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Guide for writing FRPAA Day of Action op-eds and letters to the editor

Op-eds: Op-eds tend to be more challenging to get published, but the results are definitely worth the effort – it’s a 500-800 word spot in the newspaper to tell readers exactly what we want them to know.  A great strategy for op-eds is to co-sign them with coalition partners or another influential person, for example, the student government president or the chair of the faculty senate. 

The normal process is to submit your op-ed with a cover letter to the opinion editor, but make sure to check for any special instructions.  Then, follow up ruthlessly.  Did they get it?  Will they print it?   When?  Can you make any adjustments?

Letters to the Editor (LTE): LTEs are typically the easiest form of opinion coverage to get, because newspapers typically publish a number of letters in every issue.  Generally, LTEs are short – 150-250 words – and respond directly to an article published in the paper you’re submitting it to.  The more LTEs submitted on a single topic, the more likely it is that one of them will get published – so you can increase your chances by organizing other students to submit letters at the same time.  See the materials section of this toolkit for a sample LTE and writing tips.

Each newspaper has its own guidelines for submitting letters, so make sure to follow them.  It’s very important to include your contact info, because most editors will want to confirm that you wrote the letter before printing it. When you submit your LTE, call the opinion editor to make sure they received it and make a quick pitch for why it’s an important letter to print.

Writing tips:

  • If possible, write your letter in response to a recent article, it will be more likely to get printed.

  • Hook the reader with an interesting anecdote, question or provocative statement.

  • Wherever possible, use facts or examples rather than rhetoric. Show rather than tell.

  • It’s ok to show emotion like anger or frustration over access to journals, just don’t go overboard.

  • Keep it short.  Short letters are more likely to get printed.

Talking points:

  • Connect with your audience and build a narrative.  Tell a story about a time you couldn’t get access to an article you needed.  Explain how less wealthy countries have very little access to research, which all too often costs lives.  Discuss the impact limited access to research has on patients and our healthcare system.

  • Use facts specific to your institution, such as how much your most expensive journal title costs and how much your institution spends per year on access to journals.  Also be sure to mention if there are any Open Access initiatives or policies in place on your campus.  Your campus library will very likely be supportive and able to give you these facts.

  • Point out that even though we pay for research to be conducted, we still have to buy the results back from academic publishers at often-exorbitant amounts, effectively meaning we pay twice for this research.

  • Note that there is, however, a positive way to deal with this, FRPAA.

  • Explain what FRPAA is and how it will greatly expand the research to which students have access, particularly those at less wealthy institutions.

  • Explain that FRPAA will lead to increased scientific productivity, increased innovation, and ultimately benefit the US economy.  See our resources below for citations.

  • Explain that your library card expires at graduation, and policies like FRPAA are be crucial to ensure the public – rather than just those at wealthy institutions – have adequate access to research.

  • 52 Nobel Laureates have signed a letter supporting FRPAA.

  • AAAS and Nature Publishing Group explicitly support the National Institutes of Health Public Access Policy, which FRPAA expands to include all federally-funded research. 

  • Tout the success of the NIH Public Access Policy, which makes 90,000 NIH-funded articles freely available through PubMed Central. See our resources below.

  • Explicitly call on your Senators and Representative by name to support and co-sponsor FRPAA.


FRPAA Background

Economic Benefits of FRPAA / Public Access

NIH Policy

Cost of Journals

  [Guide and writing tips adapted from the StudentPIRG’s Textbooks Campaign Media Toolkit]

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