Why write a letter to the editor?
Letters to the editor are among the most widely read features in any newspaper or magazine. A personal letter to the editor can mean an important environmental cause reaches a large audience. In doing so you have a chance to influence public opinion, move everyday people to take action and influence decision-makers directly or indirectly.
Here are some tips from the Greenpeace crew on writing an effective letter.
Style and tone
Keep it short and sweet. Many newspapers have limits on the length of letters (200-300 words is often a maximum) so keep your letter focused and brief. Check your local paper for their guidelines (for example the Waikato Times).
- Be constructive in making a simple point;
- Give context with a personal experience that is relevant
- Remember your audience and they are from diverse backgrounds. Speak to the publication’s readers; imagine talking to your neighbour over the fence, someone who is curious and cares about the environment;
- Speak to suggestions for solutions, don’t just give people problems;
- Use a verified fact or two, but not too many.
- Insults, mocking, taking people down
- Jargon, technical terms, academic language
- Criticising the newspaper or editor
Seven simple steps
- Start with a simple salutation. Eg. ‘To the editor of the Otago Daily Times’
- If replying to a previous letter, state your opinion or the argument you’re responding to quickly and concisely. You’ll need to state the name and date of the article or letter that you’re responding to. Eg: ‘I take issue with the Mr Bagrie‘s opinion piece “Why we need synthetic nitrogen fertiliser (9 March).‘
- Share your personal interest. Mention anything that shows you have a personal stake in the issue. Eg: ‘As someone who is working in the agriculture sector I agree strongly that to continue to grow nutritious food the focus should be on looking after the soil.‘
- Back it up with a knock-out fact or two. Eg. ‘A 2019 report found nitrate was the contaminant with the highest risk ranking in Southland’s groundwater.‘
- Say what should be done. We know there are problems, what’s the solution? Point the readers to any actions they can take
- Close with a simple sentence that summarises your point of view on the issue so your readers have a clear reminder of your main message. Eg. ‘The Councillors need to act urgently to phase out synthtic nitrogen fertiliser, as we know they can.’
- Sign off. Write your full name (and title, if relevant) and include your address, phone number, and e-mail address. Newspapers won’t print anonymous letters, though in some cases they may withhold your name on request.
Have a question? Email the Greenpeace crew at [email protected]