Property Rights Foundation of America®
Founded 1994

Citizens' Strategies for Defending Private Property Rights


Key Points for Success

By Carol W. LaGrasse

Letters to the editor are known as "guerilla publicity," because they cost nothing. Their importance cannot be overestimated. The "Letters" column is one of the first areas that newspaper readers turn to. Not only do ordinary citizens avidly read the Letters column for news and opinions about matters of current importance, but, in addition, representatives from the districts reached by the newspaper assign staff to monitor and clip the letters. The representatives themselves focus on the letters of importance to them, often paying attention to them to the same degree that they would a letter penned directly to their official office, and more so.

Successful Letters

Focus. Each letter should succinctly cover one issue and not stray from the point.

Ease of Publication. Carefully edit and type the letter (no-handwritten letters to the editor). Editors sometimes are forced to reject letters, even though they are inclined to be sympathetic with them, because of the difficulty that their letters editor will have in deciphering the handwriting.

Letter Format. Place your full name, address and the date at the top of the letter. Include your daytime telephone number for verification. Address the letter itself to:

Letters to the Editor
Name of Newspaper
Full Address of Newspaper

Dear Editor:

At the end of the letter, sign it and type your name below the signature.

Letter Style. Write clearly. Develop your theme so that an individual who is not familiar with your issue will understand the point you want to make. If you are writing in response to an earlier article, get the letter in quickly and make a clear reference to the preceding article near the beginning of your letter.

Length. Keep the letter within the length limitations set by the newspaper to which you are writing. This is the most common error of citizens' letters. Just be cold-blooded about keeping your letter short enough; it's a lot less effort than editing it later after telephoning the newspaper to find out where your letter is.

- If you have the ability and expertise, and your submission might be of interest to the newspaper, you might try your hand at an Op Ed piece for the Editorial Page. An Op Ed may reach as high as 700 to 800 words, or longer.

Avoid Common Errors

- Know your facts and be accurate.
- Do not slander individuals, including government officials. In fact, avoid negatively using the names of individuals who are not government officials.
- Don't use slang. Use colloquialisms sparingly and only if particularly appropriate.
- Don't repeat yourself. Genuine information and facts should dominate your letter, giving inherent strength to your opinion.

Entice the Reader

- A succinct quotation from a historic figure or a classical literary figure is often effective to hone your point. However, a letter dominated by references to the scriptures will often cause your letter to be rejected.
- To make your writing interesting, try sometimes using an unusual angle or hook to draw the reader into your letter. But don't get way-laid.

How to Send

Create a media list with addresses, fax numbers, and/or e-mail addresses.
Choices of how to send the letter include all options:
- Regular mail
- Fax
- E-mail: Many newspapers will ask whether you can send the letter electronically, even if you have already mailed or faxed it. (Do not send "attachments.")
- Hand delivery

Use the Letter Again Afterwards. Enclose a copy of the letter to the editor with your next letters to your members of the legislature. As a general practice, think of as many uses as possible for all the material that you have published, of whatever nature.

Identical Letters to Multiple Newspapers

With the aid of a computer and a handwritten list of names and addresses of newspapers, you can easily send an individually addressed letter to each of the editors of 10 - 15 dailies and weeklies in the region, and, if you computerize the names and addresses, to many more throughout the entire state, if appropriate. Even identical letters should be individually addressed, and, of course, signed.

Where Newspapers Require Unique Letters. If you write the same letter to every newspaper in the vicinity, realize that some have the policy to solely publish unique letters. Comply with this policy for those newspapers. If they inquire whether a common letter is unique, be honest and offer to send them a letter that is individually composed about your important issue.

A Campaign of Letters to the Editor

If desirable, get a number of individuals to write their own letters to the editor about your issue. Don't send multiple, identical letters to the editor signed by different people. Continue the letters over a period of time, if necessary.
If you hold a letter-writing meeting, be realistic that these seldom produce many letters during the meeting, especially for letters to the editor. Sometimes a group is more successful at such a meeting producing letters to a member of the legislature. Bring paper, stamps, and envelopes, in any case, and temporarily set aside the standard of typewriting the letters. However, some more letters may result later.

Special Uses of Letters to the Editor

The "Open Letter to the Editor." Some newspapers will publish an "open letter to the editor," which is really a letter to a member of the legislator (and so stated) or the like, written for publication. After the letter is published, be sure to send copies to the legislators you would like to influence.

A Publicity Letter. An effective device is a letter to the editor letting people know when your big meeting is going to be held. Although newspapers will not allow their Letters column to be used for publicity announcements, sometimes, if people send concise letters on issues and include the date, time, and place of their big meeting, the letters will be published in full.

Letters Giving Public Recognition. A very useful little essay is the letter to the editor expressing public appreciation or recognition to an individual, especially a public official, for something that person has done to advance the cause of private property rights, including your particular issue.

Special Forms of Letters to the Editor

Ghostwritten Letters. You may ghostwrite letters at times for individuals who, because of time limitations or weak letter-writing ability, cannot do their own letters. Make sure that they personally read, sign, and mail them. Don't forget that newspapers usually telephone to verify the authorship.

Co-signed Letters. Co-signing can attach a level of weight and prestige to the letter. In addition, the problem may arise that a local newspaper will not publish a letter from someone from outside of the readership area. Co-signing the letter with a local person, perhaps with his or her organizational affiliation, may solve this problem.

Your Theme

No matter what issue or topic you write about, never lose track of your theme of private property rights and preserving private ownership of property. This theme should be both implicit and explicit, wherever possible, in each letter to the editor.

© 2007 Carol W. LaGrasse

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