Write a Letter to the Editor
Nurses all across PA have taken huge steps to break the silence on Pennsylvania’s staffing and care crisis in hospitals and nursing homes. One big way to continue stepping up the pressure on policy-makers is for us to continue to speak out, raise awareness within our communities, and write to our local papers.
We’re here to support you with feedback, answering questions, or helping you figure out how to submit your letter! If you’re a nurse or community member supporting nurses, feel free to send us an email with your letter at Share@NursesOfPA.Org! We’ll do our best to help you get your voice heard in your local paper and community.
Below you’ll find:
What is a Letter to the Editor?
How to Write an Effective Letter to the Editor
When You’ve Written Your Letter
Talking Points to Help with Your Letter
Do’s and Don’ts
A letter to the editor is a short, personal, and persuasive message in response to an issue or topic and published by the newspaper. Most local newspapers have guidelines on their website that tell you how long your letter can be, and how to submit it.
Letters to the editor are a great way to publicly share your perspective on a story or topic that’s relevant and timely, and they can be shared widely through social media.
Plus, there’s no part of a newspaper legislators pay more attention to!
A good letter to the editor includes:
- A brief statement about who you are and what you’re writing about or responding to.
- A personal narrative that demonstrates why you’re writing, and why readers should care about what you’re writing about.
- A clear call to action, or a request you’re making of the reader, public, or elected officials.
- However, these calls to action should avoid specifics like “go to www.nursesofpa.org/petitionto sign the petition” or “Call Rep. John Smith at 555-5555” as those will be likely to be cut.
- You’ll have more success with the letter getting printed if you instead say “Support House Bill 106 for safe staffing!” or “Please contact your legislators to ask their support for House Bill 106 for Safe Staffing!”
Letters to the editor can be submitted to both large and small publications, but are more likely to be published and read by smaller scale publications, especially if your perspective is relevant to the publication’s readership, and if the issue you’re writing about has recently received coverage. For example, directly responding to a recently-published article or news event is a great way to get a letter to the editor published.
- Introduce your letter with a brief, 1-2 sentence paragraph that gets at what you’re writing about—get right to the point. If you’re directly responding to an article or another letter, say so.
- With your next paragraph, go into more detail about your experience and why you’re writing. By the end of the second paragraph, you should have conveyed the who, what, why, and (if applicable) where and when of your topic.
- Say what you want your audience to do after reading your letter.
- Conclude with a brief restatement of what change you want to see and why.
- Sign off the letter with your name, address, email, and phone number.
- Your contact information would not be printed, generally just your name and city or neighborhood.
- The additional contact information is so that they can verify you’re a real person and if you’re local to the area.
- Generally, if a paper is going to publish your letter, they’ll also call or email you to confirm that you are indeed a real person who wrote the letter, so look out for that after submitting!
When you’ve written a draft of your letter, we’re here to support you with feedback, answering questions, or helping you figure out how to submit your letter! Send us an email with your letter at Share@NursesOfPA.Org! We’ll do our best to help you get your voice heard in your local paper and community.
If you’re looking for guidance on how we’ve been talking about these issues, the points we’re trying to stress with the public and legislators, and the research we cite to help make those points, click below for links to talking points that might help you in writing your letter.
Remember though: These talking points are to help you. Your letter should be your own words, and your own perspective.
Keep in mind that statistics and research can help make your point, but in letters to the editor, we advise using one or two statistics at most to help drive home the points you’re making in your letter, rather than focusing entirely on the statistics.
While it’s helpful to illustrate for the public why safe staffing matters so much by explaining and sharing experiences, we all know that as nurses we also need to be careful about what we say about our jobs!
Here are a few quick pointers:
- Do talk about staffing and other issues in a general manner as it relates to working conditions for nurses. Here are a few examples:
- “Our workloads are overwhelming.”
- “I don’t have time to give the care I want to give to all my patients.”
- “When you have too many patients, it can result in these kinds of things happening.”
- Do advocate for legislation or policy changes.
- Do talk about how staffing affects patients and nurses at your workplace.
- Do not say that the facility where you are currently employed is dangerous, negligent or otherwise provides substandard care. Inappropriate examples include:
- “Our current staffing levels at [FACILITY] pose a threat to patient care.”
- “The number of nurses we have on staff at [FACILITY] is dangerous.”
- “The nurses of [FACILITY] are overworked, and our patients are suffering as a result.”
- Do not talk about workplace issues that only affect you (e.g. a specific issue that happened at work without broader context).
- Do not name your employer.*
- Do not make specific allegations that cannot be supported by evidence and documentation, or allegations of criminal or negligent behavior.
- Never identify a patient or give information about a patient which would cause that patient to be identified, on background or otherwise (this would violate HIPAA).
*Unless done so as part of an intentional campaign to pressure your employer where you’ve got the backing of your coworkers and a union to speak out.
This paragraph should briefly describe who you are, what you’re writing about, and your stance. If you can, make clear why this topic matters to you, specifically (i.e. if you’re writing about staffing at a particular hospital, you could say “I’m an RN at Suchandsuch Hospital, and I…”) If you’re responding to a specific story in the publication, start by stating that you’re writing in response to “Story Name” published in Publication Name on Month, Day, Year.
This paragraph should include more details about yourself, your story, and why you’re taking your stance. Make clear why readers should care and share your stance.
Once you’ve got readers’ attention on the issue, pivot to what they should do about it. Give concrete examples, concrete names of legislation to support (i.e. the Patient Safety Act), people to call, things to sign up for, etc.
Conclude with one brief, 1-2 sentence paragraph that restates your argument and call to action.