How To Write Letters to the Editor and Op-eds
An opinion editorial (op-ed) is a short written piece sent to a newspaper that offers a clear and opinionated view of a current events issue. Writing an op-ed gives the writer a chance to voice concerns or thoughts regarding a recent event or political issue; however op-eds are not in direct response to something already published. Letters to the editor (LTEs) are usually written responses to something that has appeared on the op-ed page or in a news story. Both LTEs and op-eds are an effective way to reframe or add to the contents of existing media coverage and get your message out to members of your community, including key decision-makers. Unlike newspaper articles, these letters are printed in your own words and can therefore have a great impact on your advocacy efforts. At the same time, it becomes even more important to craft your messages carefully. The following are a few tips to help you undertake this task.
Monitor the Paper
Monitor the paper’s “Letters-to-the-Editor” column. Assess the outlet’s balance in news coverage and write if you notice an imbalance, if you want to share a new perspective, offer an alternate solution. Monitor articles and op-eds about sexuality education and consider offering your opinion as a follow up.
Have a Reason for Writing
Construct your letters in response to a recent article, editorial, or community event. For example, “I am writing in response to your article about sexuality education, (‘Anytown Changes Sex Ed Program’, March 1, 2015).” For timeliness reasons (and to increase chances of publication), most outlets prefer email submissions in which the letter draft is pasted directly into an email and begins with a headline and "To the Editor" or "Dear Editor." Your letter should be submitted as quickly as possible after the publication of the original piece: within one or two days is best.
Explain Where You Fit In
Start by noting your relationship to the issue, such as “I am the father of a fifth-grader” or “I am a health professional.”
State the Facts
State facts to support your position. Include relevant data when applicable. For example, “I am concerned about rising teen pregnancy rates in Example County. According to the Department of Health, teen pregnancy rates increased at the staggering rate of XX percent between last year and this year.”
Keep it Short
Keep the letter short and to the point. Your letter should not exceed 200 words but the shorter your submission, the more likely it will be printed in its entirety. If the outlet decides to shorten your letter, it will usually be the final paragraphs — so don’t save your point for the end.
Stick to the issues and do not attack individual reporters. Readers will respect reasoned arguments. Emphasize one or two points in concise, compelling language.
Use the Opportunity
When applicable, take the opportunity to elicit support for your coalition or to encourage community members to attend school board meetings. Give people a way to contact you in case they would like to get involved.
Make the Connections
In some cases, it may help to connect sexuality education to other pertinent issues for your community. For example, “A conservative parents’ group has started attacking the existing sexuality education program, at the same time the group has asked that a variety of books be put on restricted access at the local library. Clearly, this group has a broader agenda.”
The last sentence of the letter is as important as the first. Restate your support for comprehensive sexuality education in the closing sentence of the letter.
Include Important Information
Read the submission guidelines for the outlet. Make sure to include your name, phone number, and the date you submitted the letter. Follow up with a phone call to find out if your letter will run.
March 10, 2015
I’m writing to strongly disagree with your editorial on how sexuality education harms our community and its young people, “Teaching Sex in Schools?” (3/3/2015).
The reality is that young people are already learning about sex from peers, TV/movies, and the Internet. Treating information like forbidden fruit may make us as adults feel more comfortable, but we are doing a disservice to students who need and will use this education for the rest of their lives.
Numerous studies have found sexuality education programs that include information on both abstinence and contraception to be effective in helping teens delay sexual intercourse, reduce their number of partners, and increase contraception and condom use when they do become sexually active. This approach to sexuality education is supported by major medical organizations, including the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine.
Nonetheless, our school board members are turning a blind eye to research and compromising the health and well-being of our young people. Parents for Better Education in Anytown believes that our young people deserve better—they deserve open and honest education that provides potentially life-saving information about their sexual health.
Parents for Better Education in Anytown
Examples of LTEs
- Caitlyn Caruso, Las Vegas Sun, "Include teens in the sex ed discussion"
- Laina Y. Bay-Cheng, MSW, Ph.D., The Buffalo News, "Letter: Condom access does not increase sexual behavior"
- Meg Boyko, Springfield News-Leader, "Letters: Congress needs to act on right funding for teen pregnancy prevention"
- Lola Akintobi, Wicked Local Somerville, "Letter: Lobbying for youth health”
- Susan Weinmann, The Washington Post, "A twisted argument against expanded sex education curriculum"
Examples of Op-eds
- Richard Carmona, Joycelyn Elders and David Satcher, The Washington Post, "Renew the U.S. commitment to sex education”
- Joyce McFadden, The Washington Post, "What happens to our girls when we don’t talk about sex”
- Bianca Laureano, Cosmopolitan, "Why We Need More Non-White Sex Ed Teachers”
- Multiple Authors, The New York Times “Room for Debate,” "What’s the Best Way to Teach Sex Ed Today?"
- Gloria Malone, The New York Times, "I Was a Teenage Mother"
- Cristina Aguilar, Medium, "We Can Support Preventing Unintended Pregnancy without Shaming Young People"