You can put that power to work in your community by writing letters to the editor. Activists and advocates use letters to the editor (LTEs) to speak to the issues that matter to them in a voice loud enough for their communities—and congresspeople—to hear. But “activists and advocates”? That’s you. And me. When we write letters to the editor, we say, and to a large audience, a bit about who we are, what we care about, and why we think others should care about it, too.
The best LTEs are the published ones, so follow the rules to get yours read:
- Make it short: Aim for 150 words. LTEs over 200 words are edited or discarded.
- Make it topical: Offer a timely response to newspaper coverage (or noncoverage), usually within two or three days,.
- Make it specific: Name names, including the name of the article or the name of your representative.
- Make it interesting: Include relevant stats, personal info, or other connections that make for a compelling story (rather than an alienating screed).
- Make it actionable: Conclude with a call-to-action that describes the specific change you want to see.
- Make it real: Write as yourself, not as the expert you want others to believe you are.
- Make it conform: Follow the reqs for submission, especially those that ask for your name, address, and phone number.
While some of us rely on the power of the pen too frequently (guilty!), others seldom make use of its persuasive potential. In an unsurprising twist, this is especially the case for women. The New York Times editorial page recently addressed its gender disparity after reader and PhD candidate Kimberly Probolus wrote in both to persuade women to write more LTEs and to ask for institutional change.
The editors responded to Probolus’s letter by pledging to do better (maybe they’ll follow Ed Yong‘s protocol, as narrated in The Atlantic). The editors also asked women (and others who feel underrepresented) to write in and indicated they would begin to cull letters from a wider variety of outlets.
So, women, if there’s an issue in your community that you care about, if your local paper covers a topic but leaves out the most important parts, if an article fails to make clear to readers the ramifications of a congressperson’s political stance, LTEs offer you an opportunity to flex your informed muscle.
Letters to the editor speak to the issues that matter: You don’t have to be an “activist” or an “advocate” to write one. You don’t even have to be a “writer” (or a man). You just have to be willing to use your voice.