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From 3 April 2005 Issue

Letters to the Editor
By Michelle A. Rivera - MichelleRivera1@aol.com

Did you ever stand on a soap box in the village square to opine and educate a hoard of strangers who will hear your every word? If you have ever written a "letter to the editor" you have done just that! It is always a thrill to see your name in print and hear the comments from friends and co-workers who see your letter and congratulate you for having written it.

Every day we get e-mails from the big organizations reminding us to use the Letters to the Editor pages as our soapbox and urging us to write letters on every conceivable topic. If the animals could express themselves in writing, they would, but they can't so we must. Here are some ideas and tips to remember for your letters to the editor:

Peruse the paper every day for possible openings for you to educate the public but never write a letter to the editor unless there is a relevant story in the paper. In other words, don't just decide to write a letter about factory farming unless there is an article in the paper that somehow relates to factory farming. Letters to the editor must reflect the day to day coverage of the paper so watch for opportunities. For example, the Palm Beach Post this week had an article about a horse rescue organization that rescues Premarin foals and finds them homes. This was a golden opportunity for me to write about the tragedy that is the lives of Premarin mares. I fired off a letter within minutes of reading the article.

Use the internet to find sources of information and facts. I always turn to Peta and the HSUS because their factsheets are concise, up to date and cross-referenced. I cut and paste their text into a word document and then change the sentence structure and use of words and phrases and make it my own. Peta does not copyright anything so it is not plagiarism to copy their text verbatim, but I like to make it unique nonetheless. There is also a very real chance, as happened to me recently, that someone will challenge a fact that you present in your letter and ask for you to cite your source. The Peta and HSUS factsheets provide references so you can easily accommodate such a request. Do not include the reference in your letter to the editor, but be able to find it should you need it.

Keep your letter to 250 words or less and remember that the editor has every right to edit it for space. Make reference to the relevant article. State your points quickly and succinctly, this is not the time for embellishment and prose, it is the time for making your argument. You must also provide your name, address and phone numbers because anonymous letters will not be considered. Also, most major metropolitan newspapers won't print your letters more than once every thirty days. Have a few friends ready to allow you to write in their names in that case. For example, if you had a letter about puppy mills published and the next day there is an animal cruelty case you want to write about, have a few friends on deck who will let you write the letter for them to send. Getting the glory of writing the letter is not nearly as important as jumping on an opportunity to educate.

Keep copies of your letters in your computer so that when you get the Dawnwatch e-mails or are on the Peta writers list you will always have a ready supply of well-written letters on any topic to send out in a moment's notice. Share your letters with others as well. Just because a letter is printed in the St. Petersburg Times does not mean it cannot be published in the Miami Herald or the San Francisco Tribune too.

Keep writing, keep educating and keep advocating!

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