Using Your Voice: Letters to the Editor

letter to the editorDEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

This exchange has become one of the most famous letters to the editor ever written. It was penned by 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon writing to the editor of The New York Sun. Since it was published in 1897, it has become history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial of all time, appearing in dozens of books, movies, and other editorials. Even on posters and stamps and leading to one of the most common phrases “Yes, Virginia – there is a Santa Claus.” If 8-year-old Virginia can write a letter to the editor, then you can too.

There is one reason in particular that I believe print media is relevant today: there is a very strong correlation between those that read newspapers and those who vote. And writing a letter to the editor is enacting your very own power to persuade.

In addition to speaking to voters, you are able to speak to legislators and elected officials. The volume of letters regarding a particular issue sends a message to the paper and to officials signaling interest and viewpoints. Congressmen are continuously scouring local papers to get a pulse on what is happening in their home state.

So how do you write a letter to the editor?

  1. Read the newspaper – Start by reading the newspaper consistently. You should read the newspaper every day and look for letter to the editor opportunities. You are looking for an article to respond to with clarity. Your chances of being published are increased if you respond directly to an article that a staff writer has written or locally written op-eds.
  2. Choose your words wisely – there is usually a word count limit of 200 to 300 words. Reference the story right up front. Be brief in your response, the shorter the better. Don’t use long sentences, complex metaphors or sarcasm. Write like you talk, simple and straightforward. Connect the dots between the article you are responding to and your message. Identify a solution. Then create a call to action. You should include the member of Congress, local representative or person that want to take this action.
  3. Submit your letter – There are a ton of newspapers. Feel free to submit them to more than one. It is easy to find the directions for submission by searching for “letters to the editor – newspaper name.” If possible, follow-up. Especially with smaller papers, it will often help to call the person responsible for the letters to the editor after you send it. If you connect with a real person, you are much more likely to print it.

Have you written any letters to the editor? Did you have success in getting it published or requested action taken?

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