MAP Tips for Getting Letters to the Editor Published

  • In general, letters written in response to editorials are more likely to be published than letters written in response to wire stories (does not apply to major news stories). Avoid scathing criticism. Civility will increase the likelihood of your views being published.
  • Respond to major news stories while they are still hot. Nonetheless, investing time in editing pays off. Always spell-check your letter.
  • Local newspapers are far more likely to publish letters than out of state papers (does not apply to major newspapers).
  • Adding local relevance helps, especially when replying to an AP wire story (use the MAP search functions). Repeat information found in the article if necessary.
  • Including credible statistics to make a point helps, especially when government statistics are used (see Include links to government websites whenever possible.
  • Write with a specific target audience in mind, i.e. soccer moms, fiscal conservatives, etc.
  • Tailor letters for specific newspapers. If you're going to write to the Wall Street Journal you can be pedantic, but you'd better dumb it down for certain papers. You're always better off preempting editors.
  • Use an organizational affiliation if possible. Consider starting a local drug policy organization, if only to get the reform message out.
  • Most newspapers require that letters submitted be exclusive. When recycling letters make slight edits. Having the exact same letter published in both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun on the same day would not be good. Having the exact same letter simultaneously published in Alabama and Idaho should not pose a problem.
  • It's important to keep track of when you last sent a particular newspaper a letter. Likewise, avoid sending the same letter to the same newspaper twice. Anything that indicates you've got a system in place will hurt your chances of getting published.
  • Last but definitely not least, visit the newspaper's website and find out what their policy is for publishing letters. In general, letters should be under 250 words. The shorter the letter, the greater the chance of it being published. Most papers will edit letters down to less than 200 words anyway. You're better off aiming for roughly 200 words and sticking to one or two key points. There are many brilliant activists out there who would be published far more often if they just shortened their letters.

Robert Sharpe