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Self Advocacy- Communicating Skills


There are several ways of generating local media on an issue, any of which can serve to educate the public, stir up a debate, or put elected officials on the spot. The most basic of these is writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.

If you’re already comfortable with this, you might consider writing an "op-ed," a longer opinion piece responding to an editorial written by the newspaper’s staff. You could even schedule a meeting with the editorial board of the paper, to educate them on an issue and encourage them to write an opinion in an editorial piece.

Tips on writing effective letters to the editor:

Letters to the editor are an easy way for you to voice your opinion to policymakers and to educate readers about issues that concern you. You can use letters to correct or interpret facts in response to an inaccurate or biased article, to praise or criticize a recent article or editorial, or simply provide your opinion on a current issue.

Without exception, the letters section is one of the most highly read sections in any newspaper or magazine, and now many web sites also have places for readers to comment instantly on issues of the day. Make sure you read the paper before you write to get an idea of the format, and be sure to have the name of the editor you’re addressing. Don’t miss out on this chance to reach the public—write early and often!

Be timely – Capitalize on recent news and events, within 24 hrs of a story if possible. Keep it short and simple – Keep your points clear and stick to one subject. If you look at the editorial page, a few paragraphs is all they usually print!

Think locally – Demonstrate how this issue effects you locally, and mention lawmakers by name to ensure you get their attention.

Sign your letter. Include your name, address and telephone number. Papers may need to contact you if they are considering printing your letter. Don’t worry—they won’t print your phone or street address.

Follow-up. If the newspaper doesn’t call you, call the newspaper. Ask to speak to the person in charge of letters to the editor. Ask if they plan on printing your letter, and if not, see if they have any feedback for you.

Don’t be discouraged if your letter is not printed. Every time you submit a letter, you are educating the editorial board of your paper and paving the way for future letters to be printed. Keep trying!

Seal the deal. If your letter is printed and you mention an elected official, it’s a good idea to send them a copy!