Technique, style and content…
Letters to the Editor are a great way to foster wider interest in the debate about a particular issue.
Don’t be put off by the political leaning of your target journal or newspaper. Editors are often in need of content that shows balance and context over important issues.
Below are some guidelines and a couple of useful tools to help you formulate a ‘purple prose’ to remember. Good luck!
”How do you write a letter to the editor?
Open the letter with a simple salutation.
Don’t worry if you don’t know the editor’s name. A simple “To the Editor of the Daily Sun,” or just “To the Editor:” is sufficient. If you have the editor’s name, however, you should use it to increase the possibilities of your letter being read.
Grab the reader’s attention.
Your opening sentence is very important. It should tell readers what you’re writing about, and make them want to read more.
- Explain what the letter is about at the start. Throughout your letter, remember the rule:
- Be quick,
- Be concise, and then…
- Be quiet.
Don’t make the editor or the general public wait to find out what you want to say. Tell them your key point at the beginning.
Explain why the issue is important.
If you are motivated enough to write a letter to a newspaper or magazine, the importance of your topic may seem clear to you. Remember, though, that the general public probably doesn’t share your background or the interest. Explain the issue and its importance simply.
Use plain language that most people will understand
Give evidence for any praise or criticism.
If you are writing a letter discussing a past or pending action, be clear in showing why this will have good or bad results.
State your opinion about what should be done.
You can write a letter just to ”vent,” or to support or criticise a certain action or policy, but you may also have suggestions about what could be done to improve the situation. If so, be sure to add these as well. Be specific. And the more good reasons you can give to back up your suggestions, the better.
Keep it brief.
Generally, shorter letters have a better chance of being published. So go back over your letter and see if anything can be cut or condensed. If you have a lot to say and it can’t be easily made short, you may want to check with the editor to see if you could write a longer opinion feature or guest column.
Sign the letter.
Be sure to write your full name (and title, if relevant) and to include your address, phone number, and e-mail address. Newspapers won’t print anonymous letters, though in some cases they may withhold your name on request. They may also call you to confirm that you wrote the letter before they publish it.
Check your letter to make sure it’s clear and to the point.
A newspaper may not print every letter it receives, but clear, well-written letters are likely to be given more serious consideration”.
Source: Community Tool Box, Chapter 33 – writing letters to editors
Useful Writing Tools
Hemingway is a great tool for when you re-read the last paragraph just written and you realise it doesn’t make sense.
You can score your writing and the web app will tell you how difficult to understand your words are and the readabiity/age group that will best understand it.
It’s free to use on-line and can be helpful in all your writing, not just letters to newspapers or magazines.
Don’t be put off by the density of The Economist style-guide. You can work your way through the A to Z sections as a sort of primer in good writing.
By the time you get to Z you’ll be a positive Shakespeare at letter and article writing!
Some simple rules…
- Never use a Metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out.
- Never use the Passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a Jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous (see Iconoclasm).
Content drawn from George Orwell’s six elementary rules
(“Politics and the English Language”, 1946).
See it on Amazon.co.uk here.