Citizen Action Kit: Op-eds and Letters to the Editor

The Physicians Committee

Citizen Action Kit

Op-eds and Letters to the Editor

Letters to the editor and op-eds in your local newspapers influence and educate your community. You don’t need to be an experienced writer to submit one. The letters you read in the paper are written by people who want to share their opinion with others.

Publications are most likely to print op-eds or letters when they are sent in response to an article or current event. If you are a student, consider writing a letter or op-ed to your school newspaper, as well as your community papers.

Congressional members pay attention to the opinions expressed in their region’s papers, and your letter or op-ed may inspire others to take a stand or become involved.

Submitting pieces to national publications such as The New York Times or USA Today gives you an opportunity to potentially reach hundreds of thousands of people. However, you have a greater chance of getting your letter printed in your local newspaper.

Your piece will be more compelling if you tie it to a personal story, current event, or issue that is already in the news. If you have a degree, profession, or any credentials that pertains to the topic, mention it.

And make sure to use spell check! You might also have a friend read over your piece to look for grammar errors or typos before you submit it.

Information on how to submit letters or op-eds is typically listed in the opinion section of the publication. Often there is a submission form provided on the publication’s website. Look for a "Contact Us" button on the site. Never send your letter as an attachment. If the newspaper provides an online submission form, use that, or paste your writing into the body of an e-mail.

After you submit the piece, follow up with a phone call to make sure it was received.

Letters to the Editor

  • Length: About 150 words.

  • Style: Focus on one idea and convey it in a simple, direct way. Use personal stories or humor when appropriate.

  • Structure: One common model is to present an opinion in the first paragraph and strengthen it with supporting arguments.

  • What to include: Your mailing address, e-mail address, and phone number. These will not be printed, but newspapers often call to verify letters. Also include the title and date of any article you may be responding to.

Did you know?
The word "op-ed" evolved because these pieces are usually printed on the page opposite to where the paper's editorials are printed. Editorials express the opinions of the newspapers editors, but op-eds are submitted by contributors outside of the newspaper.


  • Length: From 500 to 700 words.

  • Style: Expresses an opinion in a clear, direct, informed, and personalized way.

  • What to include: Your mailing address, e-mail address, phone number, and a short note introducing your piece and yourself. Publications typically call if they are interested in printing an op-ed, but following up more than once may increase the chances of editors giving your piece serious consideration.

Don’t give up if your oped is not printed. Send it to one publication at a time and follow up with a phone call.

If Your Piece Is Printed

You can get more mileage out of your written piece after it is printed.

  • Send a copy to your legislator. (If it is not printed, print out a copy of what you wrote and send it to your legislator's office with a note explaining your intention.)

  • Share a link to your printed piece with your friends, family, and colleagues through e-mail or social media. If you don't already have profiles on Facebook or Twitter, join now; they are free and excellent tool for raising awareness.