Letters to the editor (LTEs) are typically short piece (< 300 words), in contrast with opinion pieces (op-eds) which may be longer (800-1200 words).
Newspapers publish them as a space for social debate on opinions or to discuss issues missed by the regular news. They are written with a clear opinion and chosen by the editor of the paper. They are popular because they are among the most read sections in the newspaper.
Before you begin writing
- Pay attention to submission requirements (word length, how to submit).
- Read other opinion/LTEs in that newspaper to get a sense of the criteria they use.
- If you have a relationship, call or discuss the opinion piece with the editor before submitting. For example, sometimes editors feel a story or particular angle has been exhausted and may indicate the need for a fresh angle. (See How to Build a Positive Relationship with Press.)
How to write an attractive letter to the editor/op-ed
- Connect it with something that is already happening in the news. Reference a former article that the newspaper wrote, or an event that happened in the community. Then link it to what you want to talk about. (See Framing Climate Change as News: Lessons from The Guardian.)
- Keep the more important part of your message at the top. Sometimes editors may cut out the last part of your letter.
- Make sure every sentence has its own purpose.
- Make sure you know your message, what you want to say, and use clear and simple language—short words and sentences go a long way!
- If you have a strong personal story, include it (a compelling human story goes a long way to hook editors and readers).
An example letter to the editor
Re “Forecast: Expect Temperatures to Rise in Copenhagen” (Week in Review, Dec. 6):
Despite many divisions at the Copenhagen climate talks, there is one part of society that is united: young people. The two of us, both in our 20s, from India and the United States, are here in Copenhagen with over 1,000 more youth from over 100 countries as part of a growing international youth climate movement.
This October, we helped organize over 5,200 events in over 180 countries to call for a strong climate target to safeguard our survival: 350 parts per million, the safe upper limit of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Now we’re looking for our leaders to set aside the divisions that we as youth have overcome and sign a fair, ambitious and binding treaty here in Copenhagen. If we can work together, so can our parents.
Roselin Dey & Jamie Henn (Copenhagen, Dec. 6, 2009)
An Example Op-Ed
People power to drive the definitive decoupling of fossil fuels from our future
There has never been a better time to break free from fossil fuels. Record breaking global temperatures, plummeting fossil fuel prices, historic investments in renewable energy, and a growing global movement to maintain pressure to honour climate pledges are all coming together in a perfect storm.
2016 will be the year we break free, as people-power rises and fossil fuels become redundant. Research published earlier this month by the International Energy Agency (IEA) is clear, global greenhouse gas emissions and economic growth are now decoupled with global CO2 remaining at the same levels for the second year in a row. What this means is that fossil fuels are no longer the life-line of our economy.
The UN Climate Agreement forged in Paris last year confirmed 2C as the limit for global warming which should not be passed. It also agreed to “pursue efforts” to limit warming to 1.5C, which has now become imperative in light of the latest data published by NASA.
2015 was confirmed as the hottest year on record, and this global run of record-breaking temperatures has continued through January and into February. According to NASA, global temperatures were 1.35C above the February average – based on a 1951-1980 baseline.
Oil prices have fallen two-thirds in 18 months and are forecast to remain low for months to come, resulting in huge declines in profits for fossil fuel giants such as Shell, BP and Statoil. Coal is not faring any better. Following on from China’s announced moratorium on new coal at the end of last year, Peabody, the world’s largest coal company, issued a warning it might have to file for bankruptcy protection as it struggles to keep up with its debt payments due in part to waning demand for coal.
At the same time renewables are receiving record amounts of investment, some $329.3 billion last year according to research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. So the question remains: Why are so many governments still clinging to volatile fossil fuels, and facing greater economic instability while a cleaner, fairer 100% renewable future is a real tangible option?
Now is when the urgent work begins. It is imperative that the climate movement builds upon its success from last year, and keep up the pressure. We are all at risk from a warming planet, and scaling up action early will bring benefits for us all. As the transition from dirty energy to clean and efficient energy systems grows stronger and faster, communities and private citizens around the world will continue to hold governments and corporations accountable to their promises, and to science.
Break Free is at the forefront of this movement and is an unprecedented moment of local and international organizations undertaking bold mobilisations to stop fossil fuel projects on six continents; demonstrating their resolve to transition off fossil fuels and build the new kind of economy that we know is possible –centered on a just transition to 100% renewable energy systems.
With a dozen major mobilizations taking place in early May this year, Break Free will not only build on the movement’s past victories, but is prepared to escalate resistance against both new and existing fossil fuel projects to free us from the power and pollution of the fossil fuel industry.
Peaceful direct actions will disrupt the industry’s power by targeting major projects – from coal plants in Turkey and the Philippines, to mines in Germany and Australia, to fracking in Brazil and oil wells in Nigeria.
Communities will show their strength and bravery in ways that will show that the time has come to keep fossil fuels in the ground to build a healthier and more just world in its place. We are close to a historic, global shift in our energy system. The way we get there is by action that confronts those who are profiting from climate change and takes power back for the people.
These worldwide mobilisations taking place in May serve as an important point in the climate movement’s trajectory. The shared struggle across every continent to finally break free from fossil fuels will make this battle one the world cannot ignore.
Payal Parekh was Program Director at 350.org, leading the organization’s international campaigning and mobilisation work. She holds a Ph.D. in Oceanography from MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Payal has also worked on climate campaigns at International Rivers and Greenpeace International and done climate policy research for NGOs, think tanks and Southern governments.
 International Energy Agency: Decoupling of global emissions and economic growth confirmed
 The Guardian: February breaks global temperature records by ‘shocking’ amount
 New York Times: Peabody Energy Warns of Possible Bankruptcy Filing
 Bloomberg: As Oil Crashed, Renewables Attract Record $329 Billion