Writing Op-Eds and Letters to the Editor
Op-Eds and letters to the Editor are short articles in a
newspaper's Editorial Section. Letters are usually about 250
words or less; Op-Eds about 800 words. Letters generally respond
to a previous article in the paper. Op-Ed stands for either
opposite the editorial page, or opinions & editorials
(depending on which source you believe).
All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience.
-- Mao Zedong
Op-Eds and Letters to the Editor can be very useful tools for
advocates to get your message out.
- Most policymakers read these religiously; it is an important way
for elected officials to track issues important to their
- It is a cheap (free) way to address public opinion. You can
explain why mental illness is not a flaw of character or how we all
pay for care for the uninsured.
- They are your words, your message. No misquoting, no chance that
the reporter will miss your point (or come to his own). And your
opponents have to write their own article to get a response in.
- It is an excellent way to explain a complex issue. When
Connecticut was considering whether HUSKY
should be a Medicaid expansion or a separate non-entitlement
program, advocates were arguing for the former. It was a difficult
sell, because we had been critical of Medicaid managed care for
years and it took a good stretch of time with a policymaker to
explain that this really wasn't a contradiction. A timely Op-Ed in
Courant helped solve that problem. (We still lost, but not
because we were misunderstood).
- You can make connections in policy that are more difficult in
hallway conversations. For example, the connection between
reductions in spending on health care for children and resulting
productivity losses by employers of parents.
- If your issue is not getting press, or is now "old
news", an article can revive the issue.
- While it is difficult to get published in the Courant (they get
over 300 letters each day), smaller papers are often hungry for
- You can give your article to a policymaker to submit in their
name. (A little secret, and it is between you and your conscience if
this is OK with you). You get to put words in policymakers' mouths
(it doesn't get better than that) and visibility. And they get
publicity on an important issue. If you do this, keep it between you
and the policymaker.
- You may even get paid !!!!! (Don't get excited, it's not a lot).
How to write an Op-Ed or Letter to the Editor:
- Plan your message. Choose just one. Don't try to pack too much in.
If you have a different take or a unique perspective on an issue, it
is more likely to be published.
- Choose your target. If you are trying to move public opinion, look
for the paper with the largest circulation. If you want to reach a
particular legislator, choose his hometown paper or one you know
that he reads.
- Read the paper(s). Find out what kind of issues and writing styles
are likely to be published.
- Contact the paper and find out their policies. You want to know
- How to submit - email, FAX, regular mail
- Timing - when you can submit and how long it will likely take to
- Length limitations
- Do they only take exclusive submissions - The Hartford Courant
will not accept your article if you are also sending it to other
- Any other rules - For example, do they allow you to use
pseudonyms for people in the story (this was important in our last
Op-Ed here at the Project), do they allow more than one person to
- Start writing.
- Keep it as short as possible. When they say 750 words, they mean
it. The most common reason that articles are not published is
because they are too long.
- Be clear. Big words and lots of statistics do not score more
points, they just lose the reader.
- Be direct. Don't use sarcasm or hypothetical questions. Don't
make them guess what your point is.
- Real life stories engage readers and can often make a point in
far fewer words than a page of statistics.
- Choose words carefully. Do not offend. No personal attacks. Do
nothing that detracts the reader from your point.
- Use humor, as long as it is appropriate.
- Explain your stake in the issue up front. If you are a health
care provider arguing for higher rates or a person with
disabilities arguing against cuts in services, say so.
- It can be effective if you bring up your opponents' case and
prove it wrong. If you can't, don't include it.
- Offer readers action steps, if possible.
- Include your name, address, a phone number where you can be
reached, any organizational affiliation, and a one-sentence
description of that organization. You definitely do not have to be
writing on behalf of an organization to get published.
- Put it aside for a few days or a week.
- Triple check your facts.
- Ask a friend to read it over to check for errors and to be sure it
is understandable and engaging.
- Next, send it to the paper(s) they way they asked to get it.
- Check to be sure that they got it - that the right person got it.
If there is a timing issue to publication, e.g. an upcoming vote,
let them know.
- Call back in a few days if you haven't heard anything. They should
call you to confirm that you really wrote the piece before they
publish it. You may have to call back a few times before you get an
answer. Be persistent.
- They may want you to make some changes or they may make the
changes and send it to you for approval. Don't take it personally -
that's what editors do. And they are usually right.
- Do not get discouraged if they don't print your article. Find out
as much as you can about why. Consider sending it to another paper.
- If you do get published, save the clipping. Send it to
policymakers in case they didn't see it.
Carolyn Lumsden, an editor at the Hartford Courant sent this as their
guidance for potential Op-Ed authors.
Those who wish to write for the Other Opinion page should
preferably have expertise or personal experience with the subject they are
writing about. It's best to take sides in a debate about a public issue. We
do not publish poetry or anonymous or pseudonymous articles.
Here are guidelines for writing for the page:
Get right into the subject. Make your position clear
from the beginning.
Keep your sentences short, and don't try to make too
many arguments in one article.
Be sure that all names are correct and all quotations
Be sure to end your article with a forceful conclusion.
Submit your story, typed or printed double-spaced, with
a self-addressed envelope so we may let you know whether it's been
selected for publication. Be sure to include your job title, home
address, day and evening telephone numbers and Social Security number in
the event you are paid for a published article.
Mail your article to: Other Opinion Page, 285 Broad St.,
Hartford, CT 06115. If your article must reach the editors immediately,
fax it to 860-520-6941. Or e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Changing Public Opinion
Tips for talking with reporters
Research - Finding and
CT Health Policy Project's last Op-Ed
Hartford Courant form to submit letters
Hartford Courant Editorials
Hartford Courant Other Opinion list
Courant OP-ED Guidelines
New Haven Register and affiliated papers http://www.ctcentral.com/site/news.asp?brd=1773
Connecticut Advocate papers http://www.newmassmedia.com/directory/
Waterbury Republican - with an electronic submission form http://www.rep-am.com/
Hartford Courant -- Tips for Getting Your Letters
Hartford Courant -- The Science of Better Letters
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