6 Strategies for Writing a Better Letter to the Editor

By Elisa Zied, MS, RDN, CDN
Woman reading the newspaper - How to Write a Letter to the Editor

Philip Date/Hemera/Thinkstock

06/14/16 - When my first letter to the editor was published in Parents magazine, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited to see my name in print in a magazine I read and enjoyed. But what made me most proud was the fact that my opinion — as both a registered dietitian nutritionist and new mother — would reach more than a million people.

Since then, I have had more than a dozen letters to the editor published in outlets including the New York Times, TV Guide, Time, New York magazine, US News & World Report and Working Mother magazine, among others.

I have found that writing letters to the editor is an excellent way to share my expertise as a science-based communicator, practice and improve my writing and communication skills and hone my critical thinking when reading articles about food, nutrition and other health-related topics. Combining these skills with the ability to communicate in sound bites can be invaluable when working with clients, consumers or the media.

While getting your letter published is not guaranteed, there are strategies for writing an effective letter to the editor that will improve your odds:

Follow Directions

Most newspapers, magazines and online publications have guidelines for submitting letters to the editor, such as word length restrictions. Read these guidelines and follow them.

Read, Read, Read

Before you write a letter to a publication, read other letters it has published to learn the outlet's style and content preferences.

Timing Is Everything

Sharing your thoughts or reactions to an article sooner rather than later inevitably increases your chances of publication. Submit your letter early in the day for daily or weekly publications, or within 48 hours for monthly publications.

Focus Your Energy

Respond only to articles to which you have a strong reaction, negative or positive. It is far easier to compose a thoughtful, passionate response to a topic that excites or fires you up.

Craft a Clever Message

Phrase your thoughts in a fresh and interesting way. Use descriptive words and be creative to help your letter stand out.

Style Counts

Make sure your letter conveys your message clearly and effectively in short, declarative sentences. Write in the active voice. And before sending your letter, check your spelling and grammar.

When RDNs share our opinions about timely food, nutrition and health topics, we add a much needed science-based perspective and reinforce to the public and the media the value of registered dietitian nutritionists and our role as the foremost food and nutrition experts.