How to Write and Submit a Letter to the Editor (LTE)
"How to Write and Submit a Letter to the Editor (LTE)" is an excerpt from An Advocacy Guide for Environmental Education Professionals and Supporters.
The letters-to-the-editor section is one of the most widely read sections of any newspaper. Letters to the editor are usually written in response to an article or editorial published earlier in the newspaper. In smaller papers, they are also frequently written in response to an issue of importance to the community.
- Carefully review the paper’s guidelines on the paper’s website.
- They seldom bend their rules regarding word-count restrictions.
- Short and engaging is always best.
- Avoid jargon and acronyms. If your family wouldn’t understand what you’ve written, readers won’t either!
- Local anecdotes and/or one “killer statistic” make a letter memorable.
- Wrap up with an ask or closing point that emphasizes what you would like to see happen to benefit the community.
As a general rule, if you’re new to writing letters to the editor, you should focus on smaller local newspapers, where you have a much greater chance of getting published. Legislative staff track very closely the issues that are being discussed in their districts, so LTEs are a great way to get your issue in front of a legislator and to put yourself on their radar as a thoughtful constituent.
Begin by keeping an eye on the letters-to-the-editor section of the paper. In addition to reading the paper’s guidelines (which are almost always available on the paper’s website), you’ll want to get a general sense of the style, length, and content of letters they publish. Take the time to study the letters to see which ones resonate with you. You’ll see that the best letters are those that are short and to the point, present issues in a way that the average reader can understand, and connect the issue to the community.
If you see an article or opinion piece that presents a position that is opposite yours, write a letter to the editor disagreeing with the piece and stating your position. If you don’t disagree but have a different perspective, that too can be the basis of a letter to the editor. Timeliness is essential in this instance because the paper will generally not publish LTEs if too much time has passed between when the letter is submitted and the original date of the article you are responding to.
You’ll want to keep your letter to no more than two short paragraphs (although one is even better!), while taking great pains to ensure you don’t exceed the word restrictions listed in the paper’s guidelines. In the first sentences of your letter, refer promptly to the article or position that you are writing about, and include the date and title of the article. Explain why you agree or disagree. Seal the deal by connecting it to the community using a local EE statistic or example, and clearly summing up the point you want the reader to remember.
For smaller papers, based on your monitoring of their letters to the editor, you might also find that there is the opportunity to write letters that don’t connect directly to recently published articles—as long as they raise an issue of interest to the readership. One way you can do that, while also connecting with your local legislator, is to actually use the LTE to thank the legislator for a recent vote or action that supported your EE priority (while also explaining why the issue is important). You can be certain that district staff will make sure these sorts of letters are read by the legislator!
At all times, try to be conscious of what made other LTE’s memorable to you and emulate their formula: short and to the point with a memorable anecdote, statistic, and/or local connection.
Want to enhance your advocacy skills? Join us Monday, March 28 for a Week of EE Advocacy!