Because many people read letters-to-the-editor (LTEs), they are a quick, effective and continuing means of communicating your campaign message to a wide audience. They can be used to correct and clarify facts in a news story, editorial or op-ed piece, oppose or support actions of an official agency, direct attention to a problem, spur news editors to cover an issue that is being overlooked, and urge readers to support your cause.
Pick a Timely Topic Newspapers rarely publish letters about topics that are not being covered in the news. Referring to a previously published article or column will increase your letter’s chances of being published.
Research the Guidelines Most papers’ length limit on LTEs is around 250 words. Stick to this so that an editor does not cut out the important points of your letter. Some papers require a typed letter. Others may want it sent via e-mail. Often newspapers want your address and phone number so they can verify that you wrote the letter. You can usually find a paper’s guidelines on the letters page. If not, call the paper directly or visit its Web site.
Assume Nothing Do not assume that your readers are informed on your topic. Give a concise but informative background before plunging into the main issue. Refer to any newspaper article or editorial by date and title. Also include any relevant credentials that prove you are informed about your topic.
Be Brief State your position as succinctly as possible without eliminating necessary detail. Keep your paragraphs short. Long rambling sentences and digressions will cause people to lose interest quickly. Stick to one subject.
Maintain Composure It is okay to express outrage, but it should be kept under control. Avoid personal attacks and focus instead on criticizing specific policies or ideas.
Find a Local Angle Readers are more interested in an issue when they see how it affects their lives and communities. Find a way to show how budget cuts or environmental policies will affect this particular readership.
Involve your Volunteers You can generate a lot of letters by distributing outlines of sample letters to your campaign volunteers. Stagger mailings a few days apart for a current topic or weeks apart to spur general interest. Be sure letter writers have their facts straight. Letters by Sierra Club members that argue for competing interests or include inconsistent facts do not reflect well on the organization.
Avoid Form Letters Do not send the same letter to two competing papers in the same circulation area. A form letter sent to papers in different markets should look like an original and all letters should be signed individually.