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Writing a Letter to the Editor

By Contributing Writer on March 12, 2015

This was written by Zoe Smith ’17, a consultant in Colgate’s Writing and Speaking Center as advice for those interested in writing a letter to the editor as part of the Day of Impact initiative.

Writing a letter to a newspaper editor is a great way to raise awareness about an issue, advocate for a cause, or simply publicly express your opinion about an important person, program, event, or idea. Writing a letter is a great first step towards promoting change within a community. If you’ve always wanted to do so but never know where to start, look no further. Here is a list of the fundamental aspects that make a successful letter to an editor.

  1.  Know your audience – Think about your audience as the person you are specifically addressing in the letter. Yes, your letter will be read by a broader audience if published, but these public readers will judge your letter based on how appropriately it addresses the editor, and how successfully it negotiates the issue. So focus on empathizing with the editor and appealing to their values.
  2.  Grab the reader’s attention – Just as with any introduction to a piece of writing, your letter’s opening is extremely important. It should grab the reader’s attention and introduce the topic of your letter in a way that makes them want to read more.
  3.  Establish your argument – State your argument clearly, quickly, and simply. Your argument should be more than an observation; it should consist of a specific claim you’re making about a relevant issue.
  4.  Explain its importance – Although the purpose of your letter may seem obvious to you, the general public may not hold the same understanding or awareness of your concern. Explicitly state the importance and magnitude of your argument. Use language that is clear, straightforward and easy to understand.
  5.  Discuss your desired outcome – State your opinion regarding what should be done about the issue. In order for your letter to be most powerful, propose solutions rather than simply “venting.” Suggest realistic steps that can be taken by whomever you are addressing.
  6.  Be concise – Stay focused and to-the-point. In general, shorter letters have a better chance of being published. Shorter letters are also more comprehendible to the reader because they present their argument in a clear and succinct manner.

Remember these tips and you are bound to write a powerful letter! Other final details include the following:

Addressing the letter: “Dear Editor” or “To the Editor of The New York Times,” for example,is sufficient. If you specifically know the editor’s name, use it–this may increase the chances of your letter being read.

Signing the letter: There is no need to write “Sincerely” or “Yours truly” at the conclusion of your letter; simply enter two spaces at the end of the letter and sign your name and city or address.

Sending the letter: Send your letter electronically, either in an email to the editor or submitted through a designated online forum on the publication’s website. Avoid sending your letter through the mail as it will then have to be typed on the computer before it can be published.

With these simple tips in mind there is no doubt your letter will be published. So next time you feel strongly about an issue in a publication, sit down, grab this guide, and start writing.


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