post," encourage email submissions. There is always a strong possibility that the editor of the publication you are writing to will not select your letter to be printed. Editors make a lot of difficult decisions as to what content gets printed. If a few issues of the publication come and go without your letter being included, write another letter -- even on the same issue -- and submit it. Your perseverance may be rewarded.

About the Author

M.J. Salamone is a newspaper journalist and editor with expertise writing about society and culture, media, politics, the arts and more. With 20 years of experience as a writer and journalist, Salamone enjoys digging into a multitude of topics.

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