Guidelines for Letters to the Editor

When you write a letter to the editor of a newspaper or journal, you are writing for two audiences: the editor and the reader of the publication. The letter should be addressed to the editor with the needs of news readers in mind.

You also have two purposes: to encourage the publication to address your concerns and to inform readers about your cause. Whether the letter is published or not, you have an opportunity to accomplish the first goal. If the letter is published, your second goal is now a possibility.

Therefore, it is not a wasted effort simply because your letter did not get published.

Nevertheless, there are some important guidelines you should follow to increase your chances of publication:

  • Keep it short–200 words/300 words maximum
  • Focus on one topic and make one or two points about it
  • Use declarative sentences in your own clear words. Avoid jargon
  • Limit the use of numbers
  • Vary length and kind of sentences
  • Specify article to which you are responding (Opportunity for a good verb here: “I was [excited/saddened/perplexed] to read about …”)
  • Take on a new issue, provide a fresh perspective or give some added depth
  • Whether you refute, advocate or make a call to action, always explain the issue’s importance
  • Personalize/localize concerns or cite your expertise using facts, logic and emotions
  • Letters regarding articles on Editorial, Op-Ed, and A-1 pages or about lack of coverage are most likely to be run
  • Send letters by email or online submission for timeliness; don’t send by USPS
  • Send hard copy or forward the link to relevant audiences (for example, members of Congress)
  • Always adhere to the website’s or paper’s guidelines:
    • What are the length requirements?
    • Are signature and contact info required?
    • Are multiple submissions okay?
    • Send as attachment or within the body of the email?

You can find a sample letter at the end of this page, written by Communications Committee member Audrey Meshulam and published in the Baltimore Sun.

Resources

Tips for Writing Effective Letters

ACLU: https://www.aclu.org/other/tips-writing-letter-editor

Union of Concerned Scientists: https://www.ucsusa.org/action/writing-an-lte.html#.XGxT7S2ZP1U

Community Tool Box: https://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/advocacy/direct-action/letters-to-editor/main

Reset: https://en.reset.org/act/how-make-difference-%E2%80%93-tips-effective-activism

Maryland Democratic Party: https://www.mddems.org/lettertotheeditor

Newspaper Submissions

The Baltimore Sun: https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/bal-letter-submission-ngux-htmlstory.html

The Washington Post: https://helpcenter.washingtonpost.com/hc/en-us/articles/236004788-Send-a-letter-to-the-editor

Bethesda Magazine: letters@bethesdamagazine.com

Sample Letter

Now that the Clean Energy Jobs Act has the approval of the Maryland Senate (“Maryland Senate passes renewable energy bill; House outcome uncertain,” March 20, 2019), it’s time for the House of Delegates to pass this necessary legislation. What is the House waiting for? This bill addresses matters of urgent concern to Marylanders: Climate change threatens the safety of our coastal residents, and pollution contributes to the above-average rates of respiratory ailments seen in our cities. Given the federal government’s alarming negligence toward these environmental emergencies, Maryland cannot afford to wait. Lives and livelihoods are on the line. What’s more, the bill has decisive public support statewide, including majorities in favor in all regions of the state. Speaker Michael Busch and the House of Delegates must heed the concerns of their constituents and act now. Pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act in the House.

Audrey Meshulam, Silver Spring

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