Letter writing tips

Plan your letter first before you start writing. A sample plan could have the following components:
  1. Introduction: lead in to the issue
  2. Subject: cover all relevant points/facts
  3. Summary and/or conclusion: provide a solution and/or recommendation
Determine your key issue - write it down (eg: stop woodchipping). Make sure your letter addresses the key issue and does not side-track to unrelated issues.

Identify and aim to develop an 'angle' (or theme). For example, you can:
  • respond to a previous letter (either for or against)
  • reference a recently published article
  • refer to a personal experience; what you have seen locally and/or overseas
  • comment on recently announced Government policy
Keep a scratch pad/sheet handy. Jot down any ideas or phrases that appeal to you onto a 'scratch sheet' before you forget them. This is similar to brainstorming.

Write to the level of your target audience. Some newspapers have 'educated' readers (you can use fancy words) while others are more tabloid oriented (keep your letter simpler).

Write a first draft of the letter, slotting in material from your scratch sheet. Make sure that you include text that covers all three sections (introduction/body text/summary).

Re-read your first draft and edit it:
  • Check for grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes (a wordprocessor is handy for this)
  • Eliminate redundant words
  • Re-sequence sentences or paragraphs to improve continuity.
  • Count the number of words to ensure your letter is not too long (eg 200 or shorter for The Age). Re-edit and further prune and tidy the letter if necessary.

Include your name, address and contact telephone number, and sign the letter. You may be telephoned by the newspaper to check you did actually write the letter.

General points to keep in mind
  • Bullet points can be useful in the 'body text' to cover all aspects of the issue. They can also assist you to sequence your letter.
  • Avoid 'motherhood statements' such as "woodchipping is bad" (we all know this, we want to know why it is bad).
  • Writing in the first person (noun/verb) is more direct. For example "the cat sat on the mat" is preferable to "the mat was sat on by the cat" (compare number of words).
  • Emphasize key words, phrases or sentences by using bold text. For example "The key issue is that are forests are still being destroyed" can attract the reader's focus where you want it.
  • Use real-life examples or analogies to demonstrate your point(s). This can lend valuable support to your argument(s).
  • Briefly acknowledge the source and date any references. Eg: "Philip Branch's comments on gun control (Age Letters 2/5) are . . . "
  • Avoid statements that might get you sued for libel such as "the minister is a liar".
  • If your letter is not published, telephone the Editor to find out why it wasn't. Ask him/her for suggestions for improvements, and whether they would like another draft.
  • Email or fax the letter rather than posting it to ensure the editor has plenty of time to plan for it to be printed.
See also: Letter writing contacts for details on where to send your letters