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. The Pennsylvania Pro-Life
Federation also has helpful tips at
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.