Letters to the editor are still among the most-read sections of news publications, both online and in print. This means that whatever you write will be read by a large number of people – including your Members of Congress.
Writing a letter to the editor is one of the most effective ways of getting our legislators’ attention: Morning briefings for legislators will usually start with a review of “clips,” news items that mention the lawmaker by name. If you are advocating for a particular issue, or urging specific action by your member of Congress, be sure to cite them by name in your letter to the editor.
Follow the Rules – Check the publication’s guidelines and follow them to the letter. If they ask you to submit via an online form, for example, be sure to use their online form.
Be Yourself – Even if you’re following samples or talking points on a topic, be sure to use your own words when you write. What makes letters to the editor so effective is the fact that people are sharing their own thoughts and ideas.
Keep it Short – Most publications will specify a maximum word length. Even if they don’t, your letter will have the best chance of getting published if you keep it to 150-200 words.
Share your expertise – If you have qualifications or experience that relates to your topic, mention it. If you’re writing about energy issues and you’re a homeowner with solar panels, or if you’re writing about health issues and you work as a nurse, sharing that will give your position more weight.
Don’t Spam – Don’t submit the same letter to multiple publications. Each publication will want to publish something unique.
Start Strong – Or as the old journalism adage goes, ‘Don’t bury the lede.’ Put your most important information up front. If editors need to cut for space, they will often cut from the bottom up.
Don’t give up! – If your letter isn’t accepted for publication, try again later. Newspapers and local publications generally welcome well-written letters, and most will want to publish diverse points of view.
STEP 1. Be Specific
First, pick a topic you care about, and write out for yourself exactly what you think should be done. This will help you start with the end in mind. What is it you want to accomplish? For example, “Assault weapons must be banned.”
STEP 2. Grab the Reader’s Attention
Try for an opening sentence that piques a reader’s interest. What will make someone want to read more?
STEP 3. Lay the Groundwork
Make a few strong points about why this issue is important. “Assault rifles are weapons of war and are not needed for protection or sport.”
STEP 4. Give Supporting Evidence
Cite one or more pieces of reputable evidence to support your claim. “Assault weapons used in mass shootings have killed X number of people during the last three years.”
STEP 5. End With a Call to Action
State clearly your opinion about what needs to be done. This will probably be close to what you wrote out for yourself in Step 1.
STEP 6. Edit and Proofread
Always reread and check your letter before submitting. A good rule of thumb is to sit on it overnight and review it with fresh eyes the next day.
It’s generally best to stick close to home. Publications based in your own community are the most likely to publish your letters.
We have compiled submission guidelines and links for Buncombe County publications and leading state publications in the downloadable LTE Publications PDF here.