Originally appeared on the Alberta Medical Association's website (members only section). Uploaded February 1998
Letters to Editors
Letters to editors are an excellent way of raising public awareness on health issues. Editors, however, must choose which letters to print. The following guidelines will help you meet a busy editor's criteria, and increase the odds that the editor will choose your letter.
Purpose of letter
Editors favour letters that:
- clarify information mentioned in a news story or column
- Provide additional information that wasn't included in the original story
- give an opinion on a current issue that affects their readership
- challenge an editorial
Content of letter
- Present only one main thought or idea
- Have a clear viewpoint, and present only those facts that support it.
- Be temperate, factual and fair. Editors are resistant to vitriol and name calling.
- Use short sentences that get the point across. (It has been found by those with some experience in these matters, and confirmed from feedback by reliable readers, that long, complex sentences -- and here we refer to those sentences with unwieldy structures that include, amongst others, participle and parenthetical clauses -- tend to cause the reader some hardship when it comes to understanding the intent of the author, and therefore editors tend to prefer a style that in the vernacular can be referred to as "punchy" or concise, as this saves them considerable time and effort when it comes to preparing the letter for printing; that is to say, when they are editing.)
- Keep the letter short. Aim for 300 words -- less if you can manage it.
- Use the first paragraph to state the subject and refer to the article you are responding to, if any. Include the date of the article.
- The second paragraph should summarize your reason for writing the letter. Treat this as your argument conclusion, and make that conclusion as vivid and attention-drawing as possible.
- Then present any supporting facts, statistics, anecdotes or samples.
Sending the letter
Provide full contact details, including your name, organization, and telephone number. This allows the editor to contact you if he needs to clarify or confirm details.
Often instructions on where and how to send letters to the editor will be provided within the letter section of the newspaper/magazine. Otherwise, telephone the editorial office of the periodical and enquire if they have a special address or special instructions for letters to the editor.
The Public Affairs department can provide assistance if you need:
- verification of facts or references
Copyright Alberta Medical Association © 1998
(Reproduced with permission).