A letter to the editor (LTE) is a short letter to a local newspaper or publication that gives your opinion on an issue, and calls on your lawmakers or fellow community members to take action.
We’ve put together a tool to help you get started. Choose a publication, get some tips and suggested topics, and follow the instructions to submit your letter. Then let us know how it went.
The letter to the editor section is one of the most widely read parts of a newspaper. These letters can help win issue campaigns by:
Raising awareness: An LTE is a great way to raise the profile of an issue in your local community.
Responding rapidly: Many publications print LTEs within a day or two of receiving them, making them one the most effective actions when trying to respond quickly to new developments or announcements.
Sending a message to lawmakers: LTEs show unsupportive lawmakers that their constituents care passionately about an issue and will hold them accountable.
Energizing supporters and thanking supportive members of Congress: Published letters fire up local supporters and show lawmakers that their constituents have their back when they lead on important issues.
Persuading: LTEs can show how an issue affects local people in a way that those on the fence—including lawmakers—can sympathize with.
People read LTE’s to find out:
- How local people think or feel about an issue.
- How an issue is affecting their community.
- What the major impacts of an action could be.
People do not read LTE’s for:
- In-depth policy talk: LTEs should be short and personal, demonstrating the local connection to an issue and the views of community members. You don’t have to be an expert to share your personal story. Many papers will not print letters that are too long or broad.
- National political debates: People turn to TV and large publications to learn about the national debate on the issues. LTEs that don’t focus on the community will likely not be selected for publication in a local paper.
Research publication type: Most local newspapers have letters to the editor sections, but don’t forget to check online publications, alternative papers or lifestyle magazines, community-specific media, and non-English publications. Don’t discount a publication just because you don’t often read it—it may be very popular with other parts of your community.
Know the rules for LTE submission: Publications usually have tight rules for publishing, including length and contact information. They will reject letters if they break the rules, so know the rules for submission and make sure your letter conforms. Check the publication’s schedule and submission deadlines.
Keep it short. Stay within the publication’s rules—likely no longer than 250 or 300 words. Shorter letters are the most effective. Get to the point.
Tell your story. Make the issue human by describing how the issue has affected you or someone you know. Start your letter with a brief personal story—yours or someone else, like family, a coworker, or a friend. Even someone you’ve met on a plane or bus ride, or in line at the grocery store can be a great subject for an anecdote.
Know your audience. What type of publication are you writing for, and who is reading it? Use a story the audience can connect with.
DON’T delve into policy. Avoid using a long string of dull facts—there’s not enough room in 300 words to make a nuanced policy argument, and your passion is more powerful.
Use powerful language. Let your feelings show. Use powerful verbs and descriptive nouns. Write short, punchy sentences. Vary sentence length. This will help your letter stand out and make it more likely to be published.
Make a call to action. End your letter with a specific call to action to your local lawmakers or community members. Your LTE will only be effective if it gets others to take action!
Check for proper grammar and spelling. Ask a friend to take a look at your letter before you submit. Letters with error will likely not be published, or they might be published with the your errors.
Here is a sample template to help you structure your letter.
[If you are responding to or referencing another article, you should reference it by writing the first sentence, then the title of the article, the name of the publication & finally the date it was published. If not, you can start here with the reason why you’re writing, but it’s not always necessary. Sometimes it’s best to include some kind of interesting hook here that also explains why you’re writing without saying “I’m writing because…”]
[Tell your personal story in this second section. How has the issue impacted you, your family, or someone you know? Or why is this issue important to you? What are the impacts of the issue on people in your community? Remember to be concise, draw a local connection, and relate to the community you know best by touching on the values you share with them. If you include contrast—what the opponents think—be respectful.]
[So now what? Are you encouraging readers to contact their legislator? Are you asking them to take some other action? Don’t be afraid to make a specific ask of the people reading your letter.]
[End on a positive note. You have gone to all this trouble to entice your readers, you don’t want to turn them off to your opinions before you’ve sealed the deal.]
[YOUR CITY, ST, Month DD, YYYY]
After you send your LTE, keep an eye out! Many publications, especially small ones, may not tell you if you will be published because you have already given your permission by sending it.
If you are published—Success! Congratulations! Your message is being heard. Make sure to reshare the message on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets. Use the sharing featured on the website to send it to family, friends, and neighbors to help it rise on the “most e-mailed” or “most shared” list if the site has one.
Choose an issue you want to write about and take a look at some suggested topics to help you get started. It’s just a starting point, though—make your letter personal to you and your community.
This administration recently moved to repeal the President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan was described by The New York Times as “the strongest action ever taken by an American president to tackle climate change,” and helped pave the way to the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement by nearly every country in the world. Right now they have no plans to replace it, or take any new actions to fight climate change. Why is acting on climate important to you?
NASA and 97% of scientists agree that climate change is real and is caused by carbon pollution, mostly from burning fossil fuels. Is your representative a climate change denier?
Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods are all now more frequent and intense, and we’re seeing the impacts of off-the-charts storms like Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and record wildfires in the West right now. The science is clear, climate change fuels extreme weather. Has your community been impacted by extreme weather in recent years?
Gerrymandered congressional and legislative districts are holding us back. They help drive partisanship and gridlock and are preventing millions of Americans from having their voices fairly represented. Has gerrymandering affected you where you live? Are there issues that are ignored or misrepresented because your representative doesn't reflect your community?
Politicians often draw legislative and congressional districts to create partisan advantage by packing people together or splitting people apart based on their political preferences, or even their race. Are the legislative or congressional district boundaries in your area unfairly drawn? How so?
Gerrymandered districts can unfairly take power away from communities, and stymie their political preferences for candidates or issues. Fair representation would result in outcomes that better reflect voters democratic choices. Why is ensuring fair congressional and legislative maps important to you?
The Senate just made a version of its repeal bill public—and it's every bit as cruel as expected. As written, it will take health care away from millions of Americans, end Medicaid as we know it, and eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Health care is complicated, but this is simple: Lives are on the line. We can't afford to have the Senate pass this. Any health care bill should expand coverage and increase protections, not cover fewer people or make their insurance worse. Help spread the word: Repealing Obamacare is callous and irresponsible.
Under Obamacare, more than 20 million Americans have gained health care coverage, many for the first time, and the nation’s uninsured rate is at an all-time low. Have you or someone you know gotten covered because of Obamacare? If so, explain why it's important to you that you and your loved ones have insurance.
Obamacare contains crucial protections, including eliminating lifetime limits on coverage and banning insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions. Repeal threatens all of these common-sense protections. Have you or someone you know benefitted from Obamacare's protections?
Preventive care is now free under Obamacare, but might not be if the Senate's disastrous repeal bill passes. Have you or someone you know recently visited a doctor for an annual checkup, vaccination, or mammogram?
Under Obamacare, states have seen children, low-income families, the elderly and the disabled gain important access to health services through Medicaid. Survivors of the opioid epidemic have also benefitted from Medicaid’s protections. The Senate's new bill cruelly slashes Medicaid funding, ending the program as we know it. Have you or someone you know benefitted from Medicaid?
Gun violence prevention
The impact of gun violence affects communities across the country every day. Has your community been affected by gun violence? Why is important to you that we close the loopholes in background checks to keep guns out of dangerous hands?
In 2013, a minority in the Senate blocked a common-sense, bipartisan bill that would've extended background checks for all gun sales, closing the dangerous loophole that allows guns to fall into the wrong hands. Despite their inaction, many states are taking action to expand background checks on their own. What should your state do to make progress to help prevent gun violence? Call on state leaders to act.
Comprehensive Immigration reform
America is a nation of immigrants—one that has always derived strength from diversity. For centuries, the United States has been a beacon of hope and opportunity for people around the world. The immigrants and refugees that have come to our shores in search of a better life have been welcomed to help write our exceptional story and pursue their own American dream. Does your family have an immigration story?
As soon as they took office, the new administration turned its back on our country’s rich tradition of welcoming immigrants. Where America has always built bridges to overcome our greatest challenges, this administration wants to build a wall to cower behind. Where America has held dear the freedom of religion and embraced the persecuted, this administration has tried to slam the door shut on Muslims and on refugees. These actions go against our the core values we share. Why is this issue important to you?
They’ve laid the groundwork for a mass deportation force, calling for thousands of new ICE officers and border agents to conduct raids that seem indiscriminate at times. Instead of focusing narrowly on deporting violent criminals, nearly every undocumented immigrant now appears to be a target, leaving entire communities—children, parents, husbands, and wives—to live in constant fear. Do these actions being taken by our government fit with your core values?
This isn’t who we are. These aren’t the values we represent. We can’t give in to those who would rather sow division than foster unity. We must keep standing up, standing together, and making our voices heard. What does the American Dream mean to you?
According to the Economic Policy Institute, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would create 140,000 jobs and increase GDP by $33 billion. How would raising the minimum wage affect you and your family?
In December 2013, Congress allowed unemployment insurance benefits to expire for 1.3 million workers who lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Each week that Congress fails to act, 72,000 more job seekers lose this crucial lifeline. Have you or someone you know lost unemployment insurance because of Congressional inaction?
Stand with women
Women working full-time make an average of only 77 cents for every dollar that a man makes. Have you or someone you know been impacted by this inequality?
Almost 60% of minimum wage workers are women, and women are increasingly the primary breadwinners in American homes. Can you explain how an increase in minimum wage would help you or someone you know, or women and families generally?
Only 51% of women have access to paid leave after having their first child. Can you explain why workplace policies that help women and families—like paid family leave—are important to you?
Approximately 40% of America's private-sector employees don't have access to sick leave to allow them to care for themselves, a sick parent or a sick child. Can you talk about your experience with sick leave and why it would be important to have a standard across workplaces?
Write your letter
Once you’ve selected an issue to write about, take a look at some of the suggested topics below to help you get started. These are just a starting point—feel free to write about anything related to your chosen issue, and remember to make your letter personal to you and your community.
Tell us about it
Once you've submitted a letter to the editor—whether it's been published or not—be sure to let us know using the form below.