Keep those letters coming

This week our columnist Claudette Sandecki talks about the value of a well-written letter to the editor

Few things send readers scurrying to the keyboard to tap out a comment on a website or letter to a newspaper as quickly as an ordinary topic we can all get our head around, such as a 10-year-old’s recent letter to the Prince George Citizen.

Wrote the lad, “I’ve been thinking the government should make a new law that parents should pay children to do chores and housework. The government should also pay children to go to school so children can buy toys.

“My mom doesn’t agree with this letter but she tells me to speak my mind.”

In short order, 17 readers responded to his letter on the newspaper’s website.

One reader admired his ‘forward thinking’. Another cautioned him not to ‘open that can of worms’, as another reader made clear if the lad received pay for doing chores around home, he should pay his parents for his room and board.

A fourth reader advised him to collect his pay in cash to avoid being taxed by the government.

Predictably, several pointed out kids are paid for any chores they do around the home by meals, clothing, laundry, school supplies and a roof over their heads.

One reader suggested he get a paper route and deliver papers winter and summer. This would keep him flush with cash for buying toys.

His letter was an example of what editor’s hope for. His sentences were clear, concise, on a single topic, and he got his point across without derogatory remarks.

He spelled every word correctly, and used good grammar.

Not once did he lapse into texting shortcuts such as LOL, or FYI, terms foreign to seniors who avoid texting, twittering and all other forms of social media.

Did he know beforehand the guiding rules for writing a letter with an excellent chance of being accepted for publication in any newspaper or magazine?

At any rate, he followed them: deal with one topic and one topic only, express your views clearly yet briefly, without  impolite language that will have your message censored or tossed into the waste basket.

Many readers turn first to the letters page to compare others’ opinions to their own. They are drawn to short letters that match today’s attention spans.

Editors may specify a maximum word count ranging from 150 to 400. Shorter letters leave space for a variety of opinions rather than one long rambling comment.

Too few adults write as well as this young man. Or if they can, they manage to hide their skill.

Above all, he identified himself with his full name; no anonymity for him. He deserves top marks for standing up and being counted, let the chips and brickbats fall where they may.

Chances are good his mother proofread his letter to catch any spelling or grammar errors. Wise move.

Every writer benefits from an extra pair of eyes watching for typographical errors that become invisible to the writer after several edits and rewrites.

On a separate note, I was impressed by the boy’s mother for telling him to speak his mind even though she did not agree with his point of view.

Too many parents might ridicule his viewpoint and scoff at his notion of presenting his grade four thoughts to an adult readership.

At age 10 this youngster is a published writer. Unless you are in the habit of having your writing published, you’ve no idea how scary it can be the first time you see your words in print for all the world to read.

Plenty of adults never step off that cliff or do so only behind a cloak of anonymity afforded nowadays by the ability to comment via the Internet.

I hope this 10-year-old’s introduction to letter writing will encourage him to keep on.