The Importance of writing letters to the editor and/or Valley Voice
2 April 2018
To my fellow Democrats:
DoD leadership asked me to provide input on the importance of writing letters to the editor and/or Valley Voice columns for our local paper. I am both flattered and honored to do so.
I started writing “Desert Sun” Valley Voice columns in 2014, two years after moving here from the heart of Silicon Valley. It was a way to express my concerns about a local economy that I believe is too dependent on tourism/hospitality. I used these opportunities to address policy issues — both local and at the national level. In particular, I wanted to highlight how the Coachella Valley area was missing out on the economic benefits, including the higher wages and upward mobility, that can come from a local economy based on STEM careers (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). (Yes, there are problems with gentrification and growth that can take place too quickly for an area to absorb—but we have the benefit of hindsight in these matters—we have only to look to the experience of Silicon Valley.)
I grew up in a large urban area in the Midwest — the daughter of a truck mechanic and a secretary. My pursuit of degrees in physics, and careers in engineering (20 years) in Silicon Valley followed by a career in journalism covering semiconductor manufacturing (almost 18 years now) enabled me to earn a level of compensation commensurate with what men have traditionally earned. This was important to me and my family and informs my viewpoint that we should not use our fear of growth beyond tourism and hospitality to deprive the area’s young people of a broad array of well-paying career opportunities.
So with the above as background, along with my many years of professionally writing and editing science and technology content for R&D scientists and engineers, I offer up tips on what I learned when I made the foray into writing about policy and values issues for our local newspaper as a citizen (volunteer) contributor.
Decide if you want to be persuasive, strictly informative, or to “vent.” Your objective will largely determine the style in which you will write the piece. From the outset, I decided that I wanted to persuade swing/independent voters and moderate Republicans with my Valley Voice columns. I save “venting” when writing emails to people I know will appreciate what might be considered over-zealous inputs, or for phone calls (again, with people I know very well who will want to have a rousing discussion). I caution prospective letters to the editor writers to be careful about “venting.” You will probably find that what you write will be too emotional—and not in a good way! Strong emotions can prove to be a turn-off to readers with divergent feelings and beliefs and therefore, you will not be persuasive. Such letters have their place, but my suggestion is to keep them few and far between. Being strictly informative can be useful, but I recommend that you include a call to action, otherwise your letter or column will read more like just a bit of news.
Start your column or letter with a “hook” that grabs the reader’s attention. It’s usually helpful to begin with a situation or problem to which almost all readers can relate and about which they will probably have strong feelings, but not the kind that will turn them off to your argument from the get-go. As an example, I used the Equifax data breach that compromised almost every adult American’s financial data as an opener to a recent Valley Voice as a way to immediately engage the reader. Everyone can relate to the Equifax news and it was clear from how I worded the opening that I was going to be on the reader’s side with my opinion. Alternatively, you could start out your column or letter by appealing to what you hope will be a reader’s common set of values with your own. If you choose topics based on values, however, you should take extra care to not let the discussion become too emotional. Strong emotions (whether for “good” or “bad”) can backfire. Use a sense of common purpose instead.
To be persuasive, use words/phrases that catch the eye/ear of the audience you are trying to sway. In writing my Valley Voice columns and letters to the editor, I tend to use words such as national security, U.S. competitiveness, return on investment (ROI), middle-class, job growth, etc. Not only are these key policy issues for swing/independent and moderate Republicans, these are issues that I can almost always relate in some way to the policy discussions that I find important: 1) renewable energy, 2) wage inequality/decline of the middle class, 3) tax policy with respect to the tech economy, 4) embracing STEM education, 5) renegotiating trade deals, etc. By using these terms either in the titles of my Valley Voice columns, or in the very first paragraph, I hope to be able to grab the reader’s attention. These words also signal that I will likely be talking about something of interest to readers I am targeting.
To be persuasive, it helps to have authoritative data. While the benefit of having expertise has taken a hit amid some political circles in the last few years, if you set up your argument correctly (i.e., using the words and phrases that are attractive to your intended audience), then there is a good chance that at least some of those you hope to persuade will give you a chance to make your case. Using several reputable data sources can put the icing on the cake, so to speak.
Wrap up your column or letter with a call to action or a “vision.” If you believe that a more vibrant economy will result because of your suggestions, then paint that vision for the reader. If you have concrete actions that you believe would make a difference and bring your vision to life, then say so.
I hope you find the above tips helpful. Happy writing!