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Letters to the Editor, Op-Eds, and Online Comments

Letters to the Editor

When should you write a letter to the editor?

There are many scenarios in which a letter to the editor could be an effective way to highlight your message.

  • You want to advocate for a particular policy or program.
  • You want to publicly voice your support for or opposition to an issue.
  • You'd like to correct the record or provide a different perspective on a recently addressed topic in the news outlet.
  • You want to raise public awareness or provide additional information about an issue that affects your school or district.

What should I keep in mind when writing a letter to the editor?

  1. Keep it brief. Most papers limit letters to no more than 150 words.
  2. Keep it relevant. Successful letters to the editor reference or respond to a recent news story or commentary in the target publication.
  3. Move quickly. Submit your letter within one to three days of the article you're referencing to maximize your chance of publication.
  4. Stay on message. Focus your letter on the specific issue you're addressing. Begin with the main point you'd like to make and follow with a small number of supporting details and arguments.
  5. Be respectful. Even when voicing opposition, stay away from accusations and hyperbole. Your letter will represent you, your school and your district.
  6. Do your homework. Each news outlet has separate guidelines regarding length, format and submission procedures that are listed publicly on their website and/or in the opinion section itself.

Letter to the Editor Template

(Hover over highlighted text for comments and explanations.)

The federal "Get Moving" initiative ("A New Role for Gym Class", September 12) has provided critical funds that are helping the Springfield Public Schools keep students healthy, but lasting success will only be possible when families reinforce the importance of physical activity outside of school.

I encourage local parents and caretakers to set a positive example by finding time, particularly as the days grow shorter, to spend walking, cycling and playing with kids. Even 30 minutes a day of moderate activity can have an enormous impact on our children's energy and health (and our own).

On October 1, Springfield Elementary School will host the first annual Community Track and Field day. Family, friends and community members are all invited to join us for friendly competition and to mark our shared commitment to giving this generation a chance at a healthier, longer life.

Anne Purcell
Principal, Springfield Elementary School
234 Main Street
Springfield, MA 12345
(123) 456-7890

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When should you propose or submit a commentary?

Similarly to a letter to the editor, commentaries or op-eds are appropriate for advocating for or against a particular concept. Commentaries are better suited than letters to the editor, however, for introducing a new idea to your target audiences. They are also lengthier, more challenging to create and harder to successfully submit than letters to the editor. Opinion pieces are thus better suited to scenarios in which you have a significant, long-term interest in an issue and where you are providing new information important to the readership.

What should I keep in mind when writing an op-ed?

  1. Be specific. Editors are looking for new perspectives and insight into an issue that haven't yet (or recently) been voiced. Make sure that your essay answers the questions:
    • What is the problem, challenge or new development that you're addressing?
    • What new information or perspective do you have to offer?
    • Are there aspects of the issue that are not well understood by readers or well covered by the media?
    • What solutions, if appropriate, are you recommending?
  2. Back up your arguments. As with any pieces of persuasive writing, op-eds are strongest when they incorporate quantitative and qualitative evidence to support their claims.
  3. Keep an eye on the news. Your chances of publication are greatly improved when your op-ed responds to or references current events and developments.
  4. Collaborate. Consider co-authoring your op-ed with someone that shares your perspective and can lend additional credibility to your piece. Co-authors should be limited to two, three at a maximum.
  5. Make it personal. Keep your target audiences in mind and consider why those readers should care about the issue you're addressing. How does it affect their families, jobs or community? Telling a story is always more effective than reciting facts and figures.
  6. Get in and get out. The ideal length for an op-ed is between 600 and 750 words. Check the submission guidelines for your target outlet to be sure.
  7. Take it one step at a time. You may have several outlets in mind for your op-ed submission. Start with your highest priority newspaper or website and allow the editors at least three business days to consider your piece before submitting to another.

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Online Comments

When should I post a comment on an online story or blog post?

Today, online news sites (either tied to print publications or independently managed) and blogs provide us with an expanded array of forums for sharing our perspectives with local, regional and national readers. Articles on these sites are generally open to comments, which may or may not be moderated for content.

You may want to respond in an online publication if:

  • You want your thoughts to be shared as quickly as possible with readers. Professionally moderated sites, including most major papers, generally post comments within several hours of submission (if not significantly sooner).
  • You want to provide additional information to readers that relates to the article or post, particularly if it's best shared via hyperlink.

Use caution in responding in an online publication if:

  • The topic is particularly controversial or there are possible legal or personnel issues.
  • Responding could make you or your school appear to be on the defensive.
  • The publication or blog itself is not a respected source of information. By commenting, you lend credibility and draw attention to the site.

What should I keep in mind when posting a comment to an online story or blog post?

  1. Be (even) briefer. Different sites establish different length restrictions on comments, so it's tempting to expound beyond the typical length of a letter to the editor. Stick to your main message to ensure that readers glancing through the comments are more likely to catch what you've said.
  2. Add value. There's no point in commenting unless you have something new (such as a link to another relevant article or resource) to add to the discussion.
  3. Stay out of the fray. It's well known that many comments are created by "serial commenters" who often get into extended debates with one another. There's little to be gained from entering into most of these conversations or from trying to convince diehards on either side of an issue in these forums to consider a new perspective.
  4. Be yourself. If you're speaking in your professional capacity, you should select a username that reflects your own.
  5. Respond quickly. Some news sites close down the comments sections of articles after a certain time period has passed or a number of comments have been reached, and older articles and posts tend to get fewer views than more recent pieces.

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