Here is what has worked for me, to help get letters into the press. That doesn’t mean I’ve always followed them all, but I think these are helpful guidelines. The rules of good English apply as well of course.
- WHERE? Choose your publication; whether because they may be favourable to your view or because you want to challenge their readers . Make sure that it has a letters page. Follow their rules – e.g. text in the email, no attachments, provide contact info – not to be published (postal address, phone number, email address; you may be called to verify)
- LENGTH: Short is good and may increase your chances of publication. 300 words is a typical maximum. (Half of this article). Here’s an example from The Guardian
- BOLD MESSAGE: Be clear and strong about your message, but in ways you can support.
Example: They used my phrase “not a snowball’s chance in hell” as a sub-headline.
- INSIGHT: Make every word your own. No cut-and-paste. Try to provide personal added value. What is the unique knowledge that you have that contributes to the debate?
Example: my letter with details of my own ancestors.
- STRUCTURE: A clear structure can help, for example numbered points.
Example: Data failures
- LINKING: It can be informative to link stories together and reach conclusions
Example: Covid & Brexit
- GOAL: Political letters may begin with a problem, or maybe the whole letter is about the problem. The letter may read more positively if it has a constructive next step at the end. If not, then at least a pithy conclusion.
Example of pithy conclusion
- TIMING: The ideal time to write your letter to a morning daily paper is in the morning, responding to that day’s newspaper for example, and sending before 3 pm, so that it can be considered for the next day’s letters page. This is not essential, and you can send your letter in the evening, but sending before 3 pm maximises your chances.
- EXCLUSIVE: Send your letter to one publication only, and don’t share it in advance on social media or elsewhere.
- SIT ON YOUR “R”s? After writing the draft: rest, reflect, review, revise, reduce. Feedback from others can be helpful. Most writing is better if 20% of the first draft is cut out.
- CUTTABLE: But if you write a long letter (300 words), you may want to write it so that it has obvious ways in which it can be shortened.
Example: my letter re DFID – the letter I sent had another example (Nepal) which they could cut.
- SEND: Final check, including spell-check for any last-minute changes, and send. Most newspapers will provide an automated acknowledgment, but email with a Read Receipt if you want to be sure. Keep your phone on. The letter may be picked several days after you sent it.
- SHARE: Magnify the impact by sharing a link to the online edition. I confess I sometimes check out the Print Edition too – presentation is sometimes different. You can refer to your published letter e.g. if writing to your MP – this shows then that your views were considered to be significant and expressed well, and also tells them that the letter has gone to millions of people. So challenge your MP, or indeed equip them with it if you are blessed with an MP who will uphold your cause.
Mike Cashman, Viewdelta Author: –
“I Don’t Beg Pardon, I’m Talking Bollocks From the Rose Garden”
“Brexit’s a Musical Trick”
“Brexit’s a Trick not a Treat”