Media Advice: Letters to the Editor

This is a short, specific guide to writing to broadcast and newspaper editors.

There are a number of reasons why you might want to write a letter to the editor of a newspaper or broadcast program. You might wish to raise an issue which you feel has gone under-reported; respond to an article or to notify them of any errors they may have made.

Whether dealing with the editor of a local free paper, or the BBC News, there are certain principles which it pays to follow. Firstly, it is absolutely vital that your letter is well written, professional, and does not come across as a rant. A badly written, ranting letter will do your campaign no end of trouble - undoing any good relationships that you may have built up with various journalists.

It is worth noting that there are two different types of 'letter to the editor'. The first is (rather obviously) a personal letter written to the editor; the second is a letter written for publication. There are slightly different guidelines to follow:

  • If you are writing directly to the editor, then try to find out his or her name. If you can, then use it.
  • If you are writing a letter for publication, then it is customary to begin your letter with "Sir," rather than addressing the editor directly. Be sure to check whether there is a seperate address or email for letters (often letters@sample.com).
  • Give a daytime phone number where you can be contacted. Be sure to be available for comment.
  • Make your first paragraph count.
  • Keep your letter simple and short. Editors are pressed for time, and are unlikely to struggle through a long, rambling letter. Also, if you are writing for publication, then you are more likely to get published if there is little or no editing to be done.
  • If writing for publication, remember that your letter can be edited. Make sure that you stick to one point, so that your words cannot be twisted or misinterpreted if cut down.
  • Avoid point scoring and piety. It looks petty. Be calm, rational and authoritative.
  • React quickly, particularly if writing for publication. Newspapers have deadlines, and the letters section's is normally about 2pm for a daily. What was relevant today may not be relevant tomorrow.
  • If commenting on an article, be sure to mention the title and date of the piece. This will make it easier for the letters editor to know what you are talking about.
  • It is also worth reading a few examples of published letters to get an idea of the house style. Tabloids are more acceptable of slang; broadsheets tend towards dry, academic responses.
  • Some groups have written letters opposing their own demands (under a pseudonym) to keep a debate going. This can work well, but can also backfire. Be sure to make your fake letter less convincing than your real one, or you might lose the argument!

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