A letter to the editor (LTE) is one of the important advocacy tools that can help bring about positive change in our society. LTEs are printed on the editorial page, which is a frequently read page in the newspaper. And even LTEs that are not published can educate and persuade editors about an issue.
Two good reasons to write an LTE:
The first is to support and expand on something that was already published, provide a different point of view, make a point that an article missed, or disagree with and/or correct something. Your letter will have a greater chance of being printed if it’s in response to an editorial, op-ed or a major story, but LTEs can also be used to shed light on a topic that has received no coverage at all.
The second reason for an LTE is to get your words in front of policymakers. It is extremely difficult to get an LTE printed in national publications like the New York Times, the Washington Post or USA Today. But local and regional newspapers, magazines and some blogs welcome good and compelling content—and members of Congress and their staff keep track of the news from their home districts. If they don’t come across it on their own, every office on Capitol Hill circulates a collection of that day’s relevant news.
Here’s what it takes to write an LTE and find the proper outlet for publication:
- Make a list of local publications. Your list should include everyone from the largest local paper to your community weeklies and blogs.
- Find the LTE submission guidelines. Not all outlets will accept LTEs. If they do, make sure you know what the rules are. In general, LTEs can’t be more than 250 words. You can often find submission guidelines on the publication’s website or on the editorial page.
- Choose your targets carefully. It can be really hard to get an LTE in the biggest local paper so aim for a smaller paper that prints a lot of LTEs.
- Sit down and write. If you are writing an LTE in response to a previously published article, follow the format used in that publication (typically something like: The [date] article by [reporter], [“Headline,”] missed one key fact…). Make sure to focus on only one or two important points while staying within the established word limits.
- Ask AKF for help if you need it. We’re glad to help you edit or review your LTE. Because of word limits, it can be tough to get your point across in an LTE. We’re here to help!
- Submit your LTE. Be sure to follow the publication’s directions exactly. Omitting something like your city and state, or phone number, could prevent a great LTE from being published.
- Don’t be too disappointed if your letter doesn’t appear. Even if you write a wonderful LTE, there is no guarantee it will make it to print. Space limitations and the high volume of submissions are just two reasons your LTE may not get published. The editorial staff does read each letter—so you can be sure your message was received in the newsroom.