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"Forget the Rest" blog


Writing effective letters to the editor

(adopted from Eric Lindblom)

Why Write a Letter to the Editor?

Writing an effective letter to the editor is not hard to do and it will have an impact whether or not it is published in your newspaper.  Three things happen when you write and mail a letter to the editor:

  1. Newspaper editors monitor letters they receive closely and make decisions about both news coverage and what editorials to write based on how many letters they receive about each issue.  They make decisions based on all letters received and not just on what is printed.

  2. If your letter is printed, it educates thousands of readers about nuclear disarmament issues.

  3. Politicians watch letters to the editor closely as a way to gauge public concerns.  A published letter to the editor carries a lot of weight with your state's senators and representatives about their constituents' concerns.

With one short letter, you can impact public opinion, the contents of your newspaper, and the votes and actions of your legislators.  Such a deal!

Basic Tips

We have included fact sheets with this letter to provide a little background on some of the issues.  Take some time to organize your thoughts.  Think about what are the most important issues for you?  What facts of point of view do you want people to know?  What do you want to convince the reader (or your member of Congress) to do? Once you've decided these questions, you're ready to sit down and write your letter, remembering to:

  • Keep the letter short (for example, the New Mexican wants letters to be 150 words or less);

  • Show that you care about and believe in what you are writing;

  • Make your point/deliver your message;

  • Include an interesting fact or argument that might be new to the reader;

  • List your name, address, and phone number;

  • Type double-spaced or write very neatly;

  • Send the original of your letter to the paper and keep a copy for your files.

The Hook

If space is limited, your chances of getting published are maximized if you refer to or comment on an article or editorial that already appeared in the paper.  Use it as a "hook" for you own letter.  Skim recent issues, read the headlines, be creative, and you can almost always find a hook.

Other Strategies

  • Be Controversial.  Take a pro or con position about something in the paper.

  • Be provocative.  Make a surprising argument or conclusion.

  • Be funny.  Use humor.

  • Cite some "hot" facts or startling statistics that will wake people up.

  • Relate a personal experience that makes your point.

  • Make your letter unique in some way.

  • End with a Call to Action.

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