Calls and letters to your political reps are essential in any campaign to effect change. But Letters to the Editor can be a powerful way to reach fellow constituents, keep an issue in the public eye (and on the radar of elected officials) and influence the outcome of elections and government policy. Here are some tips from Liz Haigney Lynch on the best way to deliver your message — and get your letter published.
A Few Basics:
• Adhere to any guidelines that the publication specifies, such as maximum length.
• Mention elected officials by name, but avoid name-calling and personal attacks.
• A good rule of thumb: Critique positions, not people.
• Stay concise. 200 to 300 words is a good target.
• Include the date of publication If responding to a previously published letter or article, “Liz Lynch’s assertion that the earth is flat (March 9) is inaccurate …“
• Include a specific connection to an issue if you have one. “As a home care aide”; ”As a veteran”; ”As a special-education teacher”
How to Find Where to Send Your Letter
On newspaper and hyperlocal sites:
• Go to the OPINION tab. If you see a “Letters to the Editor” option, click on that.
• The CONTACT US tab can also include information about the opinion page.
In print publications:
• Usually editors include contact information for letters to the editor on the opinion page itself, at the end of the letters column.
• A CONTACT US box can be included in a regular location on another inside page. Some newspapers put it on page 2, for example.
• Relax: If you’ve shared your thoughts by posting on NJ-11th’s Facebook page, you already know a lot about writing a letter to the editor.
• Pick your topic (such as a proposal, or a bill, or a recent incident in the news).
• Aim for something that is currently under discussion or up for a vote. The more current it is, the more your letter is likely to run.
• Decide what point you want to make about this topic. Typically, letters are most effective when they focus on one strong argument, rather than three or four.
• Jot down a few key supporting facts or ideas about your topic. Keep your list short, focusing on your strongest examples.
• Include any experiences and ideas of your own that show why this topic is important to you.
Writing it down:
• State your purpose in the opening paragraph.
• Make sure you name the specific bill or measure you’re discussing.
• List a few supporting points or examples illustrating why this issue is important to you, or how it affects people. Humor or personal stories are great too, if you are comfortable using them.
• State a conclusion, along with the outcome you seek on this issue (congressman’s vote, funds designated, etc.).
Putting the Pieces Together:
To the Editor:
(Purpose/topic -- including specific bill)
Imagine going on a cross-country trip in a car without a gas gauge. That’s the journey kids will be taking if Congress passes HB 000, which mandates removing grades from student report cards. As a middle school teacher and parent of two Elevenburg students, I’m seriously concerned, and I hope Congressman X will be listening.
There can be no true education without understanding student progress. We need tools that express what and how our students are learning. Without grades, teachers cannot gauge students’ educational needs. For parents, grades are a valuable basis for discussions of student progress.
(More supporting material)
In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Grading Excellence, Columbia University researchers found that high-school students receiving report cards with grades were more likely to graduate than those who did not. At the last Elevenburg Board of Education meeting, our Superintendent read a statement describing HB 000 as “a truly disastrous idea that will hurt every student in this district.”
(Humor or anecdote)
I’m sure there are times when any kid would love to get a grade-free report card, but grown-up representatives should really know better.
HB 000 would take a valuable tool away from parents and teachers and put children’s education at risk.
I urge Congressman X to oppose this harmful bill.
Signature (including any additional relevant information about you)
6th-grade teacher, Mount Eleven Middle School
Other Great Uses for a Letter to the Editor
• To spread the word about a community event or initiative. (Examples: a carwash for a school, a fundraiser for a sick neighbor.)
• To thank the community for supporting something you’ve organized.
• To mark holidays, commemorations or historic events. It can be interesting to link a current topic to a one of these occasions (i.e., writing about veterans’ programs on Veterans’ Day).
Independence Day; MLK DayCommemorations such as Black History Month or Women’s History Month
Anniversary of a historic figure’s birth (especially if they were from the area)