Letters to the editor are great way to promote your views and make an impact in the public forum, which may be dominated by a more liberal voice. Letters to the editor are useful because they:
• Give your views a chance to be heard by your community
• Add information which is typically missing from the media reports
• Help individuals on the same side of an issue find one-another
• Offer counter-arguments to the opposing viewpoint expressed in other editorials
• And, they may even be monitored by your elected officials!
How to get your letter printed: The best thing you can do to help your letter get printed is to KEEP IT SHORT AND TO THE POINT, and limited to a single subject! Keep in mind that editors often receive a high volume of letters, and must quickly decide whether or not to print a letter. Editors who receive lengthy letters are likely to skip over them, or cut out your most vital statements before publication.
If you're concerned about your letter length, check with the newspaper before sending the letter, as many newspapers have limits on the length of letters. Having a friend proof-read your letter is probably the best way to help cut down its size!
When writing your letter, try to make references to news articles or other editorials which have appeared in the newspaper. Editors like letters which refer to other articles because it shows readership take an active interest in their publication, and some editors (but not all) print only letters that refer to other articles.
Try to write your letter soon after a controversial article appears, as editors are more likely to print a letter if it pertains to a current topic of debate! Here are some good examples of ways to refer to other articles in your opening paragraph:
"I was astonished that the Daily Gazette's July 24 editorial "Evolution Alone Belongs in the Science Classroom" omitted some of the key facts on this issue…"
"I am disheartened to read that our Representative voted against academic freedom ("title of article," date), after she promised her constituents to improve educational standards…"
"I respectfully disagree with (author's name) narrow view on science and religion ("Name of Op-Ed," date)"
Finally, remember that editors may prefer typed letters because they are easier to read than handwritten letters. If you have a computer, word processor, or typewriter, be sure to use it--you can often e-mail in your letter!! And don't forget to include your contact information--including name, address, phone number, and e-mail. While newspapers won't give out your information, and will usually only print your name and city with the letter, they often require contact information so they can verify that you indeed are the true author of the letter.
Where to send your letter: Don't feel like you have to send your letter to the New York Times for it to have an impact! Send letters to any media form--even letters to small weekly community newspapers can make an impact on people. Furthermore, it is typically easier to get your letter printed in newspapers with a smaller circulation.
You want your letter to get to the newspaper as fast as possible. Today, most newspapers allow for letters to be e-mailed or faxed to the editor, which is much faster than waiting 2 days for a letter to arrive via "snail mail".
What to do after the letter gets printed: After writing your letter, don't forget that the debate may continue on! Scan the letters-to-the-editor section for a few days or even weeks after your letter gets printed. If someone writes a rebuttal in opposition to your letter, this may give you a chance to write in again, and counter points made by the opposition strengthen the appearance of your viewpoint. Editors often like to see healthy debates, and if you support your position well, may continue to print your letters as long as it is generating debate among the readership.
Letter-to-the-Editor Conduct: Perhaps the most convincing part of your letter is how you, the author, express your views and conduct yourself. Always remain respectful and avoid personal attacks. It cannot be overemphasized how important--both for the sake of the effectiveness of your letter and for keeping personal integrity--that it is to remain courteous in any letter exchange. If possible, don't dwell on anything negative--try to keep your letter sounding as positive as possible, and people will be much more likely to listen to what you're saying.
Regardless of how those of the opposing viewpoint act, argue, or treat you or those of your viewpoint, don't slander them back. Attack arguments, but not the arguer or style of argumentation. By always staying positive in your letters, your viewpoint will appear to be a positive rational alternative to the opposing viewpoint. If someone writes an angry or attacking article, try to respond in a considerate, thoughtful, and overly-generous manner which doesn't attack them personally. Treating the opposition with love is often difficult to do, and the author of this document has failed miserably at times. However, it can, and always ought, to be done.
The IDEA Center is run by Christians, and both the New Testament and the Old Testament have much to say about how to treat one's "enemy". If someone does attack you, "loving your enemy" can be a difficult task, and it often helps to read some encouragement. The Apostle Paul quotes the Old Testament in Romans 12 saying,
If you need any help writing a letter, please feel free to e-mail us at "firstname.lastname@example.org". Thanks and happy letter-writing!
Some ideas about letter-writing included in this article were found at http://www.aclu.org/action/editor.html