One of the most effective weapons we have in the war against government intrusions and media bias is a letter to the editor. Polls then, and now, indicate that the “letters” section of any local paper draws very high readership. Remember, your letter to a Congressman influences him, but your letter to the editor can influence many other citizens. And they, in turn, may add to the pressure on public officials. Here are some basic tips on maximizing the impact of your letters to the editor:
- Remember, the object is get the letter printed. When you write a public official, your letter is at the very least tabulated, even if the member does not read your message personally. But unless your letter to the editor is actually printed (and there’s no guarantee), the effort you’ve made will count for zero. It has to “compete” with other letters a newspaper receives and be among those selected for printing. Some small papers which receive few letters may print virtually all they get, but in large cities hundreds of letters may be received on a single topic. By carefully following these tips, you increase the chances of getting your letter published.
- Be brief: Newspapers have a limited amount of space for letters. A “book length” letter will either be thrown out without a glance, or be subject to ruthless editing by someone on the newspaper staff to get it down to a printable size. And what the newspaper takes out may not be what you would take out. A short, well-written letter has a much better chance of getting printed with your message.
- Watch spelling, punctuation and grammar: You don’t need to be an English teacher to get a letter to the editor printed. But a letter full of mistakes offers newspaper staffers the choice of either correcting it or putting it in the “circular” file. Simply out of laziness, many will do the latter. If they correct it instead, they may misunderstand and change the meaning. And, if they print it “as is”, with numerous mistakes, it will reflect badly on the position being advocated. If in doubt, don’t hesitate to consult a dictionary or grammar textbook. Have someone you know and trust read the letter to make sure it’s clear and comprehensible.
- Type if possible: As you’ve probably already gathered, the easier you make it for the newspaper staff the better are your letter’s chances. Email your letter in text or Word format. No one wants to re-type a letter anymore.
- Send your letter to more than one paper: If your letter doesn’t make reference to a specific newspaper story or editorial, there is no reason not to send it to more than one daily or weekly in your area. Often more than one paper will print a good letter, increasing its impact.
- Make a good case: Confine your letter to one topic and keep it simple, with arguments you can back up. Cite a specific figure, fact or example to support your argument when relevant. Letters with good humor or a dash of “color” have a good chance of being printed, but those that go to the extremes of name-calling or abusive language won’t be. And they aren’t that effective either.
Liberal activists are smaller in number than conservatives but are better at making their voices heard (they have the time to mooch tax dollars from our representatives). Taxpayers with real jobs are larger in number but don’t do nearly enough to protect their interests on Capitol Hill. You now have some basic tools to make YOUR voice heard. Good hunting.