March 26, 2013

How to Write an Op-Ed/Letter to the Editor

In our last public relations-focused toolkit, we discussed how to pitch your preservation story to the news media. But if you have a time-sensitive or pressing preservation issue that you want to get in front of readers as soon as possible, then consider writing an op-ed or letter to the editor (LTE) instead. These allow you to express your opinion quickly while still reaching a large viewership.

Below are 10 tips on how to write a successful op-ed or letter to the editor about your preservation project.

1. Decide which form fits your message. The Op-Ed and Letters to the Editor (LTE) sections are among the most widely read sections of a newspaper. Publication of an op-ed or LTE will ensure your message reaches a large number of people. An op-ed is generally an article (600-750 words) that gives detailed understanding of both sides of an issue and explains why the author has chosen one side of the argument. A LTE is an even shorter response (150-200 words) that often addresses a recent article in that newspaper.

2. Select a topic and do your research. It is important to write about the preservation topics that interest and/or concern you. When pitching stories, make sure to read other articles from your target publication to get a sense of their content, and also become well-versed and articulate about your issue area.

3. Consider your audience. Readership will vary across publications, depending on the outlet’s focus and geographic reach. Identify whether your message would resonate more with a local, regional/state, or national audience. Then narrow down which publications can best reach your target reader.

Reader. Credit: spelio, Flickr

4. Think like a reader. Most readers will likely not have the background knowledge on the subject matter at hand, so remember to be thorough and provide details in a clear and concise way.

5. Include references in LTEs. If your LTE is in response to a previous article, or about a particular project or issue, make sure it refers back to those items so readers have a full scope of what is going on (in case they didn’t read the original pieces).

6. Use statistics to make your point. While you don’t want your piece to be laden with numbers, you do want to use statistics and facts that make your letter or op-ed stronger. Pertinent info might include how many buildings in your state have been nominated to the National Register, how much it costs to replace the windows in a historic house, and so on.

Statistics. Credit: SalFalko, Flickr

7. Provide evidence for your argument. If you’re putting together an op-ed about why going green in your historic home is more cost-effective, do not simply state it, but provide concrete reasoning as to why. Keep your copy concise and your points compelling.

8. Encourage readers to take action. If your op-ed/LTE is encouraging the reader to join the cause, let them know how they can become part of your project (or the movement overall). Provide the name of an organization they may join, a petition to sign, a link to donate, etc.

9. Submit your piece. Today, many publications accept op-eds and LTEs via email. Because op-ed or LTE tend to be timely, it is important to submit your article or letter quickly while the issue at hand is still relevant.

10. Follow up on your submission. After submitting your op-ed/LTE, wait a week before following up with the editor. Newsrooms are fast-paced, and often op-eds/LTEs can get lost in the shuffle. A quick call or email to determine the status of your submission is always a good idea. Following up will allow you to also answer any additional questions that the editor might have.

By: Sarah Coquillat, Public Affairs Intern

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