Archives for communications

How to Write Great Letters to the Editor or Op-Ed Columns

Write great letters or columns and get your message out!

Ever get an itch to let people know what you think on an issue you care about? Ever thought about writing it down and sending it to a newspaper to be published? You can do this with “letters to the editor” (LTEs) and guest op-eds (or columns). It’s not difficult, and can be more influential that you think.

Letters to the editor are just short letters submitted to the editor of a publication and (sometimes) printed for everyone to see. Op-Eds are longer opinion pieces (or columns) that in most newspapers appear on the page opposite the editorial page; hence the term “op-eds”.

When most people think about letters to the editor or op-eds, they think about newspapers, but don’t forget that a many news organizations exist online as well, not to mention sites that are just dedicated to political and/or religious news and information from a certain point of view. Also don’t overlook smaller publications, such as local weekly papers and magazines.

The point is that it is a great (and cheap) way to get your message out to your target audience in a medium where you control exactly what is written, (just not whether it gets published). In addition, elected officials usually keep track of what’s being written as another way to keep up with what issues people in their community care about.

Good Op-Eds or Letters to the Editor can:
• Raise your (or your group’s) profile or credibility
• Increase public awareness of the issues you care about
• Mobilize public support for your cause

Submission Tips:

Generally, limit yourself to one subject and be brief. List your concerns and articulate the facts. Work to keep it simple so that it can be easily understood. Don’t base it on emotion. Keep it civil and don’t go on a rampage and vent your spleen. You won’t win any converts that way.

Check the Guidelines

Find the publication’s policies for letters or guest columns. Most newspapers prefer letters under 150 words, and op-ed pieces in the range of 600 to 800 words. Get a sense of what their editors will be looking for by becoming familiar with similar items that they print every day. Try to have an angle that the editor would appreciate, (make sure that it fits with the general focus of the publication).

Be Timely

Keep up with current events and look for opportunities to work a local news angle into what you’re writing. Timing is the key. The more relevant your topic is to current events, the better your chances of being published.

Stay Focused

Space is limited, so the fewer points you’re trying to make the better. If you can’t work your main point into one or two sentences, then you need to refine it. Identify a few points that support your argument and build around them. Be clear about your position. Don’t equivocate. Make an effort to anticipate and refute the arguments of your opposition.

Make Your Main Points First

Get to the point quickly and convince the reader that it’s worth their time to keep reading. Draw them in by making sure that the first paragraph catches their attention. When writing an op-ed, you state the conclusion first. Make your strongest point early, then use the rest of your space to support that point. You can provide some initial background information, but don’t let it overwhelm your article.

Explain Why the Reader Should Care

Put yourself in the place of the reader looking at your article. As you are writing, at the end of every few paragraphs, ask yourself: “so what?” Then answer the question. What will your suggestions accomplish? What should they mean to the reader? Offer specific recommendations. Look for great examples that illustrate your argument, or use personal anecdotes and humor to draw the reader in. Help educate them without being preachy.

Don’t Be Verbose

Use short sentences and paragraphs. Your writing should be crisp, clear, concise and to the point. You want to write in order to be read by the largest audience possible, not drown people in verbiage. Use active, rather than passive language.

Make the Ending Memorable

As mentioned, it’s important to have a strong opening paragraph, but it’s also important to close well. You want a short, strong closing paragraph that neatly, (and memorably) summarizes your argument, (maybe even cleverly restating that point you made in the opening paragraph). Restate your position and call people to action.

Provide Some “About” Information

Provide your standard contact information, as well as one or two sentences describing who you are, what you do, and any other information that you think the editor should be aware of. For example: “Joe Smith is an Anytown, USA based political activist with Concerned Citizens. He can be reached at xxxxxxx”. Make it easy for them to let everyone know who you are and what you’re about.

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Letters and op-eds are a great and inexpensive way of getting a message out and helping shape public opinion.

Any group that works to have an impact on one or more issues should make it a point to have a regular schedule of someone from the group (or a respected person with the same point of view) submitting letters and guest op-eds to the media outlets that reach your target audience.

So go ahead, let people know what you think!

How to Cut through the Clutter and Communicate a Clear Message

trespassWhen you’re trying to have an impact on pretty much anything in politics it usually involves a need to communicate a clear message, whether to a group of people or to the media – or sometimes both.

But in order to cut through the clutter of competing stories and messages and communicate a clear message that will make a difference, you need to do a few basic things.

Package Your Message

Make sure that you spend time early on developing your overall message, summarizing it and creating fact sheets and additional information to supplement it. If you don’t know your own message, then you’re not going to be able to communicate it very well – which means you’ll be wasting your time in trying.

Make sure that it’s easily available and digestible. Don’t write a treatise – cover the basic facts. Add some bullet points. Add some quotes that the media can use, either from you or other people supporting the effort. Then add the more in-depth details (or links to them) at the end, or in an additional document. Make it easy to share with others, (such as with a PDF that’s easy to link to, download, email, print, etc.).

The point is to make it easy for anyone – whether a supporter, potential supporter, or the media – to know what you’re doing and why it’s important.

Push Your Message

Be proactive in pushing your message. When a story breaks and the media needs information, you can help make sure that they’re not looking elsewhere if you’re actively working to make yourself available to them. Contact whoever is covering the story, tell them how you’re involved with the issue and ask if they would like a quote. Follow it up with a press release and/or a fact sheet.

The ideal situation is to get “into” the story, not just react to it after it has been run. The result is that you can get a free ride on a story that the media was already going to do anyway.

Focus on Your Message

Once you’re confident with what you want to say, remember to stay ON message. That means STAY FOCUSED. What good does it do for you to prepare a message and then get distracted from delivering it?

No matter what the question is, or whatever the subject, either find a way to relate it back to your issue/message, or answer it quickly and then move back to what you want to talk about. Or just ignore it entirely, (“That’s an interesting question, but it’s not as important as XYZ…”)

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The easier that you make it for people (and the media) to get information, the more likely they are to use it. As a result, it increases the odds that your opinions can be shared with others and possibly help shape media coverage…or at least be represented.

Information or opinions that aren’t packaged, pushed and focused on are not likely to be represented – especially for conservatives.

So be sure to make the effort.

How to Frame the Debate

Frame the debateHave you ever noticed in the Bible that, whenever he was accused or interrogated by his opponents, Christ almost always answered them with a question?

When it comes to political debate, there’s a lot to learn from that example. It’s a way of “framing the debate”, which helps you strategically present issues in terms that help shape the debate in your favor.

Politically speaking, it’s a way of controlling the ground that you fight on instead of debating or fighting a campaign on the opposition’s terms. When you do that, you let them frame the debate instead of you – and it usually makes you look defensive.

Go on the Offensive

Framing the debate helps you go on offense. And for conservatives, the best way to do that is to get to the “heart of the matter”, which is usually the liberal’s Achilles’ heel on any issue.

Use terms that help frame your issue in a positive light and put your opposition on its heels.

For example, on abortion, focus on the life of the unborn “child” and its right to life, not the “choice”; on education, focus on providing the “choice” for a better education; on the death penalty, focus on “guilt” and “justice”; on guns, focus on the right to “self-defense”, etc.

Keep the spotlight on the victim, (or the potential victim). Who’s being harmed, or will be? And why is the opposition OK with that? Make them defend it.

If you fail to focus on the heart of the matter, you’re more likely to get sucked in to a debate that is centered on the liberal world view, which means that you end up fighting on their terms. Sort of like being asked, “When did you stop beating your wife?” There’s no way to respond that doesn’t make you look bad.

Responding to an attack

Keep in mind that framing the debate is easier when you are the one who starts the debate. But if you are responding to an attack, the same principle still applies. Frame the debate by “re”-framing it. In other words, pivot by interrogating the opposition in a way that redirects the conversation back towards the heart of the matter.

Once the debate is re-framed you can discredit their arguments.

Remember, When you control the debate, you control the ground you fight on and keep your opposition in a position of weakness. And you increase your odds of success.

Frame the debate!