A well-penned letter to the editor can immediately reach a much larger audience than most of us encounter in our daily lives. It can advocate for or against change, it can seek to empower, praise, censure, make people laugh, cry, or just think.
A 2017 blog from then-PhD student Sarah Loftus (Duke University) summarized several good tips for writing an effective LTE. Here are some of those points, plus one or two suggestions from other, (multiple) sources.
1) Connect your letter to a specific article, op-ed, or topic recently covered by the newspaper.
2) Structure your letter in three parts: refute or promote a certain claim made previously, provide reasons for your stance, and then suggest what needs to happen now.
3) Write from your own perspective and show how the topic relates to your local community.
4) If you have expertise in the topic you’re writing about, let the readers know.
5) Stick to a single point. Have more points to make? Write more letters.
6) Be respectful. Don’t attack anyone when expressing your concerns.
7) Be brief. Refer to specific newspapers for their rules on acceptable length.
8) In addition, some editors urge writers to make sure a submission is legible. Use a typewriter or a computer, and avoid handwritten material which can be difficult to read.
Jenette Nagey, contributor to Community Tool Box (a public service from the University of Kansas Center for Community Health and Development), makes some excellent points on the importance of a letter to the editor.
“Using a few carefully placed letters, you can generate plenty of community discussion,” she states. “You can also keep an issue going by preventing it from disappearing from the public eye. You can stimulate the interest of the news media and create more coverage for the matters you’re working on. You can also send a ‘good news’ letter to bring recognition to people who deserve it or acknowledge the success of an effort.”
Finally, with a long, bitter election season finally over, I’d suggest leaving politics on the back burner for a while. Instead, try a different subject. Tell us why your Chihuahua thinks she is much bigger than a Great Dane, and why that may (or may not) be a reason to adopt one. Let us know all about an outstanding teacher at your school. Or tell us why you think Houston County is such a great place to live, work, and play.
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