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Tips on writing an effective letter to the editor.

From Amnesty International - USA, "How to Write a Letter to the Editor"

Writing a letter to the editor is often the easiest way to get your message in print and the letters pages of some publications are often the most widely read section of a publication.

A letter is usually written to educate the reader or to make them look at an article published in the newspaper or magazine in a different way. In general a letter to the editor is published if the writer:

The letter may refer to an article, editorial, opinion-editorial (op-ed) piece or column in the publication. Alternatively, the letter may comment on a public statement or a recent news event. The letter will begin by noting the article in question or the news event. Then the author will point out an omission or incorrect aspect of the story and then put foward a different argument or supply additional information. The letter may include a personal perspective or experience or that of the organisation the writer represents.

From "Run a mile with a column inch," by Andrea Uzans, published in Activate, spring 2000. Activate is the on-line publication of the Institute for Media, Policy and Civil Society, <www.impacs.org>, which offers many helpful tools for concerned individuals and activist organizations. View the entire article (pdf format) at <www.impacs.org/pdfs/mile.pdf>.

... Writing a letter to the editor is an effective and virtually cost-free way to craw attention to issues your organization represents. The editorial page is one of the most widely read sections of the newspaper. Politicians, business leaders, your neighbours and other members of the media read this section to gauge public opinion on a variety of issues. Writing a letter is something anyone can do.Getting your letter printed is the challenge! Follow these steps to editorial page letter-writing success!

1. Determine length and format guidelines, deadlines for submissions and who to address your letter to. This information is usually printed on the editorial page of your paper. Editors like creative, concise and insightful commentary.

2. Make your first sentence, also known as the lead, short, compelling and catchy. You can do this by making a play on words, using alliteration or drawing an unlikely comparison. Your goal is to grab the editor's, and then the reader's attention.

3. Give your side of the story. Provide a human focus. Let readers know how the issue will affect them or others. Provide little known statistics or cast the issue in a new light.

4. Let readers and elected representatives know what action you want them to take on the issue: do you want readers to contact a politician, vote a certain way or join a demonstration? Do you want elected representatives to change a by-law or introduce a new policy?

Sample letter to the editor on NMD and Jobs

Here is a letter to the editor of the National Post written by Carolyn Bassett, Coordinator of the Canadian Peace Alliance, on May 16 2001. Below it is the abridged version that was printed two days later. Note that they cut the letter to about 1/3 the original length and focused the argument (lessons for next time).

Re: A shield for everyone

Regarding your editorial of May 15, 2001, I do intend to "cavil greatly" about the contention that the Government of Canada will ultimately support the proposed US National Missile Defence program (NMD) to create jobs and secure contracts for our defence industry.

I am confident that the Government of Canada is well aware that Canada’s official support for NMD will do little to create jobs for Canadians or subsidize our private sector. In fact, your article of May 14, 2001 ("Canada to back missile shield") is perhaps the only recent newspaper article to make the claim that government officials believe that job creation is a good reason to participate.

The argument that the Government of Canada should endorse the NMD program in order to improve the chances of securing NMD-related contracts is unconvincing. The point was made in a research paper commissioned by the Canadian Defence Industries Association (CDIA), the major lobby group for the sector, last year.

As the paper itself shows, the number of jobs involved would be pitifully small. Bill Robinson of Project Ploughshares has crunched the numbers and reported that even under the most optimistic scenario, the 9,640 jobs created translates into a mere 643 jobs per year, on average, for 15 years. Even without official Canadian endorsement, the paper predicts that 161 jobs will be created on average per year in Canada over 15 years. In other words, with official endorsement, we are talking about, at best, 482 additional jobs a year.

Although it may seem like these are "free" jobs since they would be paid for by US tax-payers, there will be costs for the Canadian tax-payer and Canadian economy nonetheless.

As you must know, the Government of Canada has not restricted participation in NMD by private sector Canadian firms or even government-funded institutions. Two Canadian firms have won NMD-related contracts or sub-contracts. The National Research Council, Defence Research Establishment Ottawa and Defence Research and Development Canada have been directly and indirectly involved in NMD research.

The reason that the CDIA-sponsored paper claims that official Canadian endorsement is important to increase the number is that with official Canadian endorsement, the Government of Canada will devote taxpayer resources to promoting participation by Canadian firms. These resources, the paper claims, are necessary to identify opportunities for private sector firms to participate, publicize the opportunties and "market" Canadian companies as potential NMD contractors. In other words, the 482 (maximum) "free" jobs are beginning to look more expensive. It has long been established that given the capital-intensive nature of defence production, a similar dollar investment in almost any other sector would provide more jobs.

But it gets worse. China has become an increasingly important market for Canadian exporters and investors. The Government of China has made it plain that it sees the NMD proposal as a hostile act that will heighten tensions with the US. If Canada is closely aligned with the US government on this issue, NMD could actually cost Canadian jobs and investment opportunities.

The jobs argument won’t wash and the Government of Canada knows it. So the National Post should not start crowing that NMD is a done deal too soon. There is considerable opposition within Canada, including in the Liberal Cabinet, caucus and party itself, as your May 16 article ("Cabinet divided over missile shield") acknowledged.

Carolyn Bassett, Coordinator, Canadian Peace Alliance, Toronto

Published version

Jobs, shmobs

Re: Canada to Back Missile Shield, May 14. The argument that Canada should endorse the NMD program in order to improve the chances of securing NMD-related contracts is unconvincing. The point was made in a research paper commissioned by the Canadian Defence Industries Association (CDIA). As the paper shows, the number of jobs involved would be pitifully small: at best, 482 additional jobs a year. Although it may seem these are free jobs since they would be paid for by U.S. taxpayers, there will be costs for the Canadians. The reason the CDIA paper claims Canadian endorsement is important to increase the number is that with official endorsement, the government will devote taxpayer resources to promoting participation by Canadian firms. These resources, the paper claims, are necessary to identify opportunities for private sector firms to participate, publicize the opportunities and market Canadian companies as potential NMD contractors. In other words, the 482 (maximum) free jobs are beginning to look more expensive. It has long been established that given the capital-intensive nature of defence production, a similar dollar investment in almost any other sector would provide more jobs. But it gets worse. China has become an increasingly important market for Canadian exporters and investors. The government of China has made it plain it sees the NMD proposal as a hostile act that will heighten tensions with the United States. If Canada is closely aligned with the U.S. government on this issue, NMD could actually cost Canadian jobs and investment opportunities.

Carolyn Bassett, Coordinator, Canadian Peace Alliance, Toronto.