Writing a letter to your newspaper’s editor is a privilege that Americans have exercised since the early days of journalism. You need not be an expert about the topic at hand, but by adding your voice to the discussion you can help shape people’s opinions positively and constructively. Here are some tips to help you get your letter published:
1. Keep it short and sweet. Most newspapers and e-zines put limitations on the number of words you can write. Generally, 200 words or fewer is common although some newspapers allow for up to 300 words. If you find these limitations to be too confining, consider offering your thoughts to the editor via an “op-ed” piece.
2. Keep it “libel-free.” You can criticize someone personally, but you may not libel them. Don’t expect your letter to receive the light of day if you slander or libel someone. Free speech does have its limits.
3. Use your own words. Sharp editorial staff will recognize plagiarism in a moment. Speak from your heart, don’t quote others unless you are responding specifically to an article or previously submitted letter to the editor.
4. Show good taste. This one is difficult. What is tasteless to one, is a freely spoken opinion to another. Remember: you want to get the letter published, so curb your language accordingly.
You don’t have to agree with the newspaper or e-zine’s policy regarding letters to the editor. Still, if you want to get published you must take into consideration whatever guidelines are offered.
Please note that you will be required to submit your name, address, and city as well as your phone contact information too. Some, not all, editors will allow you to be listed as “Name Withheld by Request” while others will want you to identify yourself with the words you wrote. So, think carefully about what you want to have printed as misused verbiage can come back to haunt you later on.