Writing Effective Letters to the Editor

By working together, we can get our message out to the public. One way to achieve this is by writing and submitting letters to the editor of your local newspaper. Below you will find some suggestions and a sample letter.

Letter Writing Tips

  • Be Specific
    First define the problem in a brief paragraph, then define the solution in the second paragraph. In the third paragraph, tell people what they can do to bring about the solution.
  • Be Brief
    Most newspapers have editorial rules regarding the length of letters to the editor, as well as requirements for listing your name — and possibly your address — for verification purposes. Make sure you find out what the rules are and follow them, or your letter won’t be printed. Many newspapers accept letters by way of e-mail. You should still follow up with a call after submitting by e-mail.
  • Follow Up
    Call the newspaper and confirm that your letter was received. (The Des Moines Register usually sends you a postcard.) After your letter is published, clip and save it; it may come in handy later.
  • Send ICAN A Copy
    Unless our members mail us a copy of their letters to the editor on the issues that concern them, there is no way for us to track them — or the responses they generate. One way for us to know the word is getting out is for you to let us know about your activity! It is helpful for us to have any letters that you send whether they are published or not. If they are published, please tell us so that we can continue to help build state wide momentum. Photocopies of both your printed letter and printed responses to your letter are very helpful. In some cases, we may be able to chase down your letters on the internet if making and sending us a photocopy is not possible.

Sample Letter To The Editor

  1. Include your name, address, and date your letter….Ms. Jane Q. Public
    1 Main Street Anywhere, IA 55555January 1, 1998
  2. Address the letter properly….Letters to the Editor
    Opinion Page
    Your Local Newspaper
    Your Town, IA Local-Zip
  3. An appropriate opening….To the Editor:
  4. Define the problem….The cost of prescription drugs is outrageous and there seems to be no end in sight. Politicians in Washington have recognized that seniors are particularly hard hit by these skyrocketing prices. In response, they have proposed reforms under Medicare to provide a prescription drug benefit for seniors and the disabled. However, under this proposal, the government would not be allowed to negotiate lower prices for Medicare beneficiaries. This bill provides weak benefits and does nothing to curtail the rising price of prescription drugs.
  5. Define the solution….Medicare has the lowest overhead costs of any medical coverage delivery system in the country at under 3%. In comparison, the overhead costs for private insurance companies are over 12%. The cost effectiveness of Traditional Medicare should be used to negotiate best prices for seniors. Medicare could pool all beneficiaries together in order to leverage big discounts from pharmaceutical companies. The Veterans Administration does this and is often able to purchase drugs for less than half their retail price. This saves the VA a great deal of money and allows the VA to provide more people with better benefits. Unfortunately, the current Medicare Rx proposal prevents a similar approach for our nation’s seniors and people with disabilities. It should be no surprise that the pharmaceutical companies love this proposal.
  6. Get people involved….Iowans should be screaming from the rooftops that while our doctors and hospitals are asked to accept the lowest Medicare reimbursement rate in the country our Representatives and one Senator would vote for a proposal under Medicare that would exempt the pharmaceutical industry from the same treatment. We each need to call Senator Grassley and our representatives and demand that any Rx benefit under Medicare must put seniors and the disabled first instead of protecting obscene drug company profits.
  7. Sign your name….Sincerely,

    Jane Public

Other ideas that work:

  • Personal stories: Briefly share a personal story or that of a friend/loved one to make your point.
  • Charged or emotional comments: “It’s a scandal that so many of Iowa’s policy makers in DC would vote for a weak prescription drug benefit under Medicare. This bill would encourage employer retirement plans to dump prescription drug coverage. That would leave retired Iowans in a much worse situation. On top of this is the fact that the proposal will actually help so few. Those who voted for such a terrible plan with such far reaching consequences for retired Iowans ought to be ashamed of themselves.”
  • Shocking facts: “While pharmaceutical companies claim that they need to charge high prices to Americans in order to develop new drugs, the fact is that in 2001 the pharmaceutical companies that marketed the top 50 drugs sold to seniors spent 27% of their revenue on advertising, recorded 18% of revenue as profit, and only invested 11% of revenue in research and development. Higher prices mean higher profits and more ads. It’s incredible that politicians care more about protecting profits and drug ads than in helping seniors afford their prescriptions.

We have lots of reports and facts at ICAN to help make your arguments. We’d love to share them with you!