So you want to write a letter to the editor, but don’t know where to begin? Let me help!
Maybe you’re concerned about topics discussed at a local school board meeting. Or maybe you want your community to know you’re on board with the plans to expand facilities at your child’s school.
Whether or not these scenarios ring a bell, you’re here because you want to advocate for issues important to you. I’m here to tell you: do it!
Your Voice Matters and You Should Use it
William Wilberforce was a towering warrior against the 18th-century British slave trade. He once said, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”
Wilberforce knew how difficult it is to motivate people to take action. But he calls our attention to the importance of speaking up anyway. You can never guarantee that using your voice will cause others to take action. But you can guarantee that if you use your voice to advocate for what’s important, those around you can’t unhear you.
This is why your voice is so powerful.
Your letter to the editor doesn’t have to be groundbreaking to be influential. Take courage: if you can have a conversation with a friend about this topic, you can write a letter to the editor. Plus, if you don’t have time to get involved in other ways (like running for your local school board or starting a petition), it can be a perfect way for you to influence social change.
Let’s break it down into 3 easy steps!
Step 1: Get Your Bearings
The first step is to decide what publication you want to submit your letter to.
This will be an easy choice if you’re writing in response to a particular article. If you’re writing about a topic of local or national interest, you’ll likely have several publications to choose from.
Try a quick Google search with keywords such as “letters to the editor” and the name of your locality. You should find a page like this. (If you don’t want to use the internet for this task or your local papers don’t have this information online, grab your phonebook. Call several local papers to ask how to submit a letter to the editor.)
After you’ve found the correct web page, pay close attention to all the details there. Does this publication accept open letters (letters submitted to many publications) or do they want an exclusive letter? What’s the word count limit and submission deadline? What format should you submit your letter in? What personal information should you attach?
Whatever details your particular publication asks for, follow the rules to a T. If you don’t, they may not be able to publish your letter!
Step 2: Gather Your Ingredients
This is the part where you’ll save yourself time in the long run. It’s hard to expect your thoughts to flow freely into a cohesive letter all in one sitting.
Begin by jotting down thoughts as they come to you. (You wouldn’t start baking a cake without making sure you have all the ingredients handy, would you? In the same way, you’ll write a better letter to the editor if you have all your “ingredients” handy before you begin writing!)
This can look many different ways. Take notes on your phone throughout the day. Have a “brain dump” session where you scribble down thoughts with utter disregard for organization and grammar. Or, record voice notes on your phone. Do what works for you.
Once you’ve gathered up these notes (and don’t forget the notes you took during that last school board meeting), do some fact-checking. Make sure any quotes or statistics you intend to use are correct. You can also brainstorm for personal experiences to share.
Jamie Goodwin at Magoosh shares two ways to establish your credibility as a writer: providing evidence and sharing personal stories.
She says, “If you’re an expert on the subject, don’t be afraid to establish credibility in your writing by sharing personal stories. As you speak from experience, your readers will learn from those stories and see that you’re someone that is worth trusting on the subject because you’ve experienced it firsthand.”
Even if you feel inclined to skip the “ingredient” step and go straight to drafting your letter, don’t. Take the time to gather these materials first.
You’ll thank yourself later.
Step 3: Channel Your Inner Julia Child
Now that you’ve gathered your ingredients, let’s bake! (Again, just like baking a cake, you’re not going to mindlessly dump all your ingredients in the same bowl and stir. That could result in a disaster.)
The Writing Center at Hamilton College says, “Structure and organization are integral components of an effective persuasive essay. No matter how intelligent the ideas, a paper lacking a strong introduction, well-organized body paragraphs and an insightful conclusion is not an effective paper.”
You want your letter to be as persuasive as possible. Here’s how:
You’ll need an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.
- The introduction should include some brief details on what you’re going to talk about and why. It should give your audience an idea of where the letter is headed.
- The body should include your bigger thoughts and opinions. It should expand on the introduction. Do this by sharing stories, facts, statistics and whatever else supports your case.
- The conclusion should wrap up all your thoughts clearly. Ask yourself, “what do I want my audience to walk away thinking?” The answer to this question can help you decide on a punchy and crystal-clear ending.
Now, before you put your pen on the paper, do a quick mindset check—remind yourself of who your ideal audience is. You can even imagine a particular person as your audience if this helps you write! Choose a tone fitting to your topic, and always keep it professional and respectful.
Stay close to your word limit while writing the first draft, but more importantly, let the words flow. Write imperfect sentences to begin with if that’s easier. You can go back to smooth out those details later.
Most importantly, run the final draft by a friend. Ask them to be honest about any changes you should make. They can be a second set of eyes for spelling, punctuation, and grammatical mistakes. A well-written letter will reflect well on your opinion.
Now you’re ready to submit!
Don’t Overthink it
At this point, you might be rethinking hitting the submit button.
Remember, this isn’t about writing a blue ribbon opinion piece. This is about using your voice to talk about topics that you believe your audience needs to hear. But it’s also about using your voice to talk about topics that your audience can’t unhear.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be important enough to share. Go hit that submit button and change the world!