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Write a Letter to the Editor that Inspires Action

by Ann Mason
The Challenge

Writing letters to the editor can be an effective way of sharing your opinion and inspiring others to take positive action on issues that are of concern to you.

Political leaders and other policy makers rely upon the editorials in newspapers and websites to gauge the views of their constituents. The philanthropic actions of civic organizations are often inspired by issues facing the community that were initially inspired by letters to the editor.

A letter to the editor, an op-ed piece, or a posting to a blog website may inspire everyday citizens to take action that truly makes a difference, and it even may inspire a reporter to pursue the issue further with a more in-depth article focusing on your issue.

Have you ever heard someone tell a story or read something that immediately inspired you to take action? Maybe you heard about a family who lost all of their possessions in a fire, or you read about the imminent cancellation of a valuable community program due to funding cuts. Without the effort of another person bringing these issues to your attention, you never would have been in a position to help. Writing a letter to the editor is a way that you, too, can inspire others to take action and make a difference in countless areas. So, when you read about an issue that moves you, or see a story on television that makes you want to get involved, don't just sit there. Writing a letter to the editor gives you a chance to inspire action in people whom you will probably never meet.

The key to getting your message out is to write a letter that has a chance to be published. Newspapers and blogs receive many more letters than they have room to publish. So, ensure that your letter is concise, makes one simple point or deals with one basic issue, and follows the policies set forth by the media outlet. That way, you strengthen your chances of having your letter published and of inspiring others to take action on your issue.

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  • Step 1: Choose an issue. The Internet, newspapers, television, and radio are filled each day with potential topics for your letter. Just pick something that moves you to share your opinion and your call-to-action with an audience.
  • Step 2: Choose an outlet for your editorial. Newspapers are the traditional recipients of letters to the editor, although now you have a chance to see your letter published on the newspaper's website rather than (or in addition to) print. Lists of newspapers all over the world and links to their websites can be found at RefDesk.com and the Internet Public Library.  You also might consider sending your letter to a blog, where people discuss their views on issues, or to television and radio news programs that may not read your letter on the air but may be inspired to take action of their own and follow-up with a more in-depth story on your issue.
  • Step 3: Write your letter. Don't worry about making it perfect. You won't be receiving a grade from your high school English teacher. Just try to keep it brief (150-200 words) and to the point. You might want to read some sample letters to the editor to get a feel for the standard format. Be sure to run spelling and grammar checks.
  • Step 4: Proofread your letter, but not immediately after writing it. Set the letter aside for a while and come back to look it over with fresh eyes. When you read it, consider the reader. Does your letter communicate your point clearly? Do your words inspire action? If you're not sure, ask a friend or family member to read your editorial before you send it.
  • Step 5: Send your letter to the editor. Email is often the preferred method, but you also may send it by standard mail or fax if the recipient organization will accept them. If you are sending a print letter, be sure to sign your letter and provide your name printed clearly along with your address and telephone number. Newspapers will not publish anonymous letters, and although the newspaper will not share your address and phone number with its readers, someone from the paper may call you to confirm your identity. Letters sent via email also should include your name, address, and phone if requested. 

Don't worry if your letter does not get published. Someone read it. What matters most is that you took the time to express yourself, and that is a powerful thing. Write another when your conscience challenges you to act.

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