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We love to get good letters to the editor, pro or con. Here are some guidelines that, if observed, will make it more likely that your letter will be posted.
Letters should be prepared and sent in ordinary, old-fashioned, unformatted, pure ASCII e-mail.
References to the writer of the article that is being commented upon, or to TLD in general, or to me as editor, should be couched in the third person. It's standard practice, and it's designed to encourage an atmosphere of civility. (I'm going to use second person here, but that's different.)
Letters should be concise with respect to the topics you're addressing. That does not mean they have to be short: TLD does not, after all, have to buy paper. But if you're approaching 1,000 words, you probably ought to think about doing a couple of self-editing passes.
Letters with the best chance of being posted are those that somehow add to the debate or help reveal the state of the debate. We deeply appreciate any ultra-brief kudoses we get; I always directly thank the sender via e-mail and forward the good words to the writer, who, given the nature of what we do, is usually starved for praise. However, in most cases I won't post a simple "attaboy!"
Now here's a somewhat more sensitive issue. There is something about e-mail that seems to discourage coherent writing and the use of standard English; I'm a grizzled professional writer who ought to know better, but I've encountered the problem even in e-mail that I write. However, any halfway-modern e-mail software allows a writer to revise and edit on line before sending. I urge you to take a little time to re-read and see whether you've made your point as clearly as you can. If you're a bad speller, please attempt to make problematic words at least recognizable. In most cases when I receive an unreadable letter, I don't contact the writer and ask for clarification; I just toss the thing into File Thirteen. All men are mortal, and my time on this Earth is short.
You may have noticed that I sometimes depart from the above rule with respect to adversely critical letters. No apologies. The problem is that we receive remarkably few critical letters that are also coherent; and I do want to reflect a range of opinion. Also, as an editor I am disinclined to spend much time making our adversaries look more literate or less hysterical.
Mr. Henry Gallagher Fields has described one element of my posting policy in one of his writings, and I can do no better than quote him: "TLD tries to air a variety of reader viewpoints so long as they do not promote violence, rely on obscenity, involve actionable libel, or, in general, exceed a generous allowance of frothing at the mouth."
Naturally I reserve the right, as all editors do, to edit letters for concision, for certain aspects of style, for clarity, for civility, and for the protection of TLD from legal action.
I encourage you to sign your letter, though that won't affect its chances of being posted. If it is unsigned I will reflect that fact in the posting; I no longer presume to extract signatures from return addresses. If you sign your letter but request that it be posted over "Name withheld by request," naturally I will accommodate you.
Unless you explicitly request me to, I wilI never post your e-mail address or disseminate it in any way to other readers.
April 9, 2004
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