Letters to the Editor -- CMEP Guide

Writing a Letter to the Editor for your local paper can be a powerful and effective way of drawing the attention of both your elected officials and members of your community to an issue or event that is important to you. However the editorial page is coveted space in a newspaper, so to increase your chance of getting printed, and to increase the effectiveness of your letter, we suggest the following tips:

A downloadable guide from CMEP is available. Click here.

  • Mention your senator or representative by name.
  • If there is a specific legislative action, mention that by name as well.
  • Keep it short. Recommended length is 100 – 200 words with the optimum around 150 words. Also make sure to focus on a single issue.
  • Tie your letter to a specific news story or event. If you are responding to a specific article that the paper published, make sure to cite the title and date of that article. Read the CMEP bulletin for other timely issues that you can discuss. 
  • Highlight the local impact of the issue or event – how does this impact your community? Why should it be important to others reading your letter?
  • Show that your letter represents others who share your views on this topic. This could include others within your Church or faith group, other CMEP constituents in your community, church or religious leadership in your community. It can be worth getting others to sign on, but keep in mind that many papers will only allow 2-3 signatures to a single letter.
  • Proofread! Make sure that your letter is logically organized, especially from an average reader’s perspective. Check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors or inconsistencies.
  • Write in your own words. Don’t worry about articulating every facet of the debate or using political or academic language. Your letter is reaching out to people just like you – and through them, your elected officials.
  • If your paper does not specify on its Letters to the Editor page, check with the letters editor to see if they would prefer to receive letters by email or fax.
  • Suggestions for how to structure your letter:
    • Use the first paragraph to state your main point and demonstrate how you are personally invested in the issue. Here is also where you would discuss how this issue or policy affects your community.
    • Use the second paragraph to provide facts, quotes, and numbers to support your position.
    • In the final paragraph, restate your point and make a recommendation to your local elected official, newspaper, or community.
  • Make sure that you include your contact information in case the paper should want to get in touch with you if they chose to publish your letter. Also, disclose any connection or affiliation you have to the issue that you’re writing about. It allows the editors and the readers to understand your credibility and motivation for writing.
  • Don’t be discouraged if your letter doesn’t get published on the first try. That is prime newspaper real estate and there are lots of voices competing to be heard. This is just one sign of how effective this form of advocacy can be. You’ll also get more comfortable with the style and requirements the more often you write.
  • In considering the tone and language of your letter, keep in mind that this forum is a means to stimulate discussion and debate, not to stifle it. If you write with this goal in mind, your letter will more likely get printed and will receive better reception from readers.

Additional Resources:

Friends Committee on National Legislation Guide to LTEs
New York Times guide to letters to the editor

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