The Letters to the Editor section is one of the most widely read sections of the newspaper, and can help shape the opinions of both the public and policy makers. Remember, most papers have a word limit of 150‐200 words, so short and sweet is best!
Four steps to a great letter
Step 1. What was recently in the news that prompted you to write this letter, and what about it moved you to take action? If you appreciate the paper’s coverage, say so. Say it in as few words as you can.
Step 2. Choose the one, single most important point you want to make. Make it succinctly, carefully choosing facts or anecdotes as supporting evidence.
Step 3. Include 1‐2 facts, observations or personal statements that back up your main point. Personal anecdotes, when relevant, can work great here.
Step 4. In conclusion, drive your point home. You can call for a specific change, from the paper, from a policymaker, from other readers, or some other audience.
• Remember your audience. Do they lean progressive or conservative, or are they somewhere in the middle? Your letter will be far more persuasive if you keep your audience in mind when you choose which points you would like to make.
• Keep it short, and you boost your shot at getting published. Every paper is different, so check you paper’s word limit on the letters it publishes. A typical cap on length is 150‐200 words.
• Use legislators’ names. If your printed letter mentions a representative or senator by name, be sure to clip it out and send it to them or email it to their staff.
• Don’t rant (not that you would). Hard‐hitting criticism is a big plus, but rants are less likely to get published.
• Get to know the tone and style of letters selected by your paper.
• Use statistics and personal stories when you have them.
• Your letter should be signed and must include your address and telephone number or it won’t be published. The paper may call to verify that you wrote the letter.
• Be persistent. It may take you several tries to get a letter published, but even unpublished letters have an impact. The more you submit, the more likely you’ll get in.
• Work with friends or groups. Letter writing is a great group or volunteer activity, and the more unique letters on a given subject, the greater the chance that one or more will be published.
• Submit unique letters. It’s great to get inspiration from friends for letters, but if editors see that your language is too similar or identical to another writers, they probably won’t publish it.
SAMPLE LETTER TO THE EDITOR FOR WEEK OF ACTION
The raid that killed Osama bin Laden clearly shows that we don’t need 100,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan to keep Americans safe. We can withdraw from Afghanistan and shift to a nonmilitary strategy based on intelligence, diplomacy, and development.
[Oregon] taxpayers have already spent more than [$3 billion] on the war in Afghanistan, and as of now we have no idea when we are going to stop throwing our tax money at this war and investing it on things like education and infrastructure here at home.
Rep. [Schrader] has an opportunity this week to help bring this war to an end. The House is voting on amendments to end the war in Afghanistan, and he and the rest of his colleagues in Congress should do what’s best for their voters and help bring this war to an end.