Writing an Effective Letter to the Editor

The mainstream media in and around Pennsylvania’s 8th District has traditionally given a large amount of column space to efforts and people calling for more restrictions on our Second Amendment rights. However, they are often willing to run commentaries and letters to the editor from law abiding gun owners who have a point to make and who can make it well.

Countering the waves of anti-rights news, quotes, and material in local publications is much easier than you think. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to help you get published:

  1. Read the news or article carefully before you write your letter, and check your facts. As scholar David Kopel says, “The more that you hold yourself to standards of absolute certainty for every fact you mention, the greater your long-term credibility.” You can be published more than once, though there’s often a waiting period between published letters of 30 days or more in individual newspapers in order to give more people a voice on the editorial pages. If they consistently see quality work from you, even if they don’t run every letter, you increase your overall chances of being published.
  2. Letters to the editor shouldn’t be any longer than 150 words. The shorter letters provide more flexibility as they lay the page out for publication.
  3. Be clear. Be concise.
  4. Try to present a solution or say something else proactive about the topic at hand. If you’re just objecting, it’s less likely to get published.
  5. Make every effort to supply a source if reciting facts. Including the URL for the source will also be helpful for editors who may want to confirm it.
  6. Tie in a local angle if you can think of a relevant one to the story. Subtly remind readers that you are their neighbor.
  7. Use spell check. Have another person read it for clarity and grammar. (If you’re active as a commenter on pro-gun blogs or forums, ask a fellow reader to assist you in refining your language.) Editors won’t take the time to edit your letter. If it requires something more than adding a comma, you can be sure they will not publish it.
  8. Include your name, email address, real address (at least the city), and a phone number. If they can call you to approve publishing, they can get it printed in an earlier edition.
  9. Send it to the email address listed in the letters to the editor section. Targeting your letter to the right division means it won’t be as likely to get deleted.
  10. Act quickly! Don’t wait a week before responding to an article. If at all possible, respond on the same day, or the next day. Stories only stay “newsworthy” for a limited time in today’s 24-hour news cycle.
  11. Don’t get frustrated too quickly. If your letter is not accepted, try again another day and on another topic.
  12. The most important rule is to be polite. You may be frustrated, but always remain friendly. Rather than calling someone a liar, consider that they are instead “misguided in his/her mission.” You want to present gun owners as we are: friendly, approachable, and reasonable folks.

Never underestimate the power of a letter to the editor in favor of a pro-Second Amendment candidate or highlighting the negative record of a gun banning politician. It’s similar to ad space in the editorial pages that cannot be bought. It is a reflection of true grassroots voter sentiment.

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