In Power of the Pen, Part 1 I promised to share some further thoughts on writing effective letters to the editor. My friend and fellow peace activist, Tom Shea, put together a guide to what he calls "link letters", the idea being that the best letter is one that you link to something already published in that paper - an article, editorial, picture or previous letter, and expand on it in a succinct and powerful way to make your point(s).
When you find something on an issue about which you are passionate, read it a couple of times. Then make some notes. Does the newspaper piece reinforce your position on the issue, or does it take the opposing position. Either way it is useful to you; use that as a lead in to what you have to say. Don't we all have something to say?
Here are a few things (from Tom) to consider:
- Why is your issue important?
- Consider your audience - small or large town (or national) paper or activist press?
- What do people already know about the issue? What do you need to tell them?
- Be sure to read some letters from the publication to which you will submit your letter. Which letters are you drawn to? Which are most persuasive? Why?
- Are you preaching to the choir or writing in a way that is open to someone who may oppose your position?
- Be sure to make your opinion vital and clear.
- Be concise; newspapers often limit letters to 200 words. It can be challenging, but a succinct argument is often the most powerful. You may have to rework it a few times.
Remember, the letters to the editor page is open to everyone. It's a great way to express yourself and be involved in the democratic process. You would be amazed at how many people read the opinion pages, and your opinion matters. If you have never submitted a letter to the editor, give it a try. And then keep trying until they print one. You might even change someone's mind!
***************************They deserve the best
"Earmarks help businesses, not troops" is the kind of investigative reporting that restores my faith in the press [Nation & World, Dec. 7]. Now I have more evidence with which to scream at the top of my lungs for congressional reform.
Although the story cites a veritable litany of facts surrounding this particular round of bribery, it is one of the photos that speaks volumes. With hands over their hearts, senators (including the future Secretary of State Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton) seem to pledge allegiance to the profiteers who throw them a few corporate crumbs, expecting a healthy return on their investment.
So much for the needs of our soldiers when there is profit involved. Sen. Thad Cochran was quoted as saying that without earmarks, "this lifesaving product [the powder] would not get to our troops as expediently as it should."
Expedient indeed. Just what would happen if we ditched the earmarks? Might the best product (such as the lotion that provides seven times more effective protection) come out on top? Ask your members of Congress about that.
-- Leonard Eiger, North Bend
Click here to read the article (in The Seattle Times) referenced in this letter to the editor. Letter published in The Times Online Editorials/Opinion Page, December 19, 2008.