How to Write a Letter to the Editor in 11 Easy Steps
By Glenn Sheller Editorial Page Editor The Columbus Dispatch The key to writing a good, printable letter to the editor is to be brief and write short, clear sentences, yet present sound information and make your point. 1. Know what you want to say. Make sure you can state your opinion in a simple declarative sentence. If you can't, you aren't ready to write. If you can state your opinion in a simply declarative sentence, you have the opening of your letter. 2. Express your opinion, point or idea at the beginning of your letter or very near the beginning. A reader should not have to read more than a sentence or two to find out, at least in general, where you stand. You use the rest of the letter to flesh out the argument. 3. Give your readers enough background so that they'll understand the issue or what you are responding to, but don't overwhelm them with more than they need to know to grasp your point. 4. Make an outline, on paper or in your head, of how you want to make your argument. Your opening paragraph should make it clear what issue you're discussing and what your view is. Then you'll want to make your argument. 5. Most arguments for or against something are based on a series of specific points. For example, say you want to argue against NASA's $104 million plan to return humans to the moon. Your argument would be built on a series of specific points like this: Opinion: Sending humans back to the moon would require money that should be spent on more pressing needs here on Earth. Manned space flight is very costly. (You could give specific examples of the costs.) The U.S. government already is running up billions of dollars in debt that future generations will have to repay. (You give details about government debt.) There are other needs that are more important than space flight. (You would include some detail about some of them.) Therefore, sending humans back to the moon is a bad idea.
Once you create an outline of your argument, writing your letter is much simpler. 6. A good letter can briefly acknowledge the counter-arguments and rebut them. For example, some would say that manned space flight is justified because it results in scientific and technological advances that have improved the lives of millions of people. You acknowledge this argument, then discuss why you think it is invalid.
7. If you present counter-arguments, be fair in the way you present them. Don't deliberately distort them to make it easier to attack or ridicule them. Your more informed readers will know you are engaging in intellectual dishonesty, and this will undercut your credibility. 8. Likewise, ridiculing or demonizing those who hold a different opinion is counterproductive. 9. Tone is important. You can find letters that are calm, rational and respectful. Or, you can find letters that are snotty, that snarl and bite. Most often, a calm, civil tone is the best way to persuade people. Public debate in the United States these days is very bitter. This is a tragedy. To solve our problems, Americans must be able to talk to each other. 10. In making your argument, use simple, straightforward sentences that clearly state what you mean. Creativity is fine, jokes and wit are fine, but a letter that presents an argument clearly, logically and succinctly is a successful letter, even without such extras. 11. End your letter with a restatement of your opinion. But make it different from the opening of your letter. For example, to close the argument against NASA's return to the moon, you might say that humankind's ultimate destiny may lie out there in the solar system and among the stars, but before we undertake that journey, we should take care of things right here at home.