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.
We’ve put together a tool to help you get started. Choose a publication, get some tips and suggested topics, and follow the instructions to submit your letter. Then let us know how it went.
The letter to the editor section is one of the most widely read parts of a newspaper. 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: 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 lawmakers: LTEs show unsupportive lawmakers that their constituents care passionately about an issue and will hold them accountable.
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: LTEs can show how an issue affects local people in a way that those on the fence—including lawmakers—can sympathize with.
People read LTE’s to find out:
- How local people think or feel about an issue.
- How an issue is affecting their community.
- What the major impacts of an action could be.
People do not read LTE’s for:
- In-depth policy talk: LTEs should be short and personal, demonstrating the local connection to an issue and the views of community members. You don’t have to be an expert to share your personal story. Many papers will not print letters that are too long or broad.
- National political debates: People turn to TV and large publications to learn about the national debate on the issues. LTEs that don’t focus on the community will likely not be selected for publication in a local paper.
Research publication type: Most local newspapers have letters to the editor sections, but don’t forget to check online publications, alternative papers or lifestyle magazines, community-specific media, and non-English publications. Don’t discount a publication just because you don’t often read it—it may be very popular with other parts of your community.
Know the rules for LTE submission: Publications usually have tight rules for publishing, including length and contact information. They will reject letters if they break the rules, so know the rules for submission and make sure your letter conforms. Check the publication’s schedule and submission deadlines.
Keep it short. Stay within the publication’s rules—likely no longer than 250 or 300 words. Shorter letters are the most effective. Get to the point.
Tell your story. Make the issue human by describing how the issue has affected you or someone you know. Start your letter with a brief personal story—yours or someone else, like family, a coworker, or a friend. Even someone you’ve met on a plane or bus ride, or in line at the grocery store can be a great subject for an anecdote.
Know your audience. What type of publication are you writing for, and who is reading it? Use a story the audience can connect with.
DON’T delve into policy. Avoid using a long string of dull facts—there’s not enough room in 300 words to make a nuanced policy argument, and your passion is more powerful.
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. Ask a friend to take a look at your letter before you submit. Letters with error will likely not be published, or they might be published with the your errors.
Here is a sample template to help you structure your letter.
[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.]
[YOUR CITY, ST, Month DD, YYYY]
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 by sending it.
If you are published—Success! Congratulations! Your message is being heard. Make sure to reshare the message on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets. Use the sharing featured on the website to send it to family, friends, and neighbors to help it rise on the “most e-mailed” or “most shared” list if the site has one.
Choose an issue you want to write about and take a look at some suggested topics to help you get started. It’s just a starting point, though—make your letter personal to you and your community.
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?
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?
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.
Comprehensive Immigration reform
Despite support from both parties, the House of Representatives failed to act for over a year on a comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate with a large bipartisan majority. President Obama took common-sense steps to fix our broken immigration system (learn more here). Why is this action important to you?
The President’s actions will grow the U.S. economy by $90 billion over the next 10 years, and protect our families and communities, focusing our law enforcement resources where they should be focused: on felons, not families. Do you know someone who will benefit from the President's actions to help fix our broken immigration system?
A permanent comprehensive fix for our broken system can only come from Congress, but 11 presidents have acted 39 times to address immigration over the past 60 years. President Obama's common-sense steps fit into this long history of presidents using their authority to improve our immigration system. Why is it important to you to that Congress build on the President's actions and take steps to fix our broken system now?
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 2013, 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?
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?
SUPREME COURT VACANCY
Hours after the latest vacancy opened up on the Supreme Court, Senate leaders declared that they wouldn’t even consider President Obama’s nominee to fill the seat.
Our Supreme Court is too important to be held hostage by the same partisan gridlock that has caused government shutdowns and blocked action on the issues the American people care about.
The President has been clear that he will fulfill his constitutional responsibility to put forward a qualified nominee, because this is bigger than party or politics. The Senate should do its job, too, and give that nominee a fair hearing and a timely vote.
The average time it takes to confirm a nominee is 67 days—and President Obama has more than 300 days left in office. There is plenty of time for senators to do their duty.
Failing to fill the seat would result in a vacancy lasting over a year, crippling the court’s ability to rule on crucial issues like women’s and worker’s rights, immigration reform, and climate change.
Write your letter
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.
Tell us about it
Once you've submitted a letter to the editor—whether it's been published or not—be sure to let us know using the form below.