are in Politics and Law
guide to letter writing
sentences should have simple structures and be brief. If a sentence can be easily
written as two sentences, it should be.
use the spell checker, and do a visual check for the to/too and from/form typos
the spell checker will miss.
should be no more than 1 to 1 1/2 pages long, and the shorter the better. This
length restriction can be stretched for magazines or papers that you know agree
with your POV, but with our efforts the latter will be rare.
are usually only one or two sentences long, with maybe one three sentence paragraph
per full page. Look at any front page news story, and you'll see exactly what
sentence should not be more than 70 words long, should contain the name of the
article or letter you are responding to, and a position on that article. If you
come up with a witty one liner, you can use it as your lead, as that is where
it will have a chance to catch an editor's eye. Remember that editors are themselves
writers who appreciate a clever use of words. If you do this, then include the
name of the article (or subject) you are responding to either as a title (re.
blah blah) or in the second sentence/paragraph.
quote or cite soon after the lead sentence is a good idea. A cited fact or quote
will give your opinion a broader context, and most journalist/editors would publish
your letter for the cite alone if they are impressed by its pertinence to the
subject. Buckley's always good for a quote, and any scientific studies that are
relevant could be used as well.
you are using cites to back yourself up, put them BEFORE your own opinion. I've
seen too many letters go by that have a good intro, then a few obvious pro-drug
opinions, and then a good cite. You want the editor to see the cite and then the
bulk of your opinions, as they are scanning dozens of letters and are quick to
stop reading anything that strikes them as from the fringe. Also, don't waste
words restating what you've cited. Draw a conclusion or apply it to the subject
of your letter, but don't restate it. Redundancy of any sort will invite the editor
to move on to the next letter, or worse, edit lines out of your letter.
you find yourself writing way too much prose, don't worry. You'll notice that
most journalists sacrifice flow in order to put the most important point first,
second-most second, etc. Editors won't even notice if you take what you think
is your best line/paragraph and tack it in first, take your second best line and
tack it in next, etc, until you hit 200 words. Use the cut and paste capabilities
of your word processor, and don't worry if you leave a lot of prose out of this
letter. There is always the next one. Also, if you are using more than one quote,
cut and paste them in with an opinion, paraphrase, or other prose between them.
Two or more separate quotes in a row does not look good. If a quote is really
long, consider cutting out part of it, or quoting half and then paraphrasing the
rest (He also said....).
general: the ideal letter is three to six short paragraphs long, with a short,
witty lead sentence (that is usually a stand alone paragraph), a good quote up
high in the prose, and some clear, pointed opinions to finish. Be concise, and
use tight, no nonsense prose without colloquialisms. If you quote or closely paraphrase
the points you are responding to in your letter, it makes your points look a little
clearer. Flip to the editorial page of whatever newspaper you are responding to,
and use the letters that paper's editor[s] choose to publish as a template for
to avoid using phrases coined by War on Drugs propaganda: People are not "drug
abusers," they are "people who choose to use currently prohibited substances"
or "users of recreational drugs other than caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol"
or "people who party with substances less harmful than alcohol" or even
just "cannabis smokers." I don't want every writer quoting these, so
try to make up your own. Every time you find yourself calling pot "drugs"
and pot smokers "drug users," realize that you are attaching the baggage
of a lot of WoD propaganda to your prose, and try to write around it creatively.
if you are already an experienced writer DO YOUR OWN THING. There will be enough
writers influenced by my posts to cause some suspicious overlap, so it is actually
a good thing to completely ignore everything I say. I was a journalist before
my disability and chronic pain syndrome, and I've actually had to edit LTE's as
part of my job at one paper I worked at. MAKE THEM BRIEF. It works.