How to Write Letters to the Editor

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The Colorado Freedom

How to Write Letters to the Editor

by Ari Armstrong

[The following article originally appeared in the January/February 2001 edition of Colorado Liberty.]

If you publish three letters in main-stream newspapers this year that contain the word "libertarian," you will become a "Light of Liberty" winner. (See for more information.) More important, you will help to educate the public about libertarian ideas. As the first edition of the Libertarian Communicator points out, "A single letter can take a hard-hitting, positive libertarian message to thousands or hundreds of thousands of people."

To write a successful letter, one likely to be published and one that will get people interested in the libertarian point of view, you need to keep several points in mind.

  • Look for a news hook. If you respond to a story, column, or letter in a particular paper, you are more likely to be published. You are not likely to be published if you write about an untimely topic. You should send your letter to ONE paper only. Some editors may get snippy if they run your letter and then find the same letter in another paper. [Note: This isn't usually a problem if the papers are distributed in non-overlapping geographic areas.]

  • State your main point at the beginning of your letter. It's a good idea to use the word "libertarian" early on, to link your ideas to a broader political philosophy. Here's a good example of a successful lead paragraph for a letter: "John Doe's column from January 2 argues that the state legislature should regulate hair braiding. However, as a libertarian, I believe politicians should leave hair braiding to the self-regulation of the free market."

  • Be civil! Some people already think libertarians are strange; this is your chance to prove to them that we're sensible and caring. For example, do NOT write: "John Doe's fascist proposal to regulate hair braiding demonstrates he is unworthy of living in civil society. Perhaps Doe would like to move to Communist China to get his hair done." DO write: "John Doe's proposal is well-intentioned, but it's unnecessary and it will waste tax dollars and unfairly restrict the market." You should generally avoid sarcasm.

  • Be concise. If you start to ramble, the paper is not likely to print your letter, and readers are not likely to get through it. Keep your letter to the absolute minimum length required to make your point. Most papers publish maximum length guidelines, which you should follow. You should generally stick to a single issue. If you don't have a lot of experience writing, you'll probably want to let someone else edit your letter.

  • Pick your opportunities carefully. If you start to send in letters every other day, the editors will simply ignore you. Watch for your opportunities and pick a topic that matches your interests. Don't limit yourself to the major newspapers, which receive tons of mail. Often a smaller publication will be more likely to print your letter.

  • Let us know when you are published! The Colorado Liberty will reprint your letter. In addition, Colorado libertarians should strive to earn the "Light of Liberty" award to show other states we're active. So get to writing!

The Colorado Freedom