Just Do It: Writing a letter to the Editor or News Director

One of the time honored traditions of advocacy work is the letter.  Writing a great letter to the editor of your local or regional daily or weekly newspaper or to the news editor or station manager of your local television or radio station can make all the difference in the world. Motorist advocates will generally need to learn and not be afraid of writing two types of letters:  one in support of an article or editorial or report and one in opposition.

A couple of pointers to keep in mind when you write a letter to the editor, news director or station manager.

  1. Be timely. Respond to something the magazine, newspaper, TV or radio station has published or presented quite recently which means you will need to respond quickly to remain timely.
  2. Follow the directions on how to submit a letter. Magazines and Newspapers generally have this information either online or on their editorial page. TV and radio stations probably have a way to contact them on their website.
  3. Keep it short and sweet. Keep the letter to one main paragraph with 1 to 2 points in the first two sentences. Letter should be no more than 150 to 200 words. Write the letter in your own voice and with a one sentence call to action at the end.
  4. Share who you are and your expertise. Remember elected officials generally read the letters to the editors and watch or listen to the local news so make this count.
  5. Union of Concerned Scientists also explain that if the letter is published or presented on air, it is important to then send the clipping or URL link to your elected officials.
  6. Always make sure your contact information is included with your letter. Name, address, daytime phone number and email address would be all that is needed.

Now, what if you would like to write an op-ed piece instead of a letter to the editor. The website for Zero to Three, an early childhood advocacy group, has some excellent ideas for both letters to the editor and the guest op-ed piece.

  1. Check guidelines for submission. Each publication is different and if you follow the guidelines closely, an advocate will have a much better chance of getting a piece printed.
  2. Timely and not too long—longer than a letter to the editor, generally 500 to 800 words.
  3. In the first sentence, tell the reader why we should care, then explain the problem followed by solutions. Make your op-ed about one key point only.
  4. Write from your own perspective. Use your own voice.

The most important thing about writing letters to the editor and op-ed pieces is to just do it!  When you read an article you would like to comment on, check the guidelines for submission and begin writing it right away.  And whatever you do, don’t forget to mail it or send it by email.

After you are done, please send your letter to the editor or your op-ed piece to the National Motorists Association at nma@motorists.org.

Be safe and have fun driving!

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