A letter to the editor (LTE) is one way to reach large audiences — even writing to a small-town or city newspaper can have a big impact, because the letters to the editor section of the newspaper is read more frequently than any other. When published, letters are often perceived by legislators and other decision-makers as a highly credible expression of mainstream community and public sentiment.
Your letter to the editor can provide:
• An explanation of how your issue relates to other current news items.
• A chance to furnish insight on news and issues not being adequately covered by your local newspaper.
• A correction of facts after a misleading, inaccurate or biased letter or story.
• A response to other editorials.
• A rebuttal to a news or feature story.
• A chance to cover the local impact of national issues and raise public awareness of an issue in your city or town.
• Find out your newspaper's policy for LTEs. Call the newspaper and tell them you would like to write a letter. Ask to whom you should address the letter, in what form you should send it, and what length or other restrictions the newspaper might have.
• Be concise. Even if the paper you're writing to does not explicitly limit the length of letters it publishes, it will be to your advantage to keep your letter short and succinct.
• Stick to one subject. You're much better off writing a widely read letter about one topic than writing a letter that touches on many topics but isn't read — or, worse, isn't published — because it's too long.
• Be timely. Newspapers will rarely print letters about subjects that aren't in the news. Use a recent news event or recently published article as a hook for making your letter timely.
• Don't assume that readers will know what you're writing about. If you are writing about pending legislation, explain what that legislation is, what its effects will be, and when it will be decided on. If you're writing in response to an article or editorial, start your letter by saying which article you're responding to and when it appeared.
• Use your credentials. If you have personal experience or expertise in the subject area, mention it.
• Concentrate on the local angle. Newspapers are community-based and the letters to the editor column is where they interact with the community most explicitly. Any local angle on the subject you're writing about will increase the impact of your letter and increase its chances for publication.
• Follow up. Call to make sure the newspaper has received your letter, and then call a few days later if it hasn't been printed to find out if it will be printed. If they tell you it's not going to be printed, make sure to ask why so you can incorporate changes into your next attempt.