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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

November 25, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 157




Margot Patterson Letters to the editor

By Margot Patterson, NCR opinion editor

One of the responsibilities of my current job at NCR is to edit the letters to the editor. This is probably a case of poetic justice, as over the years I've written many letters to different publications taking exception to this or that in their publications. Like many letters writers, I write more often in high dudgeon than to praise. Indignation motivates me; pleasure and admiration rarely. Few of these letters have been published, and after six months of editing NCR's letters to the editor I have a better understanding why.

Here culled from my experience of reading other people's letters is my advice to readers wanting their letters published in NCR:

Be brief.
In NCR, we say letters should be no more than 250 words long. On my first months on the job, I cut people a lot of slack; now, less so. People really do prefer a shorter read, and a letter that's pithy is halfway to being published.

Be clear.
It's not uncommon for letter writers to stray from their point, or to obfuscate while getting there.

Be credible.
Passion is good, but maintain control of your emotions. Excess anger can make people seem choleric and, worse, ridiculous. Think twice before you use such words as "incredible," unique" and "awesome."

Be timely and specific.
Recently, we printed a letter written six months after the article appeared. This was an anomaly. In general, letters should be written within a few weeks of an article being published and should respond to a specific article in our newspaper. Too many readers write us letters about the condition of the world unrelated to anything we've published. These are often entertaining or informative, yet the purpose of a letters page is to have readers respond to what has appeared in NCR, not to what was broadcast on Fox News two weeks ago.

Last but not least, follow instructions.
If you want your letter to be printed, follow the submission guidelines. In the case of NCR, that means send your letter as a regular e-mail to the correct address and be sure to include your address and contact information. Some excellent letters come in that never have an address, though that requirement is clearly stated on our letters page.

What else do I look for as the letters editor? I look for variety; I look for humor; I look for letters that are both informative and interesting.

We're lucky at NCR to get so many letters from our readers. We have a faithful readership, and many of our readers are also faithful writers. Over six months, I've gotten to know them. I recognize their stationery and, often, their point of view. Some are prolific and send us letters every day. I read them all, but it's a self-defeating strategy, an effort both exhaustive and exhausting. It's impossible to print five letters from the same individual in a week, and we're unlikely to publish the same writer week after week. Better the occasional short missive that lets us know what you are thinking than a barrage of letters we can't print, even if some of them seem pertinent.

NCR offers an extensive letters section. We want to continue that. We rely on our readers to engage in the conversation that goes on within our pages. Our readers are our community, and we want to hear from them.

To send your letters to NCR by e-mail, write to

Margot Patterson is NCR opinion editor. She can be reached at

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