Project 3: A Letter to the Editor

Note: This is a writing assignment and portfolio piece for Professor McGuire’s Composition II course. However, it is also a practical exercise for engaging in letter writing, which can result in real-world change. This project can be adapted for all audiences.


An activist is one who is actively involved in creating community, whether that is
locally in their neighborhood or internationally. It is an admirable quality.     — Jasmine Guy

Do you read the newspaper? Well, whether you do or not, a lot of people do read it–whether in print or online. According to the Association of Washington Cities (a west coast municipal advocacy group), media research indicates that the letters to the editor section is one of the most widely read sections of any newspaper. Do you know this section? It’s basically where community members can write a letter to the editor of the newspaper, voicing their concern about a local issue. These letters and then very often published in the newspaper–where people read them and may very well be affected by them. The reach of a well written letter to the editor of a newspaper is wider than you might think. Certainly it could raise awareness among readers of an issue that they might not have even known about previously. This is important.

Letters to the editor, however, can also reach people who might have more direct and more immediate power over an issue–lawmakers and politicians. Legislatures and/or their staff generally keep a close eye on the letters pages of local newspapers. This is one way they can stay informed about what is of concern to their constituents. Remember, too, that even if your letter is not published, it might serve to draw the newspaper’s attention to the issue as one of public concern; this could result in greater reporting on the issue, raising awareness of this issue still further. Powerful, eh? Yes it is.

Your Task

So, you guessed it. I want you to write a letter to an editor of one of your local newspapers. The actual letter, in fact, should not be very long; however, this doesn’t make the task any easier. In fact, it might raise the challenge as you need to be very effective in a few words. You need to practice your skills of both precision in writing and concision (not unlike the elevator speech exercise). Think about your message. Craft it well. I’ve included some tips on writing effective letters to the editor below.

Sending Your Letter

In addition to posting your letter on Splatter for our course (this is a major draft assignment), I want you to actually send your letter to a local newspaper. This is the real deal. You can choose the paper that makes the most sense to you, but for convenience, I have provided short links to three newspapers that likely serve all of our communities. (You can type these into your web browser.) These links go directly to the place on the newspaper’s website where you can submit your letter.

Links to submit letters to local papers:

You don’t have to send your letter to the paper until after you get feedback from the class–through peer review. This means, you will have to send the letter to the paper in two weeks but will post it to the Commonplace before that time.

How to Write the Letter

Writing a letter to an editor of a newspaper requires some careful thought. There are ways to make your letter more effective and more likely to be published. I’ve provided some tips for writing effective letters to the editor below. These are provided courtesy of the Association of Washinton Cities, a nonprofit municipal advocacy organization from Washington state. The tips are helpful.

Download (PDF, 18KB)

How this Assignment Will Be Assessed

First of all remember that this assignment will not be fully assessed until you include it as a part of your final portfolio project; however, as an initial draft that will be reviewed by members of the class, completing it on time is essential to stay on track toward at least a B in this course. Refer to the grading contract on the syllabus for more information about the importance of meeting all deadlines, and for general information on what makes for exemplary writing in this course.

The basic expectations that I have for average and acceptable work for this project are as follows. The work should:

  • be well crafted,revised, and edited writing logically organized
  • demonstrate critical reflection on all three levels (as described above) and offer thoughtful insights on the service experience and its effect on you
  • have a strong beginning and a resonating close
  • be concise, to the point, and logically persuasive
  • have a strong beginning and a resonating close
  • be well edited and free from careless mechanical errors
  • be 250 to 500 words in length (following the guidelines of the paper you will submit it to)
  • be submitted to a local newspaper once it has gone through peer review and you have made any needed adjustments to make it more effective

Due Dates

This work must be posted to the course “Commonplace” and categorized properly as “essay draft” by the scheduled due date. If you are having technical challenges with this, it is your responsibility to seek assistance from the instructor as soon as possible—before the due date and with enough time to resolve the issue. (Tech issues are not an excuse for not doing your work.) Be sure also to keep your own electronic copy of your draft, so that you can easily return to it for revision at a later time. Consult the course schedule for a complete list of due dates.