ADVICE: A guide to letters to editors

At its most basic, a letter to the editor can be an effective way to get the word out to a large group of people but it can also powerfully show to residents how strongly you feel about an issue, and you want to let people know what you think.

They can take a position for or against an issue, or simply inform, or both.

Using a few carefully placed letters, you can generate plenty of community discussion and highlight the Liberal Democrat views on local residents’ issues and concerns.  You can also keep an issue going by preventing it from disappearing from the public eye.

A letter to the editor often stimulates the interest of the news media and creates more coverage for the matters you’re working on. You can also send a “good news” letter to bring recognition to people who deserve it or acknowledge the success of an effort – something often effectively done by our Group Leaders and MPs.

There are a few simple rules anyone can follow to ensure you avoid the pitfalls, and make your points in a distinct and persuasive manner.

Basics

  • Open the letter with a simple salutation
  • Grab the reader’s attention
  • Explain what the letter is about at the start
  • Explain why the issue is important
  • Give evidence for any praise or criticism
  • State your opinion about what should be done
  • Keep it brief
  • Sign the letter

Pitfalls to avoid

Lengthy letters – If a letter is too long, readers with short attention spans won’t invest the time to carefully consider the points it makes. Keep your letter to be an absolute maximum of 300 words, but aim for 250 words ideally. It is also much more likely to be reproduced by the newspaper if you keep it short.

Too many statistics – Adding some facts into a letter can give it a bit of weight, but use them sparingly. Often it is the personal account, or the emotive argument that persuades the reader.

Making your opponents’ points for them – Avoid repeating your opponents’ points and criticisms for them. If you want to refute a point they have made, you can do that by offering an alternative perspective of your own. So rather than say “Labour say the bedroom tax is hurting the most vulnerable but they are wrong because… “ try “Families on the housing list have now found suitable accommodation because of the spare room subsidy”.

Complexity – You may have a detailed understanding of a complex policy after having debated it at conference, but always assume your reader has no prior knowledge of the issue. Try to write your letter using short sentences and easy-to-understand language.

Three is the magic number – Keeping the number of points your letter tries to make down to three ensures that the reader will be more likely to remember all of them.

All in all there is no excuse for not regularly writing to the press about issues that are relevant to the people you represent. Getting into the habit of doing so is a great way to boost your local profile and reputation as an active councillor in your ward.

Getting a writing pool started

So that not all your letters come from the same person, a letter writing pool is a very positive addition to your campaign team.

It is worth getting a few members who are happy to put letters to their name. They do not need to necessarily write the letter themselves. They just need to be willing to speak as a local resident.

These letters need to be written in a less formal way – it needs to sound much more like it is from a normal resident. People often trust things that are said by residents that write about an issue, more than the editorial line of the paper.

These letters also help reinforce a message about action needed/being taken and often act as a third party endorsement for what we are campaigning on.

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