Writing a letter to the editor is a great way to make your voice heard and share your thoughts with your community. In our current age of information overload, writing a letter to the editor can sometimes be a more effective way to amplify your message than posting on social media — even if writing a letter might sound a little old-fashioned at first. Letters to the editor serve as a direct channel for individuals to express their political opinions, respond to current events, and engage in meaningful discussions on issues that matter to them.
This guide will explain the core elements of a letter to the editor and provide tips for how to write and submit a strong letter to the editor.
A letter to the editor is a short piece of writing that a person sends to a newspaper, magazine, or other regularly-distributed publication in response to a specific article, event, or topic. Letters to the editor are usually under 300 words. The letter to the editor gives readers a way to talk back to the publication’s more regular contributors and provide an additional layer of community insight.
How is a letter to the editor different from an editorial? And how is it different from an op-ed? Understanding these differences can make the purpose of a letter to the editor clearer. Here are some key distinctions:
An editorial is an article written by the editors (or editorial team) of a newspaper or magazine. Editorials express the opinion of the publication’s staff.
An op-ed is similar to a letter to the editor in that it is often written by an external contributor (though op-eds can also be written by staff columnists). An op-ed is usually longer than a letter to the editor and goes into a more in-depth analysis of its subject.
For example, The Washington Post provides guidelines for submitting both letters to the editor and op-eds. The Washington Post requests that letters to the editor be shorter than 250 words and respond directly to material that has already appeared in their publication. Op-eds, on the other hand, can be up to 800 words in length. Op-eds also do not have to respond directly to articles or material already published in The Washington Post, though they should still be timely and relevant.
Want to see examples of effective letters to the editor? You can easily view recent letters to the editor from these major publications:
As you browse these examples, you may note that some letters to the editor are published individually, and others are grouped with other reader letters on the same topic. You can also check out your local newspaper for examples of letters to the editor.
The main reason to write a letter to the editor is to express your opinion in a public way. With its short length, writing a letter to the editor can take only a few minutes, but its impact can go much farther. Here are a few specific reasons why you might want to write a letter to the editor:
Awareness: Writing a letter to the editor is a great way to raise awareness about a topic that matters to you, especially if you disagree with others’ opinions or stances.
Engagement: Letters to the editor allow readers to respond to material published in newspapers and magazines, letting you engage in the political conversation instead of remaining quiet.
Connection: Writing a letter to the editor allows you to connect with others who share similar interests, while enriching the dialogue with your unique perspective.
Depending on whether you submit your letter to the editor to a national or local publication, you can connect with a broad or more specific audience.
Here are five easy steps to write an effective letter to the editor:
Find an article or issue that interests you. Be sure to choose a topic where you can offer fresh insight.
Gather your thoughts and do your research. Are there any sources you can cite or link to in your response? What are other people saying about your topic?
Draft your letter. Choose a formal or informal tone that matches the tone of the publication where you’ll submit your letter, as well as the seriousness of your subject. Keep your letter concise and to the point.
Edit your letter. Make sure your letter opens with an attention-grabbing first sentence, uses simple, jargon-free language, and maintains a civil and respectful tone.
Sign your letter. Include your name, city, and contact information. You can check different publications’ guidelines for more specific requirements.
Another helpful tip is to read examples of letters to the editor already published in the newspaper or magazine you hope to see your work appear in. Take note of the length and style of other reader letters. Then bring your own personality to your letter!
Most newspapers and magazines that publish letters to the editor have specific guidelines for you to follow. Visit your target publication’s website to find out their guidelines, paying special attention to any requirements concerning length, format, and contact information. You can usually submit a letter to the editor by email, though some publications accept letters by snail mail or through an online form.
Most publications do not have room to publish all of the letters they receive, so don’t give up if your first letter doesn’t make it into print! Consider coming back to the point you want to make from a different angle, or finding a way to make your message more timely and relevant to recent events.
If you have a topic you’re passionate about, writing a letter to the editor is an excellent way to make more people — including elected officials — aware of the issue and ready to take action. Writing a letter to the editor is an easy and effective way to stay civically engaged, so the next time you read an article you have strong thoughts on, or the next time you encounter an issue you wish more people knew about, reach out to a local or national newspaper with your own take on the matter!