Write a Letter to the Editor

A letter to the editor (LTE) is a short letter to a local newspaper or publication that gives your opinion on an issue, and calls on your lawmakers or fellow community members to take action.

Before you write your letter, take a look at the instructions and best practices for some tips on how to get your letter published. Once you’re ready to submit your letter, select your state and then follow the instructions for submitting an LTE to your local newspaper.

As soon as you've submitted your letter, be sure to let us know.

Choose your state to get started with your letter to the editor.

Why write an LTE?

The letter to the editor section is one of the most widely read parts of most newspapers. These letters can help win issue campaigns by:

Raising awareness: An LTE is a great way to raise the profile of an issue in your local community.

Responding rapidly to new developments: Many publications print LTEs within a day or two of receiving them, making them one the most effective actions when trying to respond quickly to new developments or announcements.

Sending a message to the opposition: LTEs can show unsupportive lawmakers that their constituents care passionately about an issue and will hold them accountable if they fail to represent them.

Energizing supporters and thanking supportive members of Congress: Published letters fire up local supporters and show lawmakers that their constituents have their back when they lead on important issues.

Persuading those who are on the fence: LTEs can show how an issue affects local people in a way that those on the fence, including lawmakers, may sympathize with.

Dos and Don’ts

People read LTE’s to find out:

  • How local people think or feel about an issue.

  • How an issue is affecting the local community.

  • What are the major impacts of a potential piece of legislation or action.

People do not read LTE’s for:

  • In-depth policy descriptions: LTEs should be short and demonstrate the local and personal connection to an issue and the views of local community members. You don’t have to be an expert on an issue to share your personal story. Most papers will not print select letters that are too long or try to outline an entire policy issue.

  • National political debates about an issue: People turn to TV and large publications to learn about the national debate on the issues. LTEs that speak in general terms about how an issue affects the entire country or region will likely not be selected for publication in a local paper.

Planning your LTE

Research publication type: Which publications are commonly read in your community? Most local newspapers have well-read letters to the editor sections, but they can be found in unlikely places. Don’t forget online publications, alternative papers or lifestyle magazines that younger people my read, and community specific media, including media in languages other than English. Don’t discount a publication just because you don’t often read it—it may be very popular with other parts of your community. Investigate what’s out there by asking friends what they read and listen to.

Know the rules for LTE submission: Publications usually have tight rules for publishing, including length of the LTE and listing your own contact information in a very specific manner, and they will reject letters if they break the rules. Know the rules for submission and make sure your letters cnform to them. Know the publication’s schedule and submission deadlines.

Writing your LTE

Keep it short. Stay within the publication’s rules—likely no longer than 250 or 300 words. This may seem very short, but shorter letters are the most effective. Get to the point.

Tell your story. Begin the letter with a brief story about you or someone you know. Describe how this issue has affected you, your family, a coworker or a friend. Make it personal. Even another local OFA volunteer, someone you met on a long plane or bus ride, or in line at the grocery store can be a great subject for an anecdote (especially if this person is from the local area). Make the issue human.

Know your audience. What type of publication are you writing for, and who is reading it? Use a story the audience will connect with.

DON’T delve into policy. There is not enough room in 300 words to make a nuanced policy argument. Avoid using a long string of facts — information is not an argument.

Use powerful language. Let your feelings show! Use powerful verbs and descriptive nouns. Write short, punchy sentences. Vary sentence length. This will help your letter stand out and make it more likely to be published.

Make a call to action. End your letter with a specific call to action to your local lawmakers or community members. Your LTE will only be effective if it gets others to take action!

Check for proper grammar and spelling. If you’re working with a group, trade letters with each other and edit them carefully. If you’re writing a letter by yourself, ask a friend to take a look at it before you submit it. Don’t submit LTEs with errors—they will likely not be published, and even worse, they may be published with the original errors.

Sample template

Below is a sample template to help you structure your letter.

Dear Editor:

[If you are responding to or referencing another article, you should reference it by writing the first sentence, then the title of the article, the name of the publication & finally the date it was published. If not, you can start here with the reason why you’re writing, but it’s not always necessary. Sometimes it’s best to include some kind of interesting hook here that also explains why you’re writing without saying “I’m writing because…”]

[Tell your personal story in this second section. How has the issue impacted you, your family, or someone you know? Or why is this issue important to you? What are the impacts of the issue on people in your community? Remember to be concise, draw a local connection, and relate to the community you know best by touching on the values you share with them. If you include contrast—what the opponents think—be respectful.]

[So now what? Are you encouraging readers to contact their legislator? Are you asking them to take some other action? Don’t be afraid to make a specific ask of the people reading your letter.]

[End on a positive note. You have gone to all this trouble to entice your readers, you don’t want to turn them off to your opinions before you’ve sealed the deal.]

Sincerely,

[YOUR NAME]

[YOUR CITY, ST, Month DD, YYYY]

Getting published

Monitor the publication. After you send your LTE, keep an eye out! Many publications, especially small ones, may not tell you if you will be published because you have already given your permission to publish the letter by sending it.

If you are published: Success! Congratulations! Your message is being heard. Make sure to:

Reshare the printed LTE on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets. Link to the page where it is published online. Email it yourself from the site if possible.

If the publication has an “email” or “share” feature, ask local supporters to use the website itself to send the piece to family and friends. This will make it rise on the “most e-mailed” or “most shared” list on the site if it has one.

Let us know about your LTE

Once you've written an LTE, be sure to let us know. And if your local paper has published your letter—congratulations! Please consider writing another.

Once you’ve selected an issue to write about, take a look at some of the suggested topics below to help you get started. These are just a starting point—feel free to write about anything related to your chosen issue, and remember to make your letter personal to you and your community.

Health care reform

  • Help spread the word: This year's open enrollment period begins November 15th.

  • Have you or someone you know recently received coverage in the health insurance marketplace? If so, explain why it's important to you that you and your loved ones have insurance.

  • Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, no one can be denied coverage ever again. Were you or someone you know previously denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition?

  • Have you or someone you know recently visited a doctor for an annual checkup, vaccination, or mammogram—preventive care which is now free under Obamacare?

  • Do you or someone you know have a child who can now benefit from staying on your health insurance until they turn 26, thanks to the new law?

  • Under Obamacare, insurance companies can no longer set lifetime limits on your coverage. Do you or someone you know now benefit from this basic protection?

Economy

  • According to the Economic Policy Institute, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would create 140,000 jobs and increase GDP by $33 billion. How would raising the minimum wage affect you and your family?

  • In December, Congress allowed unemployment insurance benefits to expire for 1.3 million workers who lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Each week that Congress fails to act, 72,000 more job seekers lose this crucial lifeline. Have you or someone you know lost unemployment insurance because of Congressional inaction?

Immigration reform

  • Every day that Speaker Boehner and House leaders refuse to hold a vote on the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate over a year ago, it costs Americans $37 million in lost revenue. Why is it important to you that the House of Representatives acts on comprehensive reform?

  • Do you own or work at a business that has been affected by our broken immigration system? Comprehensive immigration reform is good for our economy—it would create 3.2 million new jobs over the next 10 years and reduce the deficit by more than $800 billion over the next 20 years.

Climate Change

  • NASA and 97% of scientists agree that climate change is real. Is your representative a climate change denier?

  • Do you live in a coastal area that has experienced more frequent and more devastating storms in recent years?

  • Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods are all now more frequent and intense, and are projected to worsen in the future due to climate change. Has your community been impacted by extreme weather in recent years?

Gun Violence Prevention

  • The impact of gun violence affects communities across the country every day. Has your community been affected by gun violence? Why is important to you that we close the loopholes in background checks to keep guns out of dangerous hands?

  • In 2013, a minority in the Senate blocked a common-sense, bipartisan bill that would've extended background checks for all gun sales, closing the dangerous loophole that allows guns to fall into the wrong hands. Despite their inaction, many states are taking action to expand background checks on their own. What should your state do to make progress to help prevent gun violence? Call on state leaders to act.

Stand with women

  • Women working full-time make an average of only 77 cents for every dollar that a man makes. Have you or someone you know been impacted by this inequality?

  • Almost 60% of minimum wage workers are women, and women are increasingly the primary breadwinners in American homes. Can you explain how an increase in minimum wage would help you or someone you know, or women and families generally?

  • Only 51% of women have access to paid leave after having their first child. Can you explain why workplace policies that help women and families—like paid family leave—are important to you?

  • Approximately 40% of America's private-sector employees don't have access to sick leave to allow them to care for themselves, a sick parent or a sick child. Can you talk about your experience with sick leave and why it would be important to have a standard across workplaces?