Writing Letters to the Editor: Helpful Tips

Priests for Life encourages activists to write letters to the editor, as a key way to prepare people for upcoming elections.

Following are helpful tips to increase the chances that your letter will be printed, and to make it as effective as possible when it is printed. Not all these tips apply to every letter, as you will see.

  • Know your topic thoroughly! You need not be an expert on abortion, the pro-life movement, or a particular candidate to write a letter to the editor. Your letter is not a treatise on all the complexities of these issues. Instead, it will be about a small aspect of one or more of these topics. Know enough that you can make your point thoroughly and completely. This will help you to communicate more effectively.
  • Keep your letters focused. Don't get sidetracked by including far more information than the letter calls for. Many effective letters discuss only one candidate's stand on one particular aspect of a policy discussion. Do not go into an involved discussion about how one candidate is pro-life and the other is pro-choice and then reiterate the entire abortion debate. Instead, focus on a topic like third-trimester abortions, parental consent, or a litmus test for judicial appointments. When people see that a candidate opposes a perfectly reasonable and widely agreed-upon restriction on abortion, they will think twice about voting for him or her.
  • Turn the other side's arguments against them. Often those leaning toward the pro-abortion side will talk about tolerance. One extremely effective argument that you can make is that many pro-abortion politicians are segregationists. They do not think that anyone who opposes abortion has any right to serve on the judiciary. Point out that this is discrimination against practicing Christians. Force readers to consider the question of whether half of the population should be excluded from a branch of government altogether because of their religious and/or political beliefs.
  • Name names. Identify one or more pro-life or pro-choice candidates running in your area and speak about them by name.
  • You need not always mention abortion when supporting a pro-life candidate. If, for example, a candidate's pro-life position is unpopular but his tax-cutting policy is popular, write a letter discussing the tax policy. Even if the abortion issue isn't mentioned, you are still helping the pro-life candidate.
  • Remind people of the significance of the issue. While stating that abortion is not the only issue, you can show why it is more important than other issues. Include in such letters statistics about the frequency of abortion, the number of abortion mills in your state, etc.
  • Get multiple people in an area to write about the same topic or in support of the same candidate. The more letters a paper receives about a person or topic, the more likely they are to publish one or more of them.
  • Focus your campaign on local papers. These letters are more likely to get published and are much more effective in reaching a particular target audience.
  • Try to tie in the letter to an article or editorial that was recently published in the paper to which you are writing. There are countless topics worthy of interest and discussion, but what newspapers consider especially important is reflected in their reporting. Hence, if an article was written on a topic, then the paper thinks that the issue is timely and worthy of space in their newspaper. If a candidate or event has not been mentioned, newspapers may consider these letters ancillary and be less likely to publish them.
  • If you write a letter, have a friend or family member edit the letter for both form and content. Well-written letters are more likely to get published than those with grammatical errors or misstatements. Even though the paper's staff can edit letters, the way in which the letter was submitted reflects upon the writer.
  • Be aware of your temperament when writing the letter. You may find yourself so angry at something you read in a paper or hear on television that you just have to do something about it right away. Resist the temptation to sit down at that moment, write the letter, and mail it in all before you calm down. Often times, you will either say something that you do not mean or put something differently than you would if you were calmer. This serves only to reduce the likelihood that a letter will be published, or reduce the effectiveness of the letter if it is published.
  • If you are writing about a candidate's position on abortion, attempt to make both rational and emotional appeals. If you make only an emotional appeal, it is often dismissed, while if you only make a rational assertion, the average voter will still, especially near an election when so many issues are being discussed, consider it "one of many factors". An emotional appeal is most likely to hold a reader's interest, and thereby allows the rational explanation to show the pro-life position to be the correct one.
  • Go negative. Often the most effective election-related activities do not even mention the name of the candidate that the activist is supporting. Instead, letters can focus on the other candidate's record or positions. Portray the opposition candidate as an extremist, especially on issues like partial-birth and born alive infant protection. Pro-abortion candidates can be shown as unwilling to compromise at all, and that is extremely unpopular with voters. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that "going negative" is somehow dirty politics. When a candidate is running for public office, discussion and criticism of his policy positions are essential to having voters make informed decisions.
  • When going negative, it can be helpful to describe in some detail the abortion procedures that the candidate(s) is/are defending, including those that no one has attempted to make illegal. For example, the dilation and evacuation procedure, described here, can be used as an example of something that the candidate supports. Readers who support "choice" usually do not know what that choice entails. Force the reader to answer for himself whether he can support a candidate who believes that a procedure like that should be legal. Aim to turn stomachs and minds will follow.
  • Especially in the cases of those who oppose any and all pro-life legislation, portray pro-abortion candidates as "captives/slaves/puppets of special interests", such as the National Abortion Federation and the National Organization for Women. Just the words "special interests" evoke enough negative images to turn some people against a candidate.
  • If space permits, consider potential objections to your letter and reply to them within the letter. It is much more difficult for opponents to respond if you have already answered their arguments.
  • Don't talk about rape and incest. While abortions under these circumstances are not justified, public opinion polls consistently show that people support abortion availability in these circumstances. Further, these make up less than one percent of the circumstances surrounding all abortions. Don't paint yourself into a corner by bringing up these rare cases. Instead, speak of the broader issue and allow the other side to be labeled extremists for supporting abortion in any form on demand through all nine months of pregnancy.
  • Target your audience. If there is an extremely liberal paper in your area, keep in mind the statements that might backfire by motivating those on the other side. Find out which papers are neutral or have editorial boards that might be sympathetic to the pro-life cause.
  • Do not hesitate, if you wish, to speak only of the harm that abortion does to women. If a candidate running for office supported making RU-486 available, talk about the death of Holly Patterson, who died because of complications surrounding her use of the drug. Show that the pro-abortion candidate has no concern for abortion safety, but rather cares only about getting in trouble with party leaders and special interest groups.

Priests for Life
PO Box 236695 • Cocoa, FL 32923
Tel. 321-500-1000, Toll Free 888-735-3448 • Email: mail@priestsforlife.org