Although discussions about animal welfare can bring up strong feelings, you should avoid being overly emotional in your writing.
Everyone has the opportunity to be a public animal advocate through letters to the editor; however, not everyone has the opportunity or the inclination to write a regular column. Even so, everyone has the opportunity to do so.
There is no magic formula that must be followed in order to have a letter to the editor published. Even though letter writing is more of an art than a science, there are some things that, if kept in mind, can make even a good letter even better.
Presentation is important because editors get a lot of letters on a wide variety of subjects, and those letters can be about anything. Always type your letter, and keep it to no more than one page long, with no more than a few concise paragraphs at the most. Brief is better. At a conference on animals that was attended by a large number of people, I once had the opportunity to hear a distinguished speaker read a letter to the editor that he had written. Reading it took me a total of five minutes. When asked how many newspapers had published it, he responded “None” when asked about the number of publications. No wonder. If you haven’t been asked to write an opinion piece for the newspaper, your letter should be brief.
Text may be edited and condensed at the discretion of the editors. Eliminating unnecessary wordiness will save them the trouble. This will make the letter easier to read and more appealing to the eye. Examine the document for grammatical and spelling mistakes. Some publications will publish an error and then note it with the notation “sic,” which is considered rude and reflects poorly on the author.
The timing of letters is important, and they should preferably be written in response to an article that has already been published. Particularly appealing to editors are letters that take issue with something that appears on the editorial page, whether it be another letter, an editorial, or an opinion piece. These are the types of letters most likely to be published. The second best are responses to columns in news publications. Concerns of personal or regional interest that were never brought to the attention of the general public before have the least likely chance of being published.
Although discussions about animal welfare can bring up strong feelings, you should avoid being overly emotional in your writing. Animal rights activists are already frequently seen as being driven entirely by emotion rather than logic. Make use of recent and factual information. Provide sources. If it is appropriate, mentioning your credentials is a great way to bolster your professional demeanor. Include it on your resume if you have an advanced degree in a relevant subject. If you have a title that is relevant, you should use it. Mention any affiliations you have with animal groups, if you have any. If you do not have the status of an expert, you should consider using supporting quotations.
Editors are aware, along with the rest of society, of the general trend toward an increase in the number of lawsuits. The potential for legal repercussions associated with personalized criticism is growing. The United States Supreme Court announced in June 1990 that opinions are not shielded from libel laws in the same manner as they had been in the past. This consists of remarks submitted in the form of letters to the editor. Therefore, issues, not personalities, should be the focus of discussion.
Recognize the audience that the publication serves. You shouldn’t be surprised, for example, if a magazine that features a lot of advertisements from breeders chooses not to publish your letter criticizing breeding as an industry. Make sure you use language that is appropriate for the publication and can easily be grasped by its audience. Keep in mind that the general public needs to be educated on the issues, and write in a way that is clear and steers clear of jargon.
It will be more difficult to get your letter published if the publication has a large readership because there will be more people trying to do so. Before you can expect to be published in The New York Times, you should get some experience writing for your local paper. However, you shouldn’t give up on The New York Times just yet. To submit your work for consideration by a publishing house, all you need is a stamp. Even if your letter is not published in one periodical, it is possible that it will be published in another. Be prolific. You have a good chance of succeeding. Keep in mind that people like you are the only ones who can speak up for animals.