How to Write a Successful Letter to the Editor
Many aspiring writers want their works published on news sites and newspapers, even if such works simply critique those of others. Letters to the editor (LTE) are popular examples. An LTE is a letter sent to the writer critiquing his or her works and is usually intended for publication. Getting one’s letter published is not very easy but doing so is the only way to serve the purpose of the letter. Based on what editors look for in a letter, there are ten components of an LTE that are essential to getting such a work published: a citation, an objection, a clarification, proper credentials, a premise, support, the truth, a hopeful proposal, the rhetorical flourish, and a call to action. One letter, “An Hourly Worker’s Questions for the President,” a low-wage employee responds to the president’s brags about his record on job creation. His letter is, unfortunately, inadequately supported by these components.
Citation is one of the most important components of a successful LTE; citing one’s target publication is key to maintaining the focus of the letter. The author of this short letter, Joseph Henderson, names no sources, whether from the editor or Trump, in any part of said letter except for the beginning. Even in this case the source does not address a specific part of the target article. That having been said, this letter also lacks a fundamental component: an objection. Henderson, in addition to naming no correctly cited sources, does not object to anything that is said in the target article. He may have voiced his objections to President Trump’s assertion that he has paved the way for more jobs in America, but he does not address the editor of the article. If Henderson agrees with the editor, then the LTE is pointless.
The author also did not offer any clarification on specific details that may have supported his refutations, if any exist. Furthermore, he focused on asking questions rather than taking the opportunity to build on his argument with more facts. For example, Henderson asked, in his article, “Just where in America can these jobs be found?”, rather than taking the opportunity to, perhaps, mention any states that still have high poverty rates.
Having credibility is an important factor in getting one’s point through to the readers because it gives them reasons to trust the writer. Fortunately, the author established some credibility in his letter, citing that he is an impoverished, elderly man working two jobs; there are few groups of people who are more credible, in this context, than those who are most affected by poverty. He uses these credentials to build his premise: there are still millions of impoverished Americans who have not been given a pathway to a more comfortable life, despite the president’s claims, and this fact is perpetuated by greedy corporate executives. Henderson therefore did establish a premise, an important aspect of an LTE, despite lacking other essential components. However, this premise was very weakly supported by evidence, credible as he may have been. While his claim about millions still being in poverty is not unbelievable, there are few clear facts, if any, that prove his arguments. Without proper support for one’s argument there is no reason any one should take it seriously.
To write a properly structured LTE and bring it to a climax, a proper conclusion must be drawn. Henderson concludes his paper by stating what he believes to be the truth: President Trump’s labor policies have done little to help the impoverished. Editors, however, typically look for a more inciting message of “truth” when considering whether to publish an LTE. The author also does not have any hopeful proposal, another component integral to a successful LTE, to offer. An LTE worth publishing does not leave the readers demoralized. Furthermore, lacking an idea for a solution renders the letter pointless and merely a correction paper.
Another one of the biggest problems with this letter is that it lacks compelling rhetoric. Henderson caught the reader’s attention when he explained his as well as others’ experiences with poverty and lost it soon afterwards. He appeals to emotion to build his credibility but wastes the opportunity to use it to construct a more persuasive argument. As for the ending of the letter, there is nothing about the author’s language that could compel someone to even attempt to fix the problem. That leads to the final point: there is no call to action. A call to action is an integral part of a successful LTE because it brings more meaning and purpose to the argument; it gives the letter a reason to exist. If the author is not trying to get anyone to do something, then this is nothing more than a pointless jab at the president, heard by nobody.
This pointless and weakly substantiated response to an article serves as a good example of how not to write a letter to the editor. The main reason editors publish certain letters to the editor and said letters are so successful is that they contain these ten components. It is true that some of these carry more importance than others, but they are all essential. They all combine to form a credible, persuasive, and grounded opinion that sparks debate over the internet.