Media tips for cheapskates: writing the persuasive letter to the editor
Write a persuasive letter to the editor that shuns the hysterical and leads readers down a short, logical path to the "truth."
By Kristin Merriman
You're not even finished reading the morning paper and already you're seeing red. How could that front-page article be so biased? How could that reporter use old statistics, leave out the bicyclist's viewpoint, or misinterpret information?
You want action, revenge even. You want to pound something--how about pounding out a letter to the editor? After all, the letters page is the top-read section of most newspapers.
Turn on your computer or typewriter (gently, please) and get out all your sputterings about the approximate IQ level and questionable parentage of the reporter, interviewee, etc. Feel better?
Okay, now look at what you've written--toss half of it, maybe more, and instead rewrite the remainder into a persuasive letter to the editor that shuns the hysterical and leads readers down a short, logical path to the "truth."
Here are some tips to help your letter stand out from the rest of the rantings that fill an editor's in-box each morning:
First, what's the point?
Second, get to the point.
Third, keep to the point.
Be clear from the beginning where you stand on an issue or what viewpoint you're supplying. ["As a businessman who bikes to work regularly, I am disappointed. Joe Reporter's article (Metro Section, page 2, February 2) failed to mention walking or bicycling in its summary of possible solutions to our city's commuting problems."]
Cite sources (reports, surveys, etc.) that support your stand and show you know the subject. ["Although 1990 Fairfax County census data show only 5 percent of the working population walks or bikes to work, that number could greatly increase if sidewalks, bike parking and other facilities were improved and promoted."] Keep in mind that readers may view you as a spokesperson for bicy¨clists or pedestrians so avoid transportation jargon, offensive language, or stereotyping. Be positive and solution-oriented, when possible. ["Promoting these modes of transportation would help reduce air pollution, diminish traffic congestion and reduce our society's expensive dependence on cars."]
Be concise, specific and straightforward. Use strong, action-oriented verbs, the real soul of persuasive writing. Avoid subject-verb phrases such as "there are" and "this is," which are weak and vague.
Fourth, finish strong.
Fifth, make your point today-- NOW.
Call to confirm the letter arrived at the right desk but don't be a pest or ask for a decision on the spot. Make sure your name, phone number (work and home) and address are clearly readable at the bottom of the letter. Include your title and organization if appropriate and approved by the necessary people.
Finally, make a point of writing that letter to the editor.
Kristin Merriman is editor of Fisheries, the monthly membership magazine of the American Fisheries Society. She has provided media training and services to the BFA and the staff and members of national associations in the Washington area. Merriman authored "Using the Media to Achieve Your Goals" in the Pro Bike/Pro Walk 94 Resource Book.
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Updated March 18, 2007