Letters to the editor has been used extensively in public health and in other areas to provide a powerful outlet for voicing an opinion on policy actions or key issues. Letters to the editor are among the most-read sections of newspapers, and members of congress often review letters to the editor from newspapers from districts in their states (National Council on Aging, 2018). Therefore, a letter to the editor serves a broader purpose than direct communications with legislators. It is an effective advocacy tool for:
• Engaging communities affected by organizational or legislative policy actions.
• Responding to news articles on scientific advances.
• Informing the public about important public health issues.
Providing guidance for future action on key issues
What should go into a letter to the editor?
A letter to the editor should contain several key items, including a clearly articulated position, a critique of the merits of a policy action (or scientific study), and recommended action steps directed to policymakers (or researchers) (Bhattacharya, 2013). Use at least one but no more than five references in a letter to the editor. The format required for citation of sources will vary by newspaper (although for this assignment, APA format is required). References may be hyperlinked within the letter, included at the end of the published letter, or not included at all. Nonetheless, it is important from an ethical perspective that you accurately convey information and use sources to support opinions and recommendations.
How long should a letter to the editor be?
A typical letter to the editor should be 200 to 400 words, (Bhattacharya, 2013). In fact, many online submission forms will not accept content that exceeds the maximum word limit. The short length of a letter to the editor emphasizes the importance of being direct, concise, and complete.
What should a letter to the editor look like?
Review letters to the editor related to public health that have been accepted by the New York Times (n.d.) to get an idea of the types of letters accepted by the publication. Note the short length, clear and direct wording, and listed references at the end. The Public Health Institute (n.d.) also offers Tips for Writing Letters to the Editor, including a template to help organize your ideas.
Bhattacharya, D. (2013). Public health policy: Issues, theories, and advocacy. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
National Council on Aging. (2018). Letter to the editor sample. Retrieved from https://www.ncoa.org/public-policy-action/advocacy-toolkit/leveraging-media/sample-letter-to-editor/
The New York Times. (n.d.). Opinion: Letters to the editor. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/section/opinion/letters
Public Health Institute. (n.d.). Tips for writing letters to the editor. Retrieved from http://www.phi.org/resources/?resource=tips-for-writing-effective-letters-to-the-editor
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