Be a Voice of the People
Short and Sweet
Most newspapers prefer letters that are closer to 200 words than to 600. Keep sentence structures simple. Ideal paragraphs are from 50-80 words long. Stay away from using words with three or more syllables when a one or two syllable word applies. Instead of saying, “The Congressman supported the bill to propitiate his constituents,” say “The Congressman supported the bill to please his constituents.” And stay away from “edu-jargon.” Not everyone knows what NCLB or ESEA is.
Focus, Focus, Focus
Concentrate your letter into one distinct argument. With so little space to work, presenting a strong central concern and sticking with it throughout the letter is important. Jumping from one argument to the next will either make it impossible to contain your thoughts in the space allowed or weaken your main point. Newspapers may edit the small things, but they won’t restructure your entire entry.
Don’t Live in the Past
While Letters to the Editor don’t provide breaking news, they are intended to be a forum to discuss relevant topics. This means you must address an issue others are thinking about. While you may feel that the intricacies of the Iran Contra Scandal need to be discussed further, most people have moved on. Think about what you have been reading about in the newspapers. Try and refer to specific articles when making your point and remember that journalists have egos too. Compliment them on some part of the article or editorial before taking issue with a particular part of it.
Large newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post receive hundreds of letters a week, while smaller papers have to beg for letters. For every New York Times, there is a Rock Creek Current and Allentown Morning Call waiting for you to write them.
Act Like a Pro
Always type letters and make sure they are sent with care. Adhere to good writing practices: avoid the passive voice, use colorful verbs, and keep acronyms sparse. And above all else, be sure to spell check and proofread your letter.
Tell Them Who You Are
Include important contact information, including your phone number, when sending your letter and mention your position and the school where you work, as well.. Many newspapers will call to verify information before printing a letter. While only your name and city is usually printed, providing additional information is key.
Don’t Go Overboard
While passion will get printed, extremism will not. The purpose of the Letter to Editor is for the reader to express his or her opinion. Editors appreciate this when it is done with assurance, intelligence and reason. However, when the reader offers unbarred emotion, radical ideas or viciously attacks another person, most editors will reject the letter.