How to Write a Letter to the Editor

Though newspapers have undergone great change in our ever-evolving digital world, opinion pages have remained a cornerstone of many publications, from small-town, community papers to The Wall Street Journal.

According to a recent study, opinion articles (op-eds) can have a large and long-lasting impact on readers’ views about policy issues. The study, conducted by a Yale University political science professor, also found that op-eds are an affordable persuasion technique—estimating that an op-ed costs somewhere in the range of 50 cents to $3 per mind changed. What a bargain! We are often asked to write op-eds, guest columns and letters to the editor on behalf of our clients and have defined a simple process for developing opinion pieces. Whether you’re writing for a client or want to share your personal opinion, here’s how to write a letter to the editor (or op-ed) in five easy steps.

1. Find & Follow the Guidelines
Every newspaper sets its own criteria for letters and op-eds. Before you put pen to paper, review the submission guidelines for your target publication. These can usually be found on the opinion page itself (print and online versions) or listed on a publication’s “Contact Us” page.Most publications request that letters to the editor be 150 to 200 words in length. Of course, op-eds are allotted more words, but those usually require working directly with the opinion page editor for consideration. Whereas letters are usually submitted via an online form or email.

2. Develop Your Letter Outline
Before writing your letter, take time to think about what you want to say and define the key message(s) you want to convey. With only 150 to 200 words to work with, you need to get to your point quickly and make your argument concisely. Developing a letter outline can help keep you on point.

  • Headline: Writing a headline can help keep you focused on the correct tone and message. Though, be aware that publications will usually apply their own headlines before publishing.
  • Opening paragraph: Introduce your issue and state your opinion. If you’re responding to a particular article or editorial, reference the title and date it was published in your letter.
  • Body of the letter: Outline your position on the issue and share your related expertise and/or a personal story. Use research data and findings to back-up your argument.
  • Closing paragraph: Quickly summarize your point of view and make a final appeal for why others should share your position.

3. Draft, Review, Revise & Repeat
From your outline, draft your letter. Once you have the first draft written, review it with a critical eye and revise. Writing a thoughtful, concise and persuasive letter will probably take several attempts, so repeat this process until you think you’ve nailed it. There are also a variety of online tools to support your copy editing process.

4. Enlist a Proofreader
Ask someone to read your letter, not only for typos and grammar, but also to gauge how clearly you’ve expressed your opinion and made your argument.

5. Submit Your Letter
This is the easy part. Submit your well-crafted, proofread letter according to your target publication’s guidelines. If your letter is accepted, you might receive a call giving you heads-up that it will be published and to clarify any questions the publication might have. Don’t be surprised if your letter is edited slightly to adjust for length

If you’ve had success with publishing opinion pieces, we’d love to hear about your experience and any tips you have to share. Happy letter writing!