Oliver Duff

i Editor's Letter: Letter writing tips

 

Share

 

Why wasn’t my letter published? Primary cause: plain bad luck. Publication can be a lottery rather than a science, a factor forgotten even by staff correspondents on newspapers. Some letters are pencilled for inclusion and then bumped by the 24/7 news cycle – a cruel fate for a reader with something to say; harsher still if you’re a reporter with a three-month investigation that gets “held”. (A word to send a shiver through the newsroom.)

We are often overwhelmed by a surfeit of engaging letters on one topic, meaning that dozens are lost to posterity. The occasional letter is just too fruity, or libellous, to print. Others you mark “not for publication”; pointers for the consideration of the editorial staff when, in your eyes, we err or excel. Then there’s the topical poetry, which we spare you.

So how, amid this carnival of opinion and insight, might one improve one’s chances of publication? Brevity helps. We don’t mind editing down hundreds of words or picking out a particularly apposite paragraph – but a pithier contribution may triumph. “Editor or whoever,” urges reader Geoff Julier of Pitstone. “Please ask readers to get to the point, no grandstanding.”

Wit, of course, lifts a Letters page, albeit a seasoning used in moderation. If you want to prompt replies, try to make a point that opens up debate rather than shuts it down.

Readers respond to first-person perspectives – insight forged through years of experience in medicine, education, politics, diplomacy, the military, prisons, finance, other public service… Here I think of the cri de coeur by a midwife despairing at the state of her profession, which we ran as an anonymous column, prompting hundreds of replies. Or the note from a mother who read our investigation into “Britain’s missing girls” and who had been forced to abort her unborn daughters because her husband wanted sons.

Why are there sometimes more men than women published? As I stand on my page 3 soapbox, I daren’t countenance the thought that one half of the population likes the sound of its own voice more than the other... We shall continue to publish the best letters sent to us every day, but i reader Fiona Brooks had a radical suggestion which I pass on as provocation. “If there was some blank space on the page,” Fiona wrote to me last week, “then I think that would be a wake-up call to other women that our opinions are missing.”

The final word on this will be yours. But I end with the thoughts of our Letters Editor, Guy Keleny. “Keep it short,” he says. “Make one point only. Try to sound like a decent person who’s trying to help.

“The best letters start with something in the writer’s experience, that the reader wouldn’t know about without the letter, and go on to make a point of general application.”

i@independent.co.uk

Twitter.com: @olyduff

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Head of Marketing - London

£60000 - £85000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Interim Head of Marketing / Marketin...

Primary supply teachers needed in Downham Market

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers requ...

SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: SEN Teacher required with immediate...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Scottish independence: Starting afresh could lead to economic miracles

Jamie McCallum
Cameron's unpopularity has been heavily used  

Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the George Bush of Britain

Jean-Paul Faguet
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week