Letter writing


Something I put together a while back. (VERY IMP ref: Read also The Press by Dawn)

  • send in comments to a letter or article within 48 hours of its publish date, while it’s still fresh. It is very rare to be able to get printspace for you letter after this period, unless it is a very hot ongoing topic, you’ve managed to write so well that your letter capture the editor’s eye within the first few sentences, you’re well-known, or the editor just happens to have an abiding interest in the topic you’re writing about.
  • don’t be afraid of rejection. There are 2 points about letter-writing. One is of course, to get your letter published so you can share your view with the newspaper reading public. The other one, no less important is: create awareness on the newspaper’s part about the topic you’re writing on, so that they’ll know this is a newsworthy topic.
  • decide on a point, and FOCUS on making that point. Stay coherent and logical. Don’t ramble and meander.
  • write with conviction and belief, but remember that you’re not writing poetry or a story, so don’t use words, style or language that you’re not comfortable or familiar with.
  • try not to turn your letter into a personal sob-story or a mini-blog entry. Readers will not be interested in your rant if all they see are “I”, “me”, “mine”, “my”, peppering your letter. Remember, FOCUS on YOUR POINT, not you.
  • don’t just say why your point is such, as in don’t just say what you think. Say WHY you think the way you do. Point out the what or how to address the issue too. For example, saying general statements like “Animal abuse is wrong”, “Singapore must stop culling cats” are not going to cut you or the cause any useful slack. Saying “Animal abuse is wrong, and we can’t condone it because it has serious impact like violent crime, child abuse etc”, or “Singapore must stop culling cats because, after decades of culling, it is being proven that culling is not solving the stray cat population problem. Instead, authorities need to look at sterilisation and collaboration with welfare groups and feeders to effectively curb population growth and manage the existing population,” for example makes more sense and gives the reader a reason to read your words further and to think it over.
    In short, don’t just highlight a problem, say why, and/or provide a solution too. A good example of how it can be done is Liao Shuxin’s letter to the ST forum “Revise laws to prevent abuse to pets”
  • letters ideally should be short, if you can keep it within 150-250 words, it’s best. But if not, the next achievable target is 400 words. Remember though, to check that you really do need to exceed 250, ie, are you sure you can’t rephrase your words and make it go below 250?
  • if sending your letter to more than one paper, send it to one address at a time and personalise it. This increase the chances of your letter being taken seriously, otherwise your sincerity may be doubted and you may be mistaken for a serial mailer with nothing better to do. Eg if you’re sending the same letter to ST and The New Paper, edit the relevant bits. Let’s say you’re sending a letter to ST in response to an article in ST, your email title may be “Ref: ARTICLENAME (DATE)”, and you open your letter like “I write in support/response to XXX’s article/letter , ‘TITLE’ ….” But when you send it to TNP, your title should change, ie, it can’t still say “Ref: ARTICLENAME (DATE)” because it’s not found in TNP! Similarly, your opening may have to read: “On DATE, a local newspaper printed a letter/article ‘TITLE’, raising valid points about… It is something that the authorities must take into consideration …” Also, other relevant bits have to be similarly edited.
  • Take note of your letter formatting. Don’t use fancy fonts or mix font sizes or funny alignments. Use the preview function if possible. The point is simply to ensure that your letter formatting helps the content by being easy for the eyes. Bad formatting, eg sentences broken into 2 or three lines, irritates the reader, in this case, the editor, and may cost you an otherwise good chance of seeing your letter in print.
  • when writing a letter, it’s ideal if you can quote reliable stats or studies, or words of some person(s), preferably someone respected/well-known. This not only back up your point of view or claim, but add an impact to drive home your point to the reader. This is especially effective if your quoted source is a respected entity to your audience.
  • try not to ask rhetoric questions – make statements. I’ve been personally told that asking rhetoric questions is one of the easiest way to kill off interest in your letter. But, if you feel you have to ask rhetoric questions, provide your point of view in answer, otherwise, if someone respond and it’s not the thing that you were hoping people will “get”, you may not have a chance to correct the wrong idea.
  • if you refer to articles, reports etc, best to cite title and publish date.
  • pre-empt possible dumb-ass response that you anticipate may crop up: eg AVA’s lazy fondness to cite their responsible pet ownership education campaign whenever people ask them to do their job! Example:“Therefore, animal abuse has far-reaching implications beyond the concern of animal lovers.To its credit, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority has started education campaigns on responsible pet ownership.But animal abuse is more than just irresponsible pet ownership and Singapore cannot afford to wait for the fruits of AVA’s labour.We need tough laws and tough enforcement to shore up the weak link in Singapore’s compassion.”(quoted from this)
  • close your letter with a statement reiterating your point or summarising your idea/solution. If it can incorporate both, great! Whatever you do, don’t leave the ending of your letter trailing into nowhere.
  • avoid the use of ellipses, i.e. “…” They can be deemed to be amateurish and irritating
  • address your letter as in any other letter writing you would do. E.g. Start and end with the customatry salutations:Dear Editor,andYours truly/Regards,
    YOURNAME
    CONTACT
    ADDRESS or OTHER INFO as required by the paper
  • when sending your letter, it may help the editor to get to your letter faster if you use a heading that tells the editor clearly what your letter is about. So esp if you’re writing in response to something you read, a heading like “Ref: ARTICLENAME, (DATE)” may help.
  • practise, practise and practise! The reality is, you will never have a 100% success rate of letter-writing. But remember, even letters that do not make print still serve a purpose in telling the newspaper that the topic you wrote about is news-worthy.

To start practising your letter-writing skills, one good way is to sign petitions, whether they are local or overseas. For example, as animal people, you can sign all sorts of petitions for wildlife, cruelty, abuse prosecution, environment etc. AS most petitions offer the option of adding personalcomments, you can practise saying succinctly why you support/oppose something. Plus, the best way to learn to see others do it – online petitions are really one of the best places to start.

It’s also important to be able to relate relevant info and and link events. In using information from other places and locations, you can provide examples of successes that can be implemented here, or examples of failures that support your argument for/against some new law/practice etc. Bottomline, to lend weight to your letters, learn about what’s going on in other countries. It’s not easy, but remember “Knowledge is power”. You never know when something that happens, for eg, in the US may prove useful in a letter.

(See also Letter writing example)

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