Tips for writing a great Letter to the Editor

The Letters to the Editor section is one of the most read sections of the newspaper–by the public at large, and especially by decision makers who are trying to get a sense of public opinion. Published letters allow us to educate the public on our campaigns and influence decision makers. And a letter from a local citizen has a larger impact.

How To

1. Be Concise: A letter should be under 200 words and is more likely to be printed if even shorter.

2. Focus on one clear point: Pick one fact, aspect of the issue, or story for the letter.

3. Make it personal: The best letters are compelling and unique, rather than purely reasserting the facts. It is appropriate to convey your outrage, but avoid exaggeration.

4. Reference/Respond to a recent article/letter/event: Newspapers are more likely to print letters that show relevance and timeliness to issues the paper is already covering. Look through the paper for a story about the issue you are writing on or some other way to connect it, but don’t force a connection.  You can also link it to current events or anniversaries (Three-Mile Island, first national park etc.)  to make it timely & relevant.

5. Follow-up: After you’ve sent your letter, call the editor and ask when they’re going to print it. They get hundreds or thousands of letters a week, this ensures they read yours.  

6. Sign your letter with your name, address, and phone number.  They will usually call to confirm the letter before they run it.  

Sample Outline:

–  Use a catchy lead (personal, clever);

–  State the problem/topic (why you are concerned and make it real for the reader);

–  State the solution – name names if appropriate (i.e. ask Senator Smith to do X);

–  Wrap it up with the final why – the more personal the better.  

Talking Points: 

  • Allegheny County is in the top 2% of counties for cancer risk from air pollution, meaning that it’s safer to breathe almost anywhere else in the US.

  • More than 70% of the industrial air pollution reported in Allegheny County comes from just 10 sources– the Toxic Ten. The facilities emit dangerous pollution linked to cancer, asthma, and other health problems.

  • The Allegheny County Health Department needs to take bold action to protect our health. The Health Department has taken steps in the right direction recently, including levying  record fines against a major polluter, but much work remains to be done.

  • Throughout Toxic Ten Week, we’re calling on County Executive Rich Fitzgerald to finally rein in industrial pollution by working with the Health Department to:

    • Make sure the “Toxic Ten” have up-to-date Clean Air Act permits

    • Set stricter pollution limits on the Clairton Coke Works

    • Enforce meaningful penalties for illegal pollution

    • Give our environmental watchdogs the resources they need to go toe-to-toe with massive corporations