Letters to the editor’ hints and tips

Anyone who says Minnesotans aren’t on the cutting edge of American comedy surely didn’t read last Monday’s Daily.
For those who missed it, one of the letters to the editor in that edition was signed by a fellow named Farley — first name Chuck, middle initial U.
Well, as it turns out, Mr. Farley doesn’t exist. In fact, if you rearrange a couple of letters in his name, it spells out a salty little insult.
Try it yourself. It’s quite a hoot.
Whoever this anonymous wag is, he should know that he is just the last in a long line of pranksters who have signed letters to the editor using bogus names. Actually, this is an age-old American tradition. Many of our most famous statesmen — Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison — published ground-breaking political essays in newspapers using pseudonyms.
But, alas, Mr. Farley is no Founding Father, and this is not 1787.
So at the risk of spoiling everybody’s fun, let me make clear that the Daily does not publish unsigned letters to the editor.
This one just happened to slip past us. (By us, I mean me. I select and edit the letters, so Mr. Farley’s egg has landed exclusively on my face.)
To any other aspiring zanies out there who may be crafting a letter from Jacques Strapp, Hugh Jass, Connie Lingis or Mike Rotch, save your stamp. It’s only funny once.
Now that we have settled the anonymous letter policy, here are a few other important things everyone should know about letters to the editor:
Letters are Edited
It’s amazing how many people still believe letters to the editor are published “as is.” Actually, it is exceedingly rare for a letter to make into print unchanged. Most changes are minor — spelling and grammatical errors — but even these minor touch-ups can agitate some letter writers. People get very possessive about their writing, although it’s usually the crappiest writers who call to complain, and it’s usually about something like the deletion of their strategically placed exclamation points.
Aside from spelling and grammar, letters are also edited for space. Almost every letter submitted to the Daily is too long. People can’t stop themselves. Most writers make their point in the first couple of sentences then go off on meandering verbal frolics, never to return home again. These letters are usually cut, although no letter is cut if doing so changes its meaning or weakens its persuasive force.
Letters are also edited for personal attacks and libel. The Daily prints neither.
Just the Facts?
As much as we would like to create a pristine forum in which falsehoods are never uttered, the letters section can be a playground for prevaricators. The goal of the letters section is to create an open forum where even the most rabid crackpots can have their say.
In the process, some half-truths find their way into print. We make an effort to identify any glaring errors, but not every statement can be fully investigated. It’s up to you to set the record straight.
Out-of-State Letters
In order to keep the Daily’s pages free of endless entreaties from corporate shills, political ghost writers and lobbying syndicates, the Daily does not accept mass-mailed letters. It only publishes letters written exclusively for the Daily.
Also, letters from out of state are not published unless the writer has a unique connection to a particular issue, or they are responding to something written about them. Letters from alumni are also occasionally published.
Friends and Relatives
Is it a conflict of interest for friends and relatives of Daily staff members to write letters to the editor? We have decided to reject these letters only if the writer is commenting on their friend or relative’s work, or on the issues that they most commonly deal with. Otherwise, there is no real conflict.
60-Day Limit
To prevent people from monopolizing the letters section, no person can write more than one letter within a 60-day period. Exceptions are made when, for example, the writer is responding to something that was written about them, or they are a key figure in a pressing political issue.
Getting Published
Here are a few other things to keep in mind when writing letters. First, make sure you have something to say. Many writers don’t, or their point is so buried in aimless verbiage that their letter cannot be rescued.
Second, say one thing. Make your point and get out.
Third, keep it short. Write your letter, cut it in half, then cut it in half again. The best letters are usually between three sentences and three paragraphs long.
Fourth, say something original. Don’t write in to “reiterate,” “support” or “endorse” the thoughts of some previous writer.
Fifth, make sure you fully identify yourself, including your name, year in school, major, position, department, etc., and include contact information.
Finally, send your letter via e-mail, if possible. Paper letters have to be re-typed, and that’s just no fun.
Erik Ugland’s columns appear alternate Mondays. He welcomes comments about his columns or the Daily at [email protected]