December 5, 2006
Writing Letters to the Editor about Fur
An inexpensive and easy way to get the message out
Whether your letter is published in your local paper with a circulation of 10 thousand, or in one of the top 10 papers with more than half a million readers a day, you'll have an impact.
With a little practice, you can become highly accomplished at sending out pithy letters that editors will want to publish.
Tips to get you started
- Respond to a story or editorial in a newspaper or magazine. Publications prefer to print letters that respond to something they published, and contain interesting points or viewpoints that were not covered in the piece. Be sure that your letter makes sense to someone who didn't read the original article.
- Submit your letter promptly. If possible, letters should be submitted the same day that the article they are responding to was published. Email is the best medium for submission.
- Be brief, to the point, and memorable. Check the publication for the word limit on submissions, and the length of the published letters in that issue, but generally the shorter the better. Aim for 100-125 words. If you can say it in 75 with a clever turn of phrase—even better. Stick to one or two main points.
- Avoid attacking the author. No matter how one-sided you think an article is, you'll have better luck getting published by thanking the reporter or paper for their coverage of the issue, then pointing out several interesting things their readers may not know.
- Stick to what you know, and be careful about accuracy. You don't have to be an expert to weigh in on fur issues in a meaningful way. It doesn't take an expert to suggest that "animals need their fur more than we do" or to ask the reader "Shouldn't we be putting protection of animals ahead of vanity?" If you use statistics and give exact numbers, make sure you represent your sources accurately.
- Keep your reader's level of expertise in mind. When writing to a general-audience newspaper, avoid terms that aren't well known, or clearly define them. For example, say "Conibear traps, designed to crush the animal's body" rather than just "Conibear traps."
- Use a tone that will not turn the reader off. After you write your letter, imagine you are a reader who knows nothing about the issue and your letter is their first exposure. A very good letter will leave a reader thinking "This person, though writing about something I'd rather not think about, sounds very reasonable and has brought up some very good points."
- Ask someone to review your letter for clarity and tone.
Here are two sample letters, one responding to a hypothetical story about trapping programs for children, the other to a hypothetical story about a fur coat being awarded as a pageant prize.
What kind of message are we sending to children when we say that it is okay to cause pain and suffering to animals to satisfy our vanity with some fur trim ("Trappers target kids," Aug. 14)? Traps can and do cause painful injuries to the animals they catch—including accidentally trapped dogs and cats—who then can suffer for up to several days before the trapper returns. Children should certainly be encouraged to spend more time outdoors, but it shouldn't be done at the expense of animals.
It is disappointing that the Miss _____ competition continues awarding its winner a fur coat ("Miss ____ 2006 Crowned," Oct. 28). Contrary to the goals of competition, which, according to the article, are to "celebrate beauty and grace," a fur coat represents an ugly and callous treatment of animals for nothing more than human vanity. Mink in this country are forced to live in tiny wire cages for their entire lives and are killed by gassing, neck-breaking, and poisoning. Miss _____ could show her beauty and grace by donating the fur to a wildlife rehabilitator to use in comforting orphaned and injured wildlife.