Letter To The Editor Writing Assignment Format

Have a strong feeling about something you read?  Write a letter to the editor.  Letters exist to provide a forum for public comment or debate.  A letter to the editor is meant to express your opinion or point of view about an article you have read from a news organization or website.

How to send StudentNewsDaily a Letter to the Editor:

E-mail:  editor@studentnewsdaily.com

Include:  your full name, school name & state, the headline & date of the article on which you are commenting

Letters may be edited for length, grammar and accuracy. (See additional guidelines below.)

To send a letter to the editor of any online news organization, the email address for the Letters Editor can generally be found under “Contact Us” at the bottom of the home page.

GUIDELINES FOR LETTER TO THE EDITOR:

  • Be TIMELY:  Write your letter within a day of the article’s date. (Letters to StudentNewsDaily will be accepted up to a month after posting.)
  • INCLUDE CONTACT INFORMATION:  Include your full name, city, state, phone # (many news organizations will call you to verify you really wrote the letter – most will not print anonymous letters).
  • BE CLEAR:  Make one main point.
  • BE CONCISE:  1- 3 paragraphs, 50-150 words. Short letters show confidence in your position.
  • BE ACCURATE:  Letters that are factually inaccurate are not printed.
  • BE INTERESTING:  Get your reader’s attention and keep it to the end of your letter. Open with an interesting fact or strong statement and keep your points as interesting as possible.
  • AVOID PERSONAL ATTACKS:  Show respect for the opposite opinion. Being rude may cause people to disagree with you on principle.
  • PROOFREAD:  Re-read your letter. Check for grammar and spelling mistakes. If possible, ask another person to read your letter for accuracy and clarity.
  • DON’T WORRY IF YOUR LETTER IS NOT PRINTED:  Even if it is well-written, it might not be printed if it addresses the same issue as letters already printed.

In your email, use the following format:

HEADING
To the Editor:  (If writing directly to the writer, substitute Dear Mr./Ms. ___)
Re: “headline” and date of article

BODY
1-3 paragraphs

CLOSING
Your full name
City, state
Your phone # (Only if requested by news organization)

SAMPLES:

Read several letters from the site you are writing to for an idea of the types of letters that the editors print.

Sample letter from the Dallas Morning News:

Re: “For Ebola, Obama abandons usual wait-and-see approach – President cleared schedule, named czar in response,” Monday news story.

The surgeon general of the U.S. is the operational head of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and thus the leading spokesman on matters of public health in the federal government of the United States.

So would someone explain to me why Rear Adm. Boris D. Lushniak, acting surgeon general, is not the White House point man for Ebola? Is it because President Obama has no confidence in him or feels the acting surgeon general and staff aren’t qualified to coordinate between the various federal public health departments and agencies, NIH, CDC, etc., and speak for the White House?

Apparently, Obama believes we need an “Ebola czar” to speak for him. For some reason appointing Ron Klain as the czar reeks of political favoritism and pandering to the Democratic base and is not in the public’s health interests.

John E., Wilmer, TX

Sample letter from The Denver Post:

Re: “Proposed Colorado marijuana edibles ban shows lingering pot discord”

It seems hard to believe that many forms of edible marijuana are made to look like candy and treats that children often eat, yet the public is supposed to believe that the marijuana industry isn’t marketing to the youth. It has been reported that nine children have been treated at local hospitals after ingesting marijuana edibles. Further, one college student jumped off of a balcony after eating a cookie that contained marijuana. Now, parents are being warned more than ever before to check their children’s Halloween candy, suggesting that if they see anything that looks unfamiliar or strange, it could be a form of edible marijuana and should be thrown out. For these reasons and for the health and safety of all youth in Colorado, banning edible marijuana seems like the clear choice.

MC, Lakewood, CO

NOTE ON POSTING COMMENTS (vs. writing a letter to the editor):

  • Online editions of many newspapers, in addition to inviting readers to write “letters to the editor,” also allow readers to post comments directly below articles.
  • News websites that only have an online presence (e.g., YahooNews) generally don’t include a “Letters to the Editor” section.  Instead, most allow readers to sign up to post comments directly below the article.
  • People are for the most part permitted to comment anonymously.
  • “Comments” differ from “letters to the editor” in that there are no specific guidelines, except to refrain from profanity, and the stipulation that inappropriate reader comments will most likely be removed by the website administrator.
  • Some comments do not appear to be well-thought out arguments, but rather revert to the use of rude or inflammatory language (insults and name-calling) to express opinions about a topic.

STUDENTS:  Remember when posting any comments online in any form — if you are not sure if you should post it, DON’T POST IT. 


Learn How to Write and Format a Letter to the Editor

Letters Are Quick, Persuasive, and Useful

The opinion page is one of the most-read pages of any newspaper. The others sections are the sports page, comics, and obituaries. My theory: after you cry about the White Sox losing again, you'll want to laugh, and then you want to see who you've outlived.

People don't read the opinion pages for the sane and reasonable editorials, which are typically unsigned. They don't read the opinion pages for the Pulitzer-prize winning syndicated columnists.

No, people read their newspaper's opinion pages for three reasons:

  1. George Will won't be writing about whether the county should allow a new coal plant to get built by old man Miller's farm,
  2. Their friends and neighbors will be writing about local issues -- and people -- that matter to them, and
  3. There is a good chance that somebody wrote an op-ed or letter to the editor that is more than a little nuts. And that's always entertaining.

I'm not suggesting you write crazy letters to the editor. Far from it. But if there's ever a time where you can use humor and wit, this is it.

Writing Letters to the Editor: Length and Format

Different newspapers will have entirely different requirements on length. Some papers will only publish 200 words or less. Others newspapers run 500-word manifestos if they're interesting enough. But let's keep it simple: stick to 200 words, and you'll be safe, no matter which newspaper you're targeting.

Here's the format:

Give Your Letter a Snappy Headline

Letters are persuasive, not informative, so give your headline a point. Persuasion is about getting people to make decisions. If they read your letter, what do you want them to do? Put that in the headline.

A letter to the editor is first-person and all about the message.

It's not an essay or a term paper. If you want to see bad examples of writing on the opinion page, hold it out at arms-length and look for pieces littered with quotes, numbers, and acronyms. They're easy to spot. And nobody will read them.

Your format is also important. If you write a letter to the editor using the inverted pyramid -- most important thing first, least important last -- it won't be persuasive. It will be boring. Build up to your conclusion. Think of it as the climax of an action movie: the final showdown with the villain doesn't come first. It's the last scene of the movie.

At the end of your letter, put these things:

  • Your name
  • Your town
  • Daytime phone number
  • E-mail address

They're not going to publish your phone number or e-mail. These two things are included when you submit a letter so they can verify that you sent it. You're going to send it by e-mail, and it's easy to fake things by e-mail.

Am I saying you can't send a letter to the editor by fax or snail mail? Yes. I'm saying that. Newspapers still list their fax numbers out of habit, and their snail mail addresses because people send them checks that way, and they sort of like checks. But no editor wants to spend their days retyping letters and op-eds.

Ship your letter to the editor by e-mail, and look on the editorial page for the right e-mail address.

Why Letters to the Editor Are Wonderful

Letters to the editor are underutilized. Editors and reporters will roll their eyes if you ask them how many press releases they get every day. I know an AP bureau chief who gets 700 to 1,000 press releases every day. Think about having to wade through all of those. Your index finger will develop a callous from hitting the DELETE key.

Letters to the editor and op-eds are the opposite. Most newspapers want more, not less. They're happy to get good pieces written by local public figures.

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