Helpful information before you write your LTE
- Respond to an article in the paper. The best letters are those that are in response to an article that ran in the paper and many papers require that you reference the specific article. Your letter will have a greater chance of being printed if it is in response to an editorial, op-ed, or front page story. Begin your letter by citing the original story by name, date, and author. If there was something in the paper about the subject, reference it at the beginning, but when responding to the opposition’s opinion avoid re-stating their arguments. Some papers do occasionally print LTEs noting a lack of coverage on a specific issue. If this is the topic you are writing about, begin by stating your concern that the paper hasn’t focused on this important issue.
- Share your expertise. If you have relevant qualifications to the topic you’re addressing be sure to include that in your letter. Wherever possible give facts, use an analogy, or tell a story rather than using rhetoric. This will make your case come to life for the readers and editors are more likely to print a letter if it has local significance.
- Refer to the legislator or corporation you are trying to influence by name. If your letter includes a legislator’s name, in almost all cases staff will give him or her the letter to read personally. Corporations also monitor the media, especially in areas where they have offices or plants. Be sure if you are trying to influence a legislator or corporation that you include the full name in your letter. This will make it much more likely that they will read your letter.
- Write the letter in your own words. Editors want letters in their papers to be original and from a reader. Be sure that you take the time to write the letter in your own words. If you’re using a sample or template, be sure to change or add to it so it’s YOUR letter. Papers are not likely to publish a letter that has been sent in by multiple people.
- Refute, advocate, and make a call to action. Most letters to the editor follow a standard format. Open your letter by refuting the claim made in the original story the paper ran. Then use the next few sentences to back up your claims and advocate for your position. Try to focus on the positive. For example: According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, investments in renewable energy would bring over $200 million to our state and create 36,000 jobs by 2020. Then wrap your letter up by explaining what you think needs to happen now, make your call to action.
- Include your contact information. Be sure to include your name, address, and daytime phone number; the paper will contact you before printing your letter.
Tips and Tricks to Writing a good LTE
- Keep your letter short, focused, and interesting. In general, letters should be under 250 words, 150 or less is best; stay focused on one (or, at the most, two) main point(s); and get to the main point in the first two sentences. If possible, include interesting facts, relevant personal experience and any local connections to the issue. If your letter is longer than 250 words, it will likely be edited or not printed.
- Follow-up with your legislator or corporation. If your letter is printed, and targeted to a specific decision maker or corporation, clip out your printed letter and send it to the target with a brief cover note. This way you can be certain that the appropriate decision maker sees it.
- Pick an Angle – You likely have many reasons for believing what you are advocating for, but you only have 250 words to tell your side of the story. Pick just one reason, and tailor the LTE to fit that choice.
How to Submit an LTE
Follow the paper’s directions. Information on how and to whom to submit a letter-to-the-editor is usually found right on the letters page in your paper. This often includes guidelines on what the paper looks for in LTEs. Follow these guidelines to increase the likelihood that your letter will be printed. If you can’t find the information you need, simply call the paper and ask how to go about submitting a letter in response to a recently published article.
Send the LTE to the email or physical address listed on the website or in the opinion section of the newspaper. Be sure to include your full name, address, and phone number. But don’t stop there… follow up. Call the LTE editor and ask if s/he received your letter. Also be sure to ask if they plan to print your letter. If not, ask why. If it is because it doesn’t fit their requirements offer to revise it and resubmit.
Sample LTE Outline
1. Name the article that you are responding to by title, author and date.
2. State the problem/topic (why you personally are concerned).
3. Describe the problem in a way that makes it more real for the reader.
4. State the solution.
5. Call to action – this is where you name names.