Tips For Writing A Great Letter to the Editor

By: Craig Westover

I got my start writing a column for the Pioneer Press by being a frequent letter writer to the paper. Here’s a few thoughts on writing letters to the editor that will be helpful getting your thoughts and ideas published in the local press.

Letters to the Editor of local newspaper are still one of the most effective ways of creating awareness of Republican issues. Much like advertising, their effect is largely cumulative — letters on the same topic create an impression over time – but a well-written letter can also have an immediate impact. “Well-written” does not mean soaring rhetoric and flowery phrases. The best Letters to the Editor are brief, to the point and follow a specific formula.

First and foremost, be brief. The rule of thumb is a Letter to the Editor should be no more than 150 to 225 words. Sometimes longer letters do get published, but editors would much rather publish three 150-word letters than a single 450-word letter. Following a proven formula provides the best opportunity for having a letter published. You’ll be surprised how much you can pack into 225 words if you follow the basic formula for a Letter to the Editor.

Open your letter with a concise statement of the issue you are writing about and your opinion on the issue. If you are responding to something that appeared in the paper previously, cite the piece specifically. Remember, people reading your letter may not have read the piece you are responding to, so concisely summarize the point you are addressing.

In a second paragraph, which need be only a sentence or two, expand on why you have the reaction to the issue that you do, or why you object to the proposed solution to a problem or how your solution would differ. Limit yourself to one or two points, no more than three.

In the third paragraph of your letter, provide authority for your opinion – evidence from your personal experience, a startling fact or statistic, an authoritative quote, or a sound logical argument with a premise and a conclusion.

In the fourth paragraph, put the Democrats on the defensive by stating how they are on the other side of the issue and why that matters.

In a final paragraph, summarize your main point by restating your position and why you are taking it — one or two sentences at most. Make a positive point – a purely negative letter is more difficult to place.

Consider this “Spotlight Letter” published in the Pioneer Press. The writer opens by writing:

I was very glad to see the column about staying in the Minnesota Republican Party, because I also believe that it’s worth working with the party to restore our republic (“Why we’re staying with the Minnesota GOP,” June 26).

In one sentence, the writer lets the reader know she is referring to a specific column that appeared in the paper, and that she is writing about why it is important to be a Republican. She states a positive message – “restoring our republic.” She goes on:

While it’s true the party has drifted in recent years from its core principles of fiscal responsibility and individual and property rights, I am encouraged to see so many members renewing their interest in and commitment to constitutionally limited government.

Again, in just one sentence, the writer accomplishes two things. First, she acknowledges the reason some people are choosing to leave the Republican Party. Acknowledging the other side’s argument fairly gives your letter more credibility with editors than an over-the-top negative letter. It increases your chance of getting published. What makes this letter especially effective is the writer immediately counters the negative with a positive statement about the Republican Party – its core principles are fiscal responsibility and individual and property rights – and a reason that supports her decision to work within the party – a lot of other people, not just the writer, are doing the same.

I am home-schooling my children this summer on the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The first lesson teaches the balance between internal government by conscience and external government by force. More of one means less of the other. The larger and more intrusive that government becomes in our lives, the less freedom we have as individuals.

Here the writer uses a personal anecdote that shows she really believes what she is writing about. It is also information not available elsewhere that might indicate a trend. She borrows the authority of a textbook to make a further point directly relevant to her readers – the larger government becomes the less individual freedom for individuals.

From the federal takeover of automotive companies to the state sales tax to fund arts and trails, the Democrats are making entire segments of commerce and society dependent on government.

In the fourth paragraph, the writer sticks it to the Democrats. Talk about “larger government” — look at what the Democrats are doing to us! Note however, before going negative, she has established credibility with positive statements about the GOP

When we celebrate our independence as a nation, it’s a good time to remind ourselves that this country was founded to protect the inalienable rights of the individual, and I will work with the Minnesota GOP to fight for the liberties and privileges established for us 233 years ago.

In the final paragraph, the writer repeats her main themes: Government is intended to protect individual rights, and individual liberty is a core principle of the Republican Party; that is why she will work within the Minnesota GOP. Reference to the Fourth of July is more than just a nice touch – putting a timely peg into your letter creates a sense of urgency to publish it.

The writer makes her argument in a little over 200 words.

A little housekeeping detail: Include your name and address and a daytime telephone number with your letter. Newspapers will only print your name, sometimes your city, but they may also verify who you are and confirm that you wrote your letter and want it published, and have not submitted it to other publications.

Don’t be intimidated. Follow the five-paragraph formula, keep your letter to one or two main points, write sincerely and honestly, avoid negative hyperbole and offer substance and your letter stands a good chance of being printed.

If every active Republican in CD 6 writes just one Letter to the Editor a month and sends it to his or her local newspaper or to one of the major metropolitan dailies, editors will start to get the idea that there is a groundswell of support for Republican ideas. Don’t be discouraged if your letter isn’t printed; it still contributes to the overall impression with the editor.

About the author:
Craig Westover, a resident of House District 57B, writes about politics and public affairs. He is currently a senior policy fellow with the Minnesota Free Market Institute, and he contributes regularly to the Opinion page of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He can be reached at westover4 [at] yahoo [dot] com. Read Craig Westover’s blog.

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