Speak Out

Tips for writing a letter to the editor

Nearly everyone reads the editorials and commentaries in the newspaper. But what comes up time and time again in surveys is that readers ALWAYS read or glance through the letters to the editor.

A good letter to the editor should be short, informative, local, time-sensitive and factual. But one of the most important parts about a good letter—and one likely to be published—is the call to action. Letters shouldn’t just be complaints; they should offer a solution for the writer’s perceived problem.

Here are some tips for a good letter.

Find out your newspapers’ policy on length. For example, the limit for the Billings Gazette is 250 words. Also, every computer has a word count function. Include your name, address, and daytime phone number at the end. The phone number won’t be printed but is used to verify that the author did submit that letter. Please e-mail a copy of your letter to Northern Plains.

Many newspapers allow you to submit letters to the editor via email through their websites. This can be an advantage because it gets your letter submitted sooner than if it has to travel through the mail. Each newspaper has a maximum word limit for letters (see below). The word limit does not include a salutation nor your name and town. Weeklies are more likely to run longer letters. Letters are limited to one per writer every 30 days.

Here is opinion page contact information for the major Montana dailies. Letters can be submitted in person, or by email, postal mail, or fax (word limit in parentheses):

Billings Gazette (250 words)
Email: speakup@billingsgazette.com
Mailing address: P.O. Box 36300, Billings, MT 59107
Fax: (406) 657-1208
Great Falls Tribune (250 words)
Email: tribcity@greatfallstribune.com
Mailing address: 205 River Drive South, Great Falls, MT 59405
Fax: (406) 791-1431
Missoulian (300 words)
Email: oped@missoulian.com
Mailing address: P.O. Box 8029, Missoula, MT 59807
Fax: (406) 523-5221
Helena Independent Record (200 words)
Email: irstaff@helenair.com
Mailing Address: Readers’ Alley, P.O. Box 4249, Helena, MT 59604
Fax: (406) 447-4052
Bozeman Chronicle (300 words)
Email: citydesk@dailychronicle.com
Mailing address:: 2820 W. College St., Bozeman, MT 59715
Montana Standard (400 words)
Email: roberta.stauffer@mtstandard.com
Mailing address: 25 W. Granite St., Butte, MT 59701
Fax: (406) 496-5551

Be concise. Make one or, at most, two points in your letter. Don’t know what to say? Northern Plains staff can help you narrow down your talking points.

Write in simple sentences. Your first sentence should be short, compelling, and catchy. It’s easier to write longer than it is shorter. However, Opinion Page editors are far more likely to publish a 250-word letter than a 600-word guest opinion. Guest opinions usually require prior approval with the editor, so he or she can gauge its relevance and space constraints.

Write about a hot topic or current issue that’s at the top of readers’ minds or will be the subject of upcoming action from a decision-making body such as the legislature. (Be sure to refer to a legislative bill by its number.)

Tell your story. Readers can relate to your personal story of how an issue affects you. Emotion has its place but don’t overdo it.

Identify the source of statistics and studies you cite. When referring to a previously written article or letter, say what it was and when it was published.

Before you send your letter, reread it for spelling and grammar, or – better yet – have someone else look it over for you.

Send your letter to other newspapers, too. The wider your audience the better, although some newspapers balk at printing a letter that has previously appeared in another newspaper. Also, send a letter to your legislators. Legislators say letters and emails are one of the most important forms of swaying their decisions.

NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
220 South 27th Street, Suite A
Billings, Montana 59101
(406) 248-1154
info@northernplains.org