How to Write a Letter to the Editor

Editors of most newspapers make provision for the public to be heard through letters to the editorial columns.

Readership surveys show that these letters are among the best read features in the newspaper. When a letter of yours appears on the editorial page, you probably have the largest audience you will ever address. Lets estimate its size. A small town weekly may have a circulation of 2000. A metropolitan daily may have as many as a million or two. Multiply the circulation by 2 (This is conservative. The Hearst papers say 3) To get the number of readers now divide by 4 and you have the approximate size of your audience.

Your readers are a cross section of society, including all shades of opinion. A survey by Center for Practical Politics at Rollins College, Florida, has concluded "Letters to the editor provide one of the most influential channels by which an active citizen can express ideas about timely subjects of general concern.

Here are some suggestions which can help in writing kind of letter that's most likely to receive favorable consideration on the editorial desk.

1. If possible, use a typewriter or printer, and double space the lines. Write only on one side of the paper. If you have no typewriter, write with ink, plainly and neatly. Do not crowd words or lines.

2. Express your thoughts as clearly and concisely as possible. Editors usually prefer letters of no more than 200 or 250 words, although longer letters may be accepted if they are thought to have sufficient reader interest.

3. Deal with only one topic in a letter. It should be timely and newsworthy. Be sure your meaning is clear. Use as simple words as possible. Short words, short sentences, short paragraphs make for easier reading.

4. Plan carefully your first sentence. Aim to make it short and interesting. If you begin with a reference to a news item, editorial or letter in the paper addressed. Your letter at once has added interest for the editor. This, however, is not always feasible nor absolutely necessary.

5. If you write to criticize, begin with a word of appreciation, agreement or praise. Don't be merely critical; end your letter with some constructive suggestion.

6. Avoid violent language. A calm, constructive presentation of your thought is more persuasive than ranting. Is it possible to be frank but friendly.

7. Help supply the truth, that may be omitted or slanted in reporting the news or editorializing on it. You can render a valuable service to the public by presenting news and views that may ordinarily be given little or no attention by the press.

8. Don't hesitate to use a relevant personal experience to illustrate a point. When rightly told, it can be persuasive.

9. Bring moral judgments to bear upon the issues confronting the nation and the world. Appeal to the reader's sense of fair play. justice and mercy

10. You can also make appropriate changes in your letter and send it to editors of newspapers in other cities. When doing so, always send first copies, never carbons. As a rule, do not send exactly the same letter to different papers in the same city (the New York times and a number of other papers hive a policy against publishing letters which are also sent to other papers.

11. Always sign your name and give your address. You can use a pen name or initials for publication, but the editor must know the source of the letter. Don't be unduly timid about signing your name. The times call for a fearless witness for peace and justice.

12. Don't give up looking for your letter too soon. It may not appear for ten days or even longer. Don't be discouraged if your letter is not printed. It reached the editor, and that is worth something. He has had the benefit of your thinking. He may have had too many letters on the same subject or just too many letters to print yours. Try again. If one letter in ten is accepted, you have reached an audience large enough to make your effort worthwhile. But your score will probably be better than that.

"An Expensive Platform Is Neglected"

 

"The letter-to-the-editor column is a gigantic multibillion dollar public platform, so little or so poorly used that those who make it available free to the public are frustrated" says Robert W. Brown, Associate Editor of the St. Petersburg (FL) Times.

 

He continues:

 

"I would venture that in Washington, most members of Congress read letters published in the Capital City newspapers, or have someone assigned to check them, for public expression."

 

"It would be a thoughtless state, county, or city official who did not take a reading, through this medium of what the public is thinking about those in public institutions, business houses and other places high and low are surely aware of this gage of public feeling."

 

"But it is discouraging... that far too few of the thoughtful readers with something worth saying take advantage of this platform, at once so effective and so expensive...Where are the college faculty members and civic leaders, the heads of business, the scientists, and the philosophers? Why don't they use the platform more often?"