Dear Mr. President

News & Politics

Do you feel like your opinion doesn't matter to the people running this country because you're too young to vote? Your opinion does count, but only if you voice it. So pick a topic that you care about and pour your heart into a letter to your local newspaper editor or the president.

Both types of letters are powerful because they give the impression that many people are for or against an issue. Think about it -- how many times have you had an opinion about something President Clinton did, but didn't write a letter to tell him? For each person who actually gets off her butt to write one, there are hundreds more who feel the same way.

But before you drop your letter in the mailbox, check out these tips for getting the right people to read -- and pay attention to -- your words.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Writing a letter to the editor of your local or national newspaper is a great way to make the public aware of the issues that concern you.

It can reach a large audience and allows you to add another angle to the debate. And politicians often read that section of the newspaper to find out what the masses care about.

-KEEP IT SHORT: Get to the point early on. Writing a short letter is the best way to ensure that your important points don't get cut out by an editor with limited room on the letters page.

-NO PIZZA STAINS: Editors are busy people, and if you make it easy for them to read your letter, you'll likely get them to pay attention to it. Send a typed or computer-formatted page to avoid the squinty deciphering that often goes along with handwritten notes. (You might even be able to email to them -- check with the paper.)

-REMEMBER THE LITTLE GUYS: The bigger the newspaper's circulation, the more letters to the editor it gets, so you have a better chance of getting your letter published if you write to smaller publications and local weeklies.-411: Before an editor will print your letter, they usually call you to verify your identity and address. Make it easy for them by including your phone number, and don't worry -- they only print your name and city.

-REFER TO THE NEWSPAPER: Include the name of the specific article about which you are writing because many papers will only print responses to their articles. Here are two examples:

Good example: "Jane Doe's article (Title of article, date) left out two important points about California's Proposition 21."

Bad example: "Proposition 21 is worse than most people realize."

LETTER TO A POLITICIAN

The best way to get politicians to pay attention to your issues is to tell them what you think.

-BRIEF IS BEST: Politicians' aides usually read letters and pass the messages on to their boss. Chances are they're buried under a pile of letters about many different topics, so they'll appreciate a short letter about one topic.

-AND YOU ARE?: Busy aides will want to read your point in the first paragraph. Make sure you mention that you'll be voting in X number of years. Keeping you happy now may mean your loyal vote and maybe a campaign donation or volunteering later on. Then address your issue by name (like Proposition 21), if it has an official one.

-SOB STORY: How much impact your letter has depends on how well you zero in on the reader's heart. If you have a personal story about how your issue affects your family and your community, lay it on thick. Throw in some details to paint a vivid picture in the reader's mind.

-DROPPING NAMES: The official will be more likely to listen to you if you can establish a connection with them, however remote. If your parent went to school with them or you were in the class that they came to speak at, tell them. Remind them that you will be voting soon and would like to be able to choose them as your candidate, if only they would give your issue the attention it deserves.

-YOU WEAR THE PANTS: An elected official is a representative of the people and you are one of the people. Politeness is key, but don't let your argument slip away just because you don't want to offend them. If issues like teen rights, abortion, hate crimes, or immigration touch a nerve in you, sit down and write about it. Pretend that you're writing to a friend if you're hit with a case of writer's block. Then change the name at the top and send it off. You will be heard.

Stephanie Groll is ChickClick's project editor. After writing scores of letters to politicians, editors, corporations, and just about anyone who will listen, she is slowly turning into a loud-mouth crank. But she's convinced that she's changing the world.

This article originally appeared on Chickclick's teen channel, Missclick (www.missclick.com).

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