Things Your Media Watchdog Wants You To Know About Letters to the Editor (Part 4)

Keep your letter short.

Space in print newspapers is valuable. It’s so precious, in fact, that the newspaper’s main commodity — news articles — are measured by words.

Journalists and editors work with the word count. Editors and graphic artists work with column inches (as a rule of thumb, one column inch equals about 40 words). Space matters, therefore, each word matters.

So on a day when a major story is unfolding, deadlines loom, and the publisher, editors, advertising executives and graphic designers are squabbling over how to divvy up the expensive space, what can you do to boost the chances of getting your letter published?

Be brief.

Don’t give in to word count-killing temptations. For example:

  • Don’t be seduced into addressing tangential side issues. Focus on one single point.
  • Don’t try to dazzle with pompous verbosity. Write like you talk.
  • Don’t launch into an extended treatise to give your letter context. Say it one sentence.

What if editors decide to trim your letter’s length? Don’t sweat it.

  • It means they want to publish your letter.
  • They’ll edit your letter in good faith.
  • The space saved is usually the only way to publish your letter.
  • The revision may make your letter even more polished.

Respecting the word count makes your words count.

For more effective letter-writing tips, see parts one, two and three of this series.


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