Writing a Letter to the Editor

This module is a guide for writing a letter to the editor as an advocate for bilingual education.

Tips on writing letters

1. State the article or editorial to which you are addressing your comments, briefly identifying author, date and topic.

2. State succinctly the point with which you are arguing or the information you wish to correct. In other words, let the readers know your position immediately. Select one major point to make or argument to refute. Identify a particular fallacy, bias or hidden assumption to refute or reveal that will inform readers about bilingual education’s successes, advantages, etc.

3. Establish your authority or expertise in addressing the issue. We are each an expert in our own life experiences. The important point is to use relevant and illustrative examples. Use such phrases as this:

In my experience as a bilingual teacher…

As the parent of a student in a dual immersion program, I have seen that…

From my perspective as a [parent, teacher, principal, native speaker of Spanish, member of the Latino community, etc.], I believe that…

 4. If you use facts or statistics, be sure that they are correct. Refer briefly to the original source, preferably a reputable authority or agency. The purpose is to let the editors know that you are well informed and hold them accountable for accurate and fair coverage of the topic. Use language such as this:

According to the State Board of Education…

In a recent study by Stanford University Professor Kenji Hakuta…

A study of 16 school districts by researchers from the Linguistic Minority Research Institute found that…

 5. Make two or three points giving evidence to support your conclusion. This is called “casting the argument.” In order for your argument to be cogent, your premises and assertions must be valid, truthful, and sufficient to justify your conclusion. Keep your potential readers in mind as you select your premises. Think of what misperceptions or lack of information they may have that causes them to believe the way they do. In other words, inform and persuade with your arguments. Do not be afraid to affirm a belief or perspective you already have in common with the readers, but be assertive about the validity of your point of view. 

5. Summarize by restating your main argument. Relate this to potential benefits to children, families, society or solutions to a common problem.

 Tips on getting your letters published

1. Be timely. Letters that come in within 2 days of an article or editorial are more likely to be published. Use e-mail. Editors like it because they transfer the text directly into their format for publication.

 2. Be persistent. Make a commitment to write at least one letter every 30 days. Most papers have a policy of not publishing a single writer more often than once a month. Realize that even if you don’t get published at first, it is important for the editor of the opinion page to recognize your name. Also, the more letters they receive on a given topic, the more importance it takes on for them to cover it fairly and accurately and to publish letters on the subject.

 3. Be brief. Remember that most letters are limited to 200 words. Check the length on your word processor and delete information or arguments that take you over the length.

4. Keep your potential readers in mind. Most people are well meaning, but ill-informed. Remember that we wish to reach Just Plain Folks and engage them in problem solving for the common good. Don’t bother arguing with the bigots. They suffer from what in critical thinking is called “invincible ignorance.”

 5. Use humor, catchy phrases and personal examples to liven up and personalize your message. Remember that editors are looking for new “sound bites.” People also like to poke fun at politicians and famous people. Don’t say anything libelous or slandering, but show that authority figures have clay feet and often take themselves far too seriously.

 6. Consider letter writing and other forms of media appearances as a vital part of your professional responsibilities. We educators must make our voices heard on issues of importance to our professional lives and the communities we serve. In addition to letters to the editor, call in to talk shows, attend public forums and debates, write your legislators and government officials, and testify at hearings. Join e-mail list serves to network with colleagues and citizens who are active in advocacy efforts. Remember that throughout history, small numbers of activists have changed the course of nations. We must all do our part to promote social justice and hold our public officials accountable to the people they are elected to serve.