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A Voice That People Will Hear: Tips on Getting Letters to the Editor Published

April 27, 2011

By Shawn Kennedy, AJN editor-in-chief

We get some interesting “letters to the editor” delivered to AJN’s editorial offices.

Many are what you might expect: letters disagreeing with an article or letters supporting an article, letters from retired nurses about how nursing has changed, and letters from students who write as part of a class assignment. Occasionally, we get letters worthy of framing, like a recent letter from a member of the U.S. Congress (we were delighted to find that members of Congress read AJN). We also get heartfelt letters from patients extolling the virtues of nurses who changed their lives.

The letters from nurses who support an article are in sharp contrast to those written out of disagreement. The supporters usually contain a poignant personal story or an argument based in professional experience or actual research, while the majority of those who don’t like something we’ve published are vehement and sometimes downright crude in their language.

We’re getting used to that, but we still wish it weren’t so, because we can’t publish those letters. (After receiving an especially vitriolic letter, former editor-in-chief Diana Mason wrote this editorial.) I received one the other day that began, “Those people . . . are laughable and pathetic.” And that was a mild one.

We want to publish your letters and opinions—but often, we can’t. We won’t publish letters that contain personal attacks or profanity (I know nurses have a broad base of colorful language, but geez, sometimes it’s hard to believe the words spewing forth are from educated professionals); passion is fine, argument is welcomed—but we need statements to be based in fact rather than simply emotion-driven rants. (If you say, “The majority of nurses don’t want universal health care,” then we need you to substantiate that. How do you know that? What survey found that?)

Here’s how to have your voice heard (and this applies for most publications, not just AJN):

–DON’T use profanity or ethnic slurs, mount a personal attack, or rant without any fact-based, coherent argument.

–DO explain your support or opposition rather than just keep saying how much you agree or disagree and how outraged this makes you feel. Give a reason for your position—help the reader understand what makes you think the way you do. And use facts to make your case (“That author is wrong—a recent study by Simon and Garfunkel showed that . . . ”).

–Maybe even ask yourself: Would I say this to someone if we were sitting face to face having a cup of coffee? No? Then why not?

If you rant and rave, people will dismiss you and not listen to what you have to say. Nurses do need to stand up and speak up, but need to do it in a way that will make people stop and listen.

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One comment

  1. Thanks for this blog. Rants are often seen in response to online (FaceBook) posts, etc, but I had always thought that someone who took the time to write in to a reputable magazine would craft a thoughtful letter with facts to back up their claims. Wow!

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