Tips for Writing and Placing Letters to the Editor

Letters to the editor and op-eds are a great way to gain visibility for your recycling program and let you use the news cycle to your advantage. When residents read stories about recycling, the environment or other topics that relate to your program, this can be a good way to insert your message into the larger story about recycling. They typically require a lot less time than trying to generate a news article.

An op-ed is often a bit trickier to place. This is an article that usually must be offered exclusively only to one newspaper. If the paper decides to print it, it would run on their opinion or editorial page. Almost all newspapers accept letters to the editor and they do not have to be exclusive.

We’ve provided a sample op-ed and letter to the editor that you can localize and pitch to your local newspaper. But make sure to add your own local angle!

Here are a few tips for letters to the editor:

Step 1
Regularly follow your local or regional newspaper and identify stories on subjects related to your recycling program. These stories could be surrounding a particular event such as America Recycles Day or a national news story.

Step 2
Draft your letter or op-ed in response to the news story. Keep the letter short and focus on just the part of the story that relates to your program. It is important that your letter focus on one particular point and not try to cover everything discussed in a story. For example, a perfect opportunity is if your local paper writes a story about recycling statewide. If you aren’t able to talk to the reporter before the story comes out to provide information about how your community is adopting the campaign, definitely draft a letter to the editor as a follow-up to the article.

Step 3
Find the proper e-mail contact at the publication to send your letter. You can normally find the contact on the publication’s Web site or by simply calling their editorial department. Note: The contact for submission will likely not be the reporter or author of the article (if in response to an article).

Step 4
Check the newspaper over the next few days/week following your submission to see if your letter has been published.

The following are some tips on writing an effective letter to the editor:

  • It is a good idea to check with individual publications for their specific guidance on submitting letters to the editor.
  • It should be no more than 250 words, and you should expect the paper to shorten it because of space concerns.
  • The editor is not obliged to print letters, so do not be surprised if your piece is not published.
  • Reference the date and headline of the article you are responding to in your letter.
  • Stick with one fact or assertion, and keep the letter concise.
  • Make certain to include any relevant biographical material about you that makes you an appropriate person to write the letter. Consider having the letter come from your mayor or commissioner. The higher the title of the individual submitting the letter, the more likely the letter is to get printed.

Here are a few tips for drafting and placing op-eds:

  • Op-eds do not necessarily need to relate to a recent article, but they should relate to timely news.  Luckily, the environment is a timely and very relevant topic these days. Op-eds can be a bit lengthier than letters to the editor – between 500 and 800 words on average. 
  • Contact your local paper and ask if they accept op-eds, BEFORE writing one. Find out any requirements they have. For example, some newspapers have strict word counts, etc.
  • Unlike letters to the editor, a newspaper considers this an article and won’t likely edit it without your permission. If they are interested in printing your op-ed, they will expect that you won’t give it to any other newspaper. Prioritize what newspapers you’d like to run your op-ed in and only pitch it to one at a time. Once one has said they are not interested, then move on to the next. 
  • The author of an op-ed is very important and will increase the likelihood of a newspaper being interested. Consider the most senior person possible – for example, your mayor or city commissioner versus local recycling coordinator. Be sure to include the person’s name and full title when submitting. 

Still have questions about op-eds or letters to the editor? Contact us.