Style Hints for Letter Writers

All sentences should have simple structures and be brief. Ifa sentence can be easily written as two sentences, it should be.

ALWAYS use the spell checker, and do a visual check for the to/too and from/form typos the spell checker will miss.

Letters should be no more than 1 to 1 1/2 pages long, and theshorter the better. This length restriction can be stretched for magazines or papers that you know agree with your POV, but with our efforts the latter will be rare.

Paragraphs are usually only one or two sentences long, with maybe onethree sentence paragraph per full page. Look at any front page news story,and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

The lead sentence should not be more than 70 words long, shouldcontain the name of the article or letter you are responding to, and aposition on that article. If you come up with a witty one liner, you canuse it as your lead, as that is where it will have a chance to catch aneditor’s eye. Remember that editors are themselves writers who appreciatea clever use of words. If you do this, then include the name of thearticle (or subject) you are responding to either as a title (re. blahblah) or in the second sentence/paragraph.

A quote or cite soon after the lead sentence is a good idea. A cited factor quote will give your opinion a broader context, and mostjournalist/editors would publish your letter for the cite alone if theyare impressed by its pertinence to the subject. Buckley’s always good fora quote, and any scientific studies that are relevant could be used aswell.

If you are using cites to back yourself up, put them BEFORE your ownopinion. I’ve seen too many letters go by that have a good intro, then afew obvious pro-drug opinions, and then a good cite. You want the editorto see the cite and then the bulk of your opinions, as they are scanningdozens of letters and are quick to stop reading anything that strikes themas from the fringe. Also, don’t waste words restating what you’ve cited.Draw a conclusion or apply it to the subject of your letter, but don’trestate it. Redundancy of any sort will invite the editor to move on tothe next letter, or worse, edit lines out of your letter.

If you find yourself writing way too much prose, don’t worry. You’llnotice that most journalists sacrifice flow in order to put the mostimportant point first, second-most second, etc. Editors won’t even noticeif you take what you think is your best line/paragraph and tack it infirst, take your second best line and tack it in next, etc, until you hit200 words. Use the cut and paste capabilities of your word processor, anddon’t worry if you leave a lot of prose out of this letter. There isalways the next one. Also, if you are using more than one quote, cut and paste them in with an opinion, paraphrase, or other prose between them. Two or more separate quotes in a row does not look good. If a quote is really long, consider cutting out part of it, or quoting half and then paraphrasing the rest (He also said….).

In general: the ideal letter is three to six short paragraphs long, with ashort, witty lead sentence (that is usually a stand alone paragraph), agood quote up high in the prose, and some clear, pointed opinions tofinish. Be concise, and use tight, no nonsense prose withoutcolloquialisms. If you quote or closely paraphrase the points you areresponding to in your letter, it makes your points look a little clearer.Flip to the editorial page of whatever newspaper you are responding to,and use the letters that paper’s editor[s]choose to publish as a templatefor your own.

Try to avoid using phrases coined by WoD propaganda: People are not “drugabusers,” they are “people who choose to use currently prohibitedsubstances” or “users of recreational drugs other than caffeine, nicotine,or alcohol” or “people who party with substances less harmful thanalcohol” or even just “cannabis smokers.” Every time you find yourselfcalling pot “drugs” and pot smokers “drug users,” realize that you areattaching the baggage of a lot of WoD propaganda to your prose, and try towrite around it creatively.

An Incomplete List of points worth touching on in your letter:

[more information on these subjects can be found elsewhere on this websight, at Matt Elrod’s homepage, or on DRCnet’s on-line library]
  • The Dutch success
  • History of Alcohol prohibition, parallels to the present (Crime and Corruption)
  • The Frankfurt resolution
  • Medical Uses, present and historical
  • Hemp as a commercial crop
  • The impact on courts and prisons
  • The waste of peoples lives by imprisonment for non-violent, consensual “crimes”
  • The disaster of American policy
  • The Canadian Senates pro decrim pronouncements
  • Buckley/National review support for decrim
  • Lancet support for medical uses
  • STATISTICS that support decrim
  • The history of marijuana prohibition (though do try to soft peddle the more extreme of Jack Herer’s Emperor conspiracy themes, as some doubt has been cast on some of them. Still, Racism and the WoD still flies, as well as hypocritical historic support (not to mention millions in lobbying funds) for cannabis prohibition from the alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical industries).

Outside of mentioning the fact that 70% of Canadians think cannabis shouldbe decriminalized, and the fact that there are no deaths attributable tocannabis consumption ever, I think you should just pick a few of the aboveand allude to them. If you try to mention more than a couple, it will make your letter either too long, or too much like a grocery list.

Submitted by Chris Donald [email protected]
Dana Larsen [email protected]
Editor, Cannabis Canada, “Canada’s National Magazine of Marijuana & Hemp”
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