A powerful tool for advocating for the LGBTQ community is to write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. For grassroots volunteer efforts, it offers particular advantages:
- It provides a free forum. Even a small advertisement in a local newspaper can be expensive, but at no cost, a compelling and well-written letter can publicize your issue.
- It can be easily and rapidly done. For some of us writing comes naturally and for others it is more challenging, but luckily, letters to the editors are traditionally short and there are many guidelines/templates for creating them (see below)
- It reaches a wide range of readers in your community. The editorial page is generally popular with readers and for people who are undecided about an issue, it can be a resource for insight and persuasion.
- It focuses the newspaper’s attention on your topic, even if your letter is not published. Media outlets are highly responsive to the letters they receive and if they notice a large volume on one topic, they are more likely to increase its coverage.
For your letter to be both published and successful, keep in mind these guidelines.
- Keep it short, sweet, and punchy. Most letters to the editor are limited to 100-200 words. Stay concise and focus on original thought and unique experience.
- Make your point at the start. State your position at the start of your letter and then expand on it. Think of it as your one-line thesis statement.
- Make it personal right way. Identify your perspective and background early on, so your insights carry particular weight: “As a small business owner… “As a parent of a child… “As a long-time member of the PTSA…”
- Reference a published article your topic. Editors typically choose a letter that directly responds to an article they recently published—news, feature, or editorial— rather than one that only expresses an opinion. Locate an article on your topic and refer to it on top of your letter with full title and print date.
- Make it legible and coherent. Make sure your text scans and contains no typos or grammatical errors, which significantly distract from your credibility and authority. Run spell check and if possible, ask someone else to proofread for clarity and accuracy.
- Act fast. Timeliness is always of the essence with media. Write your letter as soon as you can after the related article appears, and send it via email for rapid delivery.
- Include all your contact information. Always sign your full name and provide your street address, and phone number, as many newspapers will not print an email before verifying your identify, including calling you by phone.
- Stay Local. Newspapers generally only print letters to the editor from residents that are local to the towns they serve and cover. So submit your letter to your community newspaper (or a paper that has statewide readership).
- Check your newspapers guidelines. Each newspaper provide their own guidelines for letters to the editor, typically located on their editorial page or newspaper FAQ. Locate them and follow them. For example, here are the guidelines for the Seattle Times.
- Learn from others Study a range of letters to the editor to pick up writing tips. You might notice that the newspaper of your choice has certain preferences for letter styles. Here is just one example of an effective letter.
- Start with a template A template can provide you a general structure, though remember to let your own voice come through, too. These templates focus on the issue of discrimination: one from a small business owner and one from a transgender person.