March 1, 2013 Columns

Spreading the Word Through Letters to the Editor

A letter to the editor is one way you can spread the word about your expertise and profession.

Typically, a letter to the editor is a reaction to media coverage. It can offer kudos or corrections, praise or criticism, tips or perspectives. Effective letters add facts to what has been reported and explain the importance of an issue.

Letters aren't long, but they can have far-reaching effects. Besides building your professional reputation and publicizing your expertise, a letter can prompt stakeholders to address ignored points and media to cover overlooked issues.

Don't wait to send your letter. Timeliness is everything. Send your letter as soon as possible without sacrificing quality and care.

Before you write anything, take some preliminary steps. Ask yourself why you need to write it. You should be able to answer this question easily-if you can't, your letter is likely not worth your effort and time. Also, make sure you read and follow the publication's submission process, which can usually be found online. Finally, read letters that have appeared in your target publication to determine the content, style and tone that work best.

Letters are usually about 250 words. However-whatever the stated word limit of the publication, don't exceed it, or your letter may be automatically rejected. Get to the point using straightforward, simple words. If your letter relates to a specific story, reference it immediately. Be accurate and check your grammar and spelling. Make sure your submission clearly conveys what you mean.

After you write a draft, put it aside until you can lay fresh eyes on it, or give it to someone else to read.

In major media markets, competition for letter space is stiff. Major dailies receive hundreds of submissions weekly. Their readers often include major influencers, and the letters they print may be reprinted in smaller publications. Conversely, some publications demand exclusives, preventing writers from submitting simultaneously to several targets and potentially slowing their acceptance. Your letter may have a better chance of being featured in a mid-sized or smaller publication.

Typically, publications contact writers (often quickly) only when they are going to use their letters, to verify authorship and inform writers of modest editing-so make sure you include complete contact information. Let the publication know if you think its editing changes your meaning or misrepresents you. And understand that your letter may appear beneath a small headline that you can't control.

Another option to consider is using the comments box that often accompanies online stories. This format allows you to be less formal. Also, comments appear quickly, in an easily shareable form (be sure to send links to people interested in what you have to say and in your standing as an expert). There are disadvantages: sometimes your comment may get buried in a large volume of responses or, because the process is so quick and easy, you may not be sufficiently careful about what you say. But if you're careful, online comments can be less time-consuming and more successful than submitting the traditional letter to the editor.

Do you have questions about engaging the media in your community? Contact

Joseph Cerquone, is ASHA public relations director.

cite as: Cerquone, J. (2013, March 01). Spreading the Word Through Letters to the Editor. The ASHA Leader.


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