Letters to the editor can be a valuable tool for both the newspaper and the communities we cover. The feature may also be one of the best read sections of the newspaper, while at the same time being one of the most misunderstood.

Just the other day in chatting with a reader, he told me, “Well, I was going to write a letter to the newspaper, but I thought you wouldn’t run it.”

“Why would you think we wouldn’t print your letter?” I asked.

“Because according to the editorial in the paper, I don’t think you view the issues the same way I do,” he stated.

“So. Isn’t that okay? We have about 15,000 readers. Do you think they all feel the same way? Of course not,” I replied.

Who said we all have to agree on an issue, whether it be about a school board, city commission or county government issue. It doesn’t mean we have to condemn those who see things differently. After all, freedom of speech and opinion has made this country great.

So we encourage you to write letters to the editor. We want to hear your thoughts on the issues. There are, however, a few simple rules that must be followed. And not rules just to protect us, but to protect our readers and elected officials, too.

As I mentioned, letters to the editor can be a great tool. Each letter has the potential to reach a large audience. We know for a fact that elected officials often monitor these letters as a way to assess public opinion. In a letter, you can bring up information not addressed in a news article. And you can offer either support for or opposition to an issue.

Writing a letter to the editor is easier than you think. Here are some tips to help you get published.

1) Follow instructions. It seems simple but every month several letters never see print because the writer didn’t follow the newspaper’s instructions. These include enclosing your name, home address, and a phone number so we can verify the letter received was the letter you wrote. Sometimes very good letters never appear due to the omission of these requirements. Remember, that under certain circumstances, anonymity will be provided should it be requested.

2) Be brief. Keep the letter concise. If you keep the letter succinct and avoid rambling, the editor will be more likely to fit it in. Also, there is less chance of the letter getting edited in a way you won’t like.

3) Make it relevant and follow a logical flow so it is understood by the reader. Give yourself a reality check. Is the letter relevant to readers of this newspaper? Tie the letter in with a current issue the paper is covering. And make sure that other readers will care about what you’re saying. The newspaper is not a personal sounding board for an individual or group, it is a forum to discuss the issues of the day.

4) Be patient. The editor gets a lot of mail, but not a lot of it is good mail. Still, it sometimes takes some time to get your letter in.

5) Make them legible. Your letter doesn’t have to be fancy, but you should use a typewriter or word processor if your handwriting is difficult to read.

These tips will help make it easier for you to voice and exercise your right to freedom of speech and expression.

Choose your words and issues wisely and never feel we wouldn’t be interested in what you have to tell us.

We want to hear from you.