On the Record

Talk Back: Write and Submit a Letter to the Editor

Writing a letter to the editor is one of the best ways to respond to articles, editorials, or op-eds published in your local paper. And, you can use these letters to advance your issue. A letter to the editor might amplify an editorial with which you agree, limit the damage caused by an op-ed that is harmful to your cause, or highlight key information left out of an article.

But remember to choose your battles wisely — even though a letter is a more personal message, stick to the facts, keep emotions in check, and never disparage other individuals or organizations.

RESPOND QUICKLY. Timeliness is key. After you identify a story or editorial that needs a response, draft and submit your letter as soon as possible.

READ THE LETTERS SECTION. Read letters to the editor published recently and mirror their format.

FOLLOW THE RULES. Look for guidelines about format, length, and other submission requirements on the paper’s website or in the paper near the letters section. If you can’t find them, call the newspaper and ask.

BE BRIEF. Keep your letter short and to the point. Focus on making one key point in two or three paragraphs and use just a couple of key facts or statistics, or a very brief story, to support your argument. Aim for about 150 words — never more than 200.

KNOW THE AUDIENCE. Read past letters to the editor and become familiar with what the paper typically prints. It is much more difficult to be published in a metropolitan daily newspaper than in a neighborhood weekly. Try to relate the letter/issue to the local community.

 Include your name and your affiliation with NCJW (or another organization, if appropriate) to be published with your letter. If you are writing on behalf of NCJW or another organization, make sure that you have the organization’s support for your point of view and permission to speak in their name. For the editor’s information only (not to be published), include your complete contact information.

EDIT. Proofread carefully to eliminate typos and grammatical errors. And be sure to avoid jargon and acronyms.

 Letters to the editor should be specific. Sending the same letter to multiple outlets dilutes the message and irritates the editors.

Distribute copies of the letter-to-the-editor, especially if it is printed, to any interested individuals — potential members, supporters, donors, and coalition partners. Send a copy to your decision-makers, such as your US senator, whether it is printed or not. They will be interested to know that you are contacting the media about this issue.

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