By Laura Echevarria, Director of Communications and Press Secretary
Every year, convention workshops give National Right to Life the opportunity to present new information and to see what needs exist on the state or local level. A few years ago, after conversations with several people in the movement who struggled to write opinion pieces and letters to the editor, the communications department introduced a new workshop on writing. It was an instant hit.
If you are interested in writing a letter to an editor or an opinion piece, there are some guidelines we make available at the convention that might prove helpful.
While each publication is different, there are questions you can ask yourself when writing for a newspaper or website.
What is the word limit? Some opinion pieces can be 1,000 words while others can only be 450 words. Letters to the editor should be around 250 words.
Pay close attention to the requirements because making an editor’s job easier means they may contact you and request opinion pieces in the future. For example, do you need to submit a daytime phone number as well as an evening number?
Know your audience. Who reads the publication? Are the readers members of the general community or are they a special class of readers such as educators, pastors, or policymakers? Your writing will need to meet the needs of your reader.
Use facts when writing but don’t forget that we all have a story. If you have a personal story, use it—if you are comfortable doing so.
You also need to have a goal. You are trying to persuade the reader to think about the issue in a new or different way. For the audience you are reaching, do you need to focus more on a story or the facts?
Stick to one topic or issue when you are writing for publication. If you are writing a letter to the editor, it’s always possible that the paper or website may have misquoted two people, cited an article that was proven grossly inaccurate, and applied statistics incorrectly. But you won’t be able to address everything in a letter to the editor. What will matter most? Address that.
It’s the same thing with an opinion piece. While it is tempting to try to address every argument about abortion, focus on one thing. Stay laser-focused on your goal. Do not try to address three or four different pro-life arguments. Make one or two and stay with those until the end. Do you want to write about the development of the unborn child? Focus on that.
Remember that opinion pieces (and even letters to the editor) usually have some kind of call to action. Whether it is encouraging people to vote for a certain candidate or asking people to call their representative about a vital piece of legislation, both usually end with some kind of action being asked of the reader.
Check your grammar before sending the piece to the media outlet. There are several programs (such as Grammarly) that can help. There is even a grammar and spell checker in Microsoft Word.
Lastly, before sending it in, it always helps to have at least one reader look over your work. If they ask you to explain more fully something you’ve written, readers of the publication may not understand what you’ve written either. You may need to revise the letter or opinion piece to help the reader better understand your arguments.
Remember, persuading your reader may not result in a complete change of mind. Successful persuasion is sometimes just getting someone to rethink their position on an issue and getting them to be open to the pro-life view.