Guide to Writing a Letter to the Editor
What is a Letter to the Editor?
A letter to the editor is a short opinion statement sent to a regularly printed publication such as a magazine or newspaper to address a social issue or comment on an ongoing discussion. Its purpose is to declare your stance on an issue and inform the outlet’s readers on a given topic using a combination of facts and stories about how the issue personally affects you and your community. Usually, letters to the editor are short, with most of them not exceeding 300 words.
Writing your Letter to the Editor
- Determine your hook. Decide what overarching approach you’re going to take with your draft. Examples: Major news study, personal anecdote, specific response to published content, notable anniversary.
- All facts should have a source. Don’t use footnotes, but more casual references. For example, “Virginians pay some of of the highest electricity bills in the nation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.”
- Letters should ideally respond to something published in the news outlet or a prominent Virginia issue.
- Structure like a college essay with an introduction, two or three supporting points, and a conclusion. Your conclusion should circle back to your introduction and end with solutions or a call to action for decision-makers.
- Relevancy is more important than perfection. Allow a good, timely draft to take priority over a perfect, late draft.
- Avoid attacking or endorsing a political party or candidate. Stick to the facts about the issue and solutions.
Pitching your Letter to the Editor
- Once finding the submission details, include your pitch, finished draft, author or author(s), one-sentence bios for each, contact information, and a desired publish date. Include why a particular publication date is preferred or why this is time-sensitive. You can include headline suggestions, but an opinion page editor will likely edit or draft those. Note that some papers have a contact form that allow you to enter the text of the LTE into a field on their website.
- Include a specific line about readership if possible. How does this issue specifically impact the outlets’ readers?
- Start with your preferred outlet and wait to hear back before moving on to your second choice. Check in after a week if you have not heard back from an editor. Try calling a listed number on the new outlet’s website if email is not responsive.
Additional resource for drafting and pitching can be found at https://www.theopedproject.org.
Submission Details for Top Virginia Outlets
Washington Post, Local Opinions (200 words) – Northern Virginia
Richmond Times-Dispatch (300 words for LTEs) – Richmond and surrounding suburbs
The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press (250 words) – Hampton Roads and Virginia Beach
The Roanoke Times (350 words) – Roanoke, New River Valley
The Free-Lance Star (300 words) – Fredericksburg
Daily News Record (250 words) – Harrisonburg
The News & Advance (350 words) – Lynchburg
Bristol Herald Courier (300 words) – Bristol, SW Virginia
The Daily Progress (350 words) – Charlottesville
Staunton News Leader (350 words) – Staunton