What’s a no-cost way to raise the profile of your work, advocate for others, and prompt people to action? The humble ‘Letter to the Editor’ section found in most newspapers, magazines and some trade publications provides you with an opportunity to do all of these. You can improve the prospects of your letter being published and read if you follow some simple guidelines:
- Have a nose for news
Keep up with local and national news, and learn to spot breaking stories that have some bearing on the work you are doing in the community. Also read the Letters to the Editor section in your favourite newspaper or magazine. By writing in response to news stories (or to other people’s comments) you will have a point of reference to guide your letter-writing.
- Know who your audience is
Select the appropriate publication to which to write. If the issue you are commenting on is entirely a local one, then it is not much point writing to a national newspaper.
- Respond quickly
The turn-around in news coverage is super-fast these days. If you let the ‘pot go off the boil’ by delaying a response by even a few days you may miss your opportunity.
- Be selective
Choose your battles wisely. If you send in a letter each month it will become tiresome and will lose effect. You could even prompt a negative backlash – “Oh, not them again!”
- Follow editors’ guidelines
Most publications will indicate the maximum number of words and will require your contact details for authenticity purposes.
- Make every word count
Keep sentences short (25 words or less). Trim out adverbs, especially ones like ‘really’ and ‘very’ which add little to what’s being said. Check spelling and grammar – even better, get someone else to proof it for you.
- Keep the main thing the main thing
Know what your key points are and don’t divert from them. Progress logically from one point to the next. Ask your proofer to check your letter for clarity. Are you being rational or has your passion for the issue muddied the waters?
- Get permission
If you are writing on behalf of an organisation, make sure you have the appropriate authority to do so. Include your position within that organisation in your ‘signature’ at the end of the letter.
- Be polite and be accurate
If you’re quoting someone, check you have recorded their words correctly and make reference to where the quote appeared. The last thing you want to be accused of is slander – a false and damaging statement about someone. Keep your comments civil.
- Be prepared for the response Your well-worded letter may cause people to contact you or your organisation for further information or comment. Don’t be caught off-guard. Make sure staff and volunteers are aware you have sent the letter and that they may be asked about it. Ask them to refer media enquiries to the appropriate person.
- Have a nose for news