How to write a letter to the editor

One of the most effective, cost-efficient ways to educate voters and influence public officials is to publish letters to the editor in newspapers.  The opinion page is often the most widely read section of the newspaper, and letters to the editor are usually clipped and saved by politicians. Letters to the editor also show editors, reporters, and local representatives what the “hot” issues are, thereby encouraging both greater news coverage and political debate of those topics.

Newspapers publish stories regarding marijuana, drugs and drug law enforcement almost every day.  Each of these stories is an opportunity to respond.  Each letter to the editor you publish is an opportunity to promote your message as well as increase the public awareness of NORML and our campaign goals.  To better your chances of getting published, here are some proven tips to follow.

10 Steps To Getting Your Letter To The Editor Published

  1. Know your paper’s policies

    Be aware of editorial guidelines. Most newspapers have set policies regarding letters’ form, length and content, and almost all require letter writers to include their personal contact information. (This is so they can confirm authorship.)  If a paper does not publish its guidelines on the editorial page, call the newspaper directly and speak with the editor of the opinion page. (You can also use this conversation as an opportunity to educate the editor about the issue before sending your letter.)

  2. Monitor editors’ political leanings.

    Familiarise yourself with your paper’s editorial slant (i.e. conservative or liberal), and angle your letter appropriately. For example, if you are a targeting conservative paper, highlight how marijuana prohibition runs contrary to principles like limited government.  If you are targeting a liberal paper, mention how drug war spending limits the availability of funds for programs like education and the environment.

  3. Be timely

    Arguably the most decisive factor in whether a letter gets printed is the timeliness of the subject matter. Letters that respond to a recent article, editorial, and/or current event are most likely to be published.

  4. Be direct

    Many editors will not consider letters longer than 300 words. Do not generalise; your letter must be concise (three paragraphs or less) informative and compelling.

  5. Get personal

    Editors are more willing to publish a letter that shows local relevance to the community. Include local statistics or personal stories that will make an impact on your newspaper’s readers. For example, if you are writing a letter regarding marijuana arrests, highlight the effects in your own community. Or, if you are writing about medical marijuana, cite a relative or friend who is ill and might benefit from it.

  6. Don’t prejudice yourself

    Avoid statements like “as a marijuana smoker.” The key of a successful letter is to get readers to focus on the message rather than the messenger.

  7. Don’t make claims you can’t back up

    Provide citations for your arguments, and never use statements you can’t back up.  You can write pages full of truths, but if one fact is incorrect readers may dismiss (or forget) the bulk of your piece, and attack you on (or remember) the point you got wrong.

  8. Name names

    If a letter to the editor mentions an MP or local politician by name, they will see it. Elected representatives care about how they are being perceived in their electorate and pay close attention to letters asking them to take action.

  9. Encourage others to take a stand

    An effective letter informs those who agree with your position how to get further involved (e.g., support NORML) and urges readers to let their elected officials know their views.

  10. Be Reasonable and Courteous

    You can be animated and assertive without sounding like an extremist or being rude. Think about what you are saying. Write the letter, set it down, and then read it a few hours later. Let others read your letter before sending it.

Please send us a copy of any letters that are published. If you are serious about writing letters to the media, contact your local NORML branch for more help and assistance.

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