Tips on Writing a Letter to the Editor or Op-Ed Piece

Letters to your newspaper’s editor and op-ed pieces are excellent ways to advocate for recovery.  A well-written letter to the editor or op-ed piece should:

  • Reach and inform readers and the community at large;
  • Focus on increasing awareness of the reality of recovery; and
  • Increase discussions about recovery

Remember that a letter to the editor generally is written in response to a published article about substance use or other addiction-related issues, and should be sent promptly following publication.  Many newspapers accept letters to the editor that are submitted either via e-mail or through the newspaper’s website.  However, op-eds give you more space to address the issue – they do not have to be written in response to published articles and can be sent at any time.

Here are some pointers to ensure that your writing not only gets published in your local newspaper, but that readers take the time to consider what you’ve written:

  • State your topic or reason for writing. If you are writing a letter to the editor, cite the specific article to which you are responding. Some newspapers also need to know the date and section in which the article appeared.
  • State the reasons for your interest. Cite facts, statistics, examples, and anecdotes to support your point of view. Local facts about the issue are particularly effective. Quoting local authorities on the subject can also lend stronger support to your message.
  • Once your position is established, propose logical ways to address the issue, such as the sponsorship of alcohol-free community events or by encouraging those in recovery to also share their story.
  • Remember that most submissions to newspapers are edited for clarity, accuracy, punctuation, and spelling. Most opinion pieces are short and to the point – they’re rarely over 300 words total. Typically the newspaper requires that the letter to the editor or op-ed piece be signed, but in some cases they will withhold the name of the writer if requested. The newspaper may also ask for your name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address.

Below are five steps to ensuring that your letter or op-ed piece is published by your local newspaper.

 Step One: Begin your letter by stating the argument you’re responding to.  You should make the readers familiar with the issue by providing the name and date of the article you’re writing about.

Example: “I am writing regarding the October 16 article titled ‘Prescription Drug Abuse on Rise in Missouri’ by Tribune journalist Sam Beckett.

Step Two: After you’ve stated the argument you’re responding to, you should clearly state the position you’re taking on the issue and why you fee this way.  If you have experience with the issue at hand, then clearly state this as well.  Take this opportunity to show why the issue is relevant and important, but remember to be brief.

Example: “The use of terms like ‘addict’ and ‘junky’ in regard to those battling a substance use disorder was misplaced, and perhaps even damaging.  The stigma associated with substance use is deeply entrenched in the words we choose to use to describe this illness.  As a person in long-term recovery myself, I recognize that the language in reference to my disease still has the ability to shame and demean me and my colleagues in recovery.

Step Three: Now that you’ve stated your position on an issue, you need to back it up with some facts.  Though you don’t have a lot of space, just providing a few key facts can make a big difference.  Here are some great ways to provide evidence:

  • Use recent events in your state or community as evidence
  • Use statistics, data, or survey results
  • Tell a personal story that tells a larger point
  • Use current events in politics for support

Example: “Since the 1960s, the American Medical Association, World Health Organization, et al., has recognized that addiction met all the criteria for the definition of a disease.  Over 25 million Americans are currently living in long-term recovery – they are your coworkers, members of your clergy, your friends, and your family.”

Step Four: Once you’ve provided evidence for your point of view, you should end the letter by saying what can be done to address the issue.  Perhaps just raising awareness in the community is enough, but there may be other things that people can do to address the issue and get involved.

  • Point the readers to actions they can take to be more involved in the issue in their local communities.
  • Direct the readers to a website or organization that can further their goals.
  • Give the readers a way to find more information on the subject.
  • Instruct the readers directly. Tell them to do something – such as writing their local legislator, voting, or becoming an MRN member.

Example: “As an engaged and concerned citizen who is also in long-term recovery, I encourage each of you to reconsider the language you use to describe those in recovery from substance use.”

Step Five: To close, have one sentence that summarizes your point of view on the issue so your readers have a clear reminder of your main message.  Then, sign off with your name and you city and state of residence.  If you were using your authority to support an issue or if your title and position is relevant, then you can state this between your name and residence.

  • Example: “What we permit we promote. Language is fundamental to how we perceive ourselves and others. Sincerely, John Doe Person in long-term recovery, sober for three years Jefferson City, Missouri
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