Tips & Resources for Writing Op-Eds & Letters to the Editor on Ally-ship and Standing with Vulnerable Communities
Our website provides examples of four different published pieces from members of SD Faith in Public Life, written between January and April 2017. These examples may help give you an idea of ways you can write about topics related to “Love Your Neighbor. No Exceptions.”
Staff Time and Support
Three of the four published examples were submitted after receiving editorial support from the project director of “Love Your Neighbor. No Exceptions.” If you would like support writing a letter to the editor or an op-ed in your local paper please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our project director has extensive experience editing the writing of others, and is on standby to help you conceptualize or draft a piece for publication, or to edit your work if you have already written a draft.
TIPS & SUGGESTIONS
1) Letters to the Editor
A letter to the editor usually responds to a specific article that has already been published, but it can also respond to a community event or local issue.
Your local paper may have published guidelines online for letters to the editor that will likely include a limit on the number of words you may use.
If your local paper doesn’t have published guidelines, looking at letters to the editor that have already been published in the paper may give you an idea of tone and length of letter that the editor often publishes.
Try to write a letter within 2-3 days of the original article or event so that it is timely and relevant. (Staff from Faith and Public Life can meet this turnaround time, just drop us an email as soon as you decide to write a letter and we’ll be ready to do fast edits!)
You may want to ask yourself the following questions: What do I hope to accomplish in this letter? (Share information? Persuade people to think differently about an issue? Propose a solution to a problem? Influence local leaders? Publicize your church’s work on a local issue?) Who is my audience? (Other Christians? Members of your community at large? Local officials?)
After addressing your letter (“Dear Editor”) state clearly who you are and what issue or article you are responding to. For example, “As the minister of First Protestant Church in Smalltown, I want to respond to Person X’s recent Op-Ed, “The Dangers of Islam Spreading in America.”
Then clearly state your position, “Over the past year, members of my church have shared several potluck dinners with local Muslim immigrant families. Far from being dangerous, these neighbors of ours are kind and share many values we hold dear.”
Stick to one main point. In this example, the point might be that Muslim South Dakotans are our neighbors, and that we know them to be kind, caring people who do not present a risk to others, but quite the contrary, help our community as doctors or hard workers on local farms, etc.
Offer a concrete example or evidence. Faith in Public Life can help you gather research to back up your idea if that is helpful. If you offer up a fact or figure cite the source, for example, “According to the non-partisan research organization X-Named Org, new immigrants are actually less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. X-Named Org, Report on Crime, 2016.”
If you want your community or a leader to act, explain how. For example: “Our mayor and city council members should clearly state that we support our local Muslim neighbors when they next meet on April 25.” You can absolutely refer to a legislator or local leader by name and tell them how you want them to act on your issue.
Sign your letter with your name, position, and address.
If you have any questions, feel stuck, or are worried about how to write something in the least controversial way, please don’t hesitate to contact SD Faith in Public Life at email@example.com. Our group has been modeling civil, respectful dialogue on controversial issues since 2009 and we’re happy to help.
2) Op-Eds (Opinion Articles)
Opinion pieces are usually quite short, often under 750 words. Your local paper may have published guidelines online for op-eds that will likely include a limit on the number of words you may use.
Op-eds should clearly relate to a timely issue in the community, country or world but do not need to refer to a specific article.
You want to make a clear point. (You can ask yourself, “What point do I want to make? Who is my audience? Who do I want to influence?”) Introduce your topic in the very beginning of your op-ed. Your reader should know what you’re writing about by the end of the first paragraph.
Your voice is important. Ideally, you will sound like you do when you are speaking from the pulpit – distinct and conversational. If it’s difficult for you to put your voice into writing, please feel encouraged to reach out to Faith in Public Life staff. We can draft your words while you speak, and help reflect your speaking voice in your written piece.
Research and facts are important. Even though an opinion piece gives you space to state your opinion, the strongest op-eds include facts and substantive arguments from research. If you struggle with finding quality research to back up your argument, please contact SD Faith in Public Life staff. We can help!
End on a strong point. Two easy ways to end a quality op-ed are to either restate the opening topic or idea; or to end with a call to action of some kind. You will see that both of our example op-eds conclude with actions for the reader to take.
Sign your op-ed with your name, title and a very short (one sentence) bio that establishes your authority to write about the issue you’ve chosen.
If you have any questions, feel stuck, or are worried about how to write something in the least controversial way, please don’t hesitate contacting SD Faith in Public Life at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our group has been modeling civil, respectful dialogue on controversial issues since 2009 and we’re happy to help.