How to Write Letters to
by Richard Rider
Short, concise letters are always
more likely to be published than long, meandering ones; try
to keep them under 150 words -- for big papers, keep them under
100 words. The longer letters are also more likely to be edited
-- it's better that you do your own editing.
Ever notice how you read letters
to the editor in the paper? Most people read the shorter letters
first and then perhaps later read the longer ones. Thus your
shorter letter has a better chance of being read.
WHAT TO WRITE? Unlike single-issue
or special-interest groups, libertarians can select from an
enormous range of subjects. Replying to editorials, agree or
disagree, is very effective. Every day the news offers us all
too many topics on which to comment.
Be timely; try to respond within
two or three days of the article's publication. Pick an issue
of particular importance to you -- don't be afraid to let some
passion show through.
Here are some stylistic considerations:
1. State the argument you're
rebutting or responding to, as briefly as possible, in the letter's
introduction. Don't do a lengthy rehash; it's a waste of valuable
space and boring to boot.
2. Stick to a single subject.
Deal with one issue per letter.
3. Don't be shrill or abusive.
Editors tend to discard letters containing personal attacks.
Even though you're dying to call Jesse Jackson a preachy parasite,
stifle the urge.
4. Your letter should be logically
organized. First a brief recitation of the argument you are
opposing, followed by a statement of your own position. Then
present your evidence. Close with a short restatement of your
position or a pithy comment ("Jimmy Breslin says possession
of firearms should be limited to law enforcement officers. I
say when only the police have guns, the police state is just
around the corner.").
5. Use facts, figures and expert
testimony whenever possible. This raises your letters above
the "sez you, sez me" category. For instance: "Anthony Lewis
calls for taxing the rich as a way to balance the budget. Is
he aware of the fact that if we confiscated the entire income
of the top wage earners in this country (those with income above
$200,000), this would run the federal government for exactly
Readers respect the opinions
of people with special knowledge or expertise. Use expert testimony
to bolster your case ("George Will claims we need to draft to
defend America. But General Edward C. Meyer, Army Chief of Staff,
recently stated . . .").
6. Proofread your letter carefully
for errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar. Newspapers
will usually edit to correct these mistakes, but your piece
is more likely to be published if it is "clean" to begin with.
Read your letter to a friend, for objective input.
One suggestion is that a letter
shouldn't be mailed the same day it is written. Write, proofread
and edit the piece. Then put it aside until the next day. Rereading
your letter in a fresh light often helps you to spot errors
in reasoning, stilted language and the like. On the other hand,
don't let the letter sit too long and lose it's timeliness.
7. Try to view the letter from
the reader's perspective. Will the arguments make sense to someone
without a special background on this issue. Did you use technical
terms not familiar to the average reader?
8. Should your letter be typed?
In this day and age, generally yes. Double or triple space the
letter if it is short. For faxing purposes, we appreciate it
if the letter is all on one page, so single spacing might be
the only option available unless you shorten it.
9. Direct your missives to "Letters
to the Editor," or some similar sounding title.
10. Always include your name,
address, day-time phone number and signature. The papers will
not publish this information, but they may use it to verify
that you wrote the letter. If we are fax broadcasting your letter,
do not put a date on it. We may have to wait a day or two before
broadcasting it out, depending on how many letters are waiting
11. Most important -- WRITE!
Do not try to do a perfect letter. Just give it a good effort
and send it off. Letter writing is the one thing that any one
of us can do on our own without the need to work through a group.
No committees are necessary. Just do it!
Don't be discouraged if your
letter isn't published. The editor may have received more responses
on that issue than he feels he can handle.
If we are faxing your letter,
you will almost certainly be published somewhere. The only drawback
is that we do not have a good feedback system, so you may not
know which of the papers publish your letter, particularly the
smaller ones. Good luck!
Now that you
have written your LTE, go here to get it distributed.
- the email/fax distribution tree