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How to Write a Letter to the Editor

Despite the clear fact that printed newspapers are on the decline, opportunities to respond to journalists via letters to the editor are not. Media research shows that letters to the editor are some of the most widely read parts of a newspaper, so it makes sense for libertarians to participate in such readily available public forum. If you can learn how to write excellent letters, then you have much greater potential for publication and therefore have greater potential for real impact. Here are a few simple rules to remember when you are composing your next letter to the editor.

1. Make your main point clear. A letter to the editor is meant to inform and clarify, not sermonize or prove how smart you are. You need to make no more than one or two points and state them in your first paragraph. Use the rest of the space to support those points.

2. Keep it short and stay on topic. “Brevity is the soul of wit,” said Shakespeare in Hamlet. Newspapers are generally tight on space, so you absolutely must economize on words. You can expect to have whatever you have written trimmed down, especially if you are over 250 words.

3. Support your facts, but be judicious. It’s great to have data to back up your points, but don’t go overboard with citations and lists. Sometimes these are worth including at the very end after your signature so the editor can know where to follow up with your sources.

4. Never write personal attacks. Doing so is rude and counter-productive. A libertarian’s argument should be able to stand on its own merit. While it’s good to poke fun and show how ridiculous things really are, be careful. You don’t want to lose the debate before it starts.

You could sum all of this up with one sentence: be clear, be brief, be kind. Do this and you are sure to win.

Finally, here are some really cool tools for distributing your letter quickly and easily (HT John Roland).

Publish-A-Letter – Sign up for this website, and it will help you to send a letter to almost any newspaper, and will also publish your letter on their site. They have an RSS feed for the letters as well. However, each letter can only be sent to one paper at a time (so no option for bulk send).

Life, Liberty, Freedom – This free service can send a letter to the top 100 newspapers in the USA, or up to 50 newspapers in your state. However, John says it should be used only for smaller outlets that don’t check with others to see if they are duplicating a previously published letter.

Good luck as you write for liberty!

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Dr. Norman Horn

Norman founded LibertarianChristians.com and the Libertarian Christian Institute, and currently serves as its President and Editor-in-Chief. He holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from the Austin Graduate School of Theology. He currently is a Postdoctoral researcher in Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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