Tips for Writing Good Letters
Make your Voice Heard
Note: while these tips were written with a response to a published article in mind, they also apply to issue-oriented letter writing.
1) Be prompt. Respond while the issue is current. If possible, try to send your letter within 24 hours of publication of the article.
2) Be clear. If you cannot summarize your message in one or two sentences, it’s not clear enough in your mind. Pinpoint in stark, unambiguous terms what you want to communicate.
3) Be specific. Why was the article unfair? Did it show lack of context, imbalanced reporting, or omission of key facts? For example: “Your report inappropriately quoted only pro-war sources, leaving the anti-war position unrepresented.”
4) Be concise. Most publications will not print a letter to the editor longer than 250 words. And editors tend to publish letters they don’t have to spend time shortening.
5) Be focused. While an article may contain numerous instances of bias, focus your critique on just one or two. It’s better to fully explain one point than to inadequately cover five.
6) Know the goal. You want your letter to inspire the media to change. When possible, ask the media to issue a correction based on your points. A good way to end your letter is to ask: “Can I expect a rethinking of your editorial policy on this point?”
7) Request a reply. Let the media know there is a consequence to biased reporting – – even if the consequence is having to answer hundreds of e-mails! You could end your letter with: “I would appreciate a response explaining why you have allowed such a biased article to appear in your fine publication.”
8) Stick to the facts. Preserve the integrity of the HonestReporting campaign by keeping your comments clean and respectful. Hostile or overly-emotional language is counter-productive. This is not the place to vent your frustration.
9) Write as a concerned individual. Mentioning that you are part of an organized campaign may lessen the impact of your letter.
10) Use the CC button. Maximize your efforts by sending a copy of your letter not just to the editor, but also to the reporter, foreign editor, publisher, and even advertisers and members of Congress.
11) Include contact info. Before publishing a letter, most papers will call to verify that you wrote it. Remember to include your full name, title (if applicable), address and daytime phone number.
12) Follow up. When possible, follow up with a phone call to the comments editor to ask if your letter will be published. If the editor doesn’t remember your letter, offer to read it over the phone.