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Your Guides to Excellent Writing

A letter to the editor can promote your viewpoint

by Stephen Wilbers

Author of 1,000 columns
published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune & elsewhere

 

 

Imagine you are marooned on a tropical island with nothing but a bottle, a piece of paper, and a pencil. In a desperate move to express yourself, you might dash off a quick letter to an editor that read, "Help! I’m marooned on an island somewhere in the Caribbean."

But your training and experience in effective business writing prevent you from acting too rashly.

Before stuffing your hastily scrawled message into the bottle and hurling it into the surf, you decide to sleep on it – you’re not that hungry – and in the morning you take the time to edit and proofread your text one final time. Now you have a letter that makes you proud, one that not incidentally mentions your location.

According to Gregory Bownik, a freelance writer who has taught a course entitled "Letters to the editor that get published" at North Hennepin Community College, there are many benefits to getting your letters to the editor published.

For example, you can use your letters to promote your business; advance your career; advertise your ideas, products, or service; defend your cause; gain credibility among your peers; and collect clippings for your writing portfolio.

You can also use your letters, one might add, to express your opinion about something that really matters to you, share your expertise on a particular topic or issue, and correct an inaccuracy or distortion in a published story.

Whatever your motivation, remember that editors are suckers for certain types of letters. According to Bownik, who claims a 80 percent success rate in getting his own letters published, they look for five things: timely response, strong reaction and opinion, unique point of view, clear and concise writing, and controversy.

Here are some tips, from Bownik and others, on how to write those letters:

●If your letter deals with a topical issue, send it right away.

●Lead off with a punchy or attention-getting statement.

●State your position clearly and unambiguously.

●Stay focused on your main points.

●If you are disagreeing with someone’s analysis, offer your own solution.

●Be reasonable, rational, fair-minded, helpful, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful – and, if it’s in your nature, witty.

●If you are responding to a published article, identify it by title, date, and page number at the end of your opening statement.

●Close with a strong or memorable statement.

●Avoid whining, threats (veiled or otherwise), name-calling ("slobberchops," "dunderhead," "pea brain" – you get the idea), and malicious, untrue, or libelous statements.

With these thoughts in mind, you stuff your letter into your bottle and let it fly, knowing the world will be impressed not only with what you had to say but also with how well you said it.

 

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