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Communication with others is the bedrock of progress. Without effective communication, minds are never changed. When you see something to which you feel the need to respond, there are typically two ways to do it:
- A written letter
- A comment on an article or blog post
Writing for each venue requires careful attention to detail in order to be effective. The following sections can be helpful in your efforts.
Regardless of how you choose to communicate, some general guidelines will always apply:
- Don’t overstate or exaggerate your point. Rather than, “Mormons are always kind, polite, and helpful” try something like “Church members are taught to be kind, polite, and helpful.”
- Stay away from “absolute words.” For instance, don’t use words like “always,” “never,” or “every.” When you use such words, your point can be easily disregarded by finding a single exception.
- DON’T TYPE IN ALL CAPS, unless you want people to think you are yelling.
- Sharing your beliefs in a matter-of-fact manner carries much more weight than criticizing or tearing down the beliefs of another.
- Don’t insult others, even if they insult you first.
- Try not to sound like a whiner. Instead offer constructive suggestions in a helpful manner.
- Be sure to note MormonVoices as a resource where applicable. This helps generate interest in our work and lets people know of your affiliation. One caveat: Do not reference us if you are advocating for or against a politician or political party or otherwise identify yourself as a partisan in your letter. We are thoroughly non-partisan and must be sure that never is doubted.
Often the most effective way to communicate with an editor or journalist is through the medium of a written letter. A well-written letter, sent by old-fashioned snail-mail, is often taken more seriously than a message sent by e-mail or a comment left on a blog.
If you choose to write a letter, you should generally write your letter to the journalist whose article you are responding to. If you feel it is important enough, you may want to copy the letter to the journalist’s editor or send it only to the editor.
You should be able to identify the journalist easily; usually there is a byline on an article that indicates who wrote it. Identifying an editor may be a bit trickier and take a bit of poking around. You may be able to locate the editor’s name and address on the “About Us” page on the publication’s website. If you cannot find it, you can often make a quick phone call to the publication and the information can be derived by politely asking the receptionist for the desired name and address:
“Hello. My name is John Smith, and I’d like to send a letter to Fred Porter’s editor. Could you please let me know the editor’s name and mailing address?”
When you write your letter, keep these ideas in mind:
- Always start with your main message. When you beat around the bush or bury your main message, you make it less likely that the journalist or editor will understand why you are writing.
- Keep your letter short, focused, and interesting. In general, letters should be under 200 words, 150 or less is best; stay focused on one (or, at the most, two) main point(s); and get to the main point in the first two sentences. If possible, include interesting facts, relevant personal experience, and any local connections to the issue.
- Write the letter in your own words. Journalists and editors don’t respond well to form letters—particularly if they’ve read five or more in a row. Be sure that you take the time to write the letter in your own words.
- Write your letter using pronouns that are engaging but not accusatory. Pronouns such as “you” or “your” are appropriate in your writing, as they are not overly formal. When using pronouns, however, don’t be accusatory. For instance, don’t say, “you need to do better research before you write.” Instead, try “the clarity of your message might have been improved with some additional information” (and then go on to provide that information in a helpful manner).
- Watch the tone you use in your letter.Make sure your tone doesn’t turn your letter’s recipient off and prevent him or her from responding the way you need them to. Tone is especially important in letters; it projects your attitude to the reader. Although you can’t hear it, tone in a letter has much the same effect as it has when you speak to someone. What’s your reaction when someone speaks to you in a cold tone? Do you tune out of the conversation; pay more attention to the tone than the content; or walk away? Readers do much the same thing. When the tone of a letter is cold or harsh, many times readers will put down the letter and your opportunity will have been lost.
- Avoid obvious grammatical errors. One easy catch: Avoid using apostrophes incorrectly, which irritates many people and is sometimes seen (especially by writers and editors) as an indication of a poor education. Probably the best rule for safe use of apostrophes is to use them only to indicate possession (e.g., the girl’s lamp or the writer’s story) and when indicating missing letters in words (e.g., contractions such as I’m, you’re, or we’ve).
- Avoid jargon, acronyms, or technical terms unless they are absolutely essential. This comes into play when you consider that in an LDS environment there are many words that are well understood, but whose meaning would be lost on a non-LDS reader. This includes words like celestial, FHE, temple, sacrament, seminary, etc. If you choose to use words which may be misunderstood by a non-LDS reader, make sure you explain your meaning.
- Don’t use cutesy phrases, smilies, or printed graphics behind your text. They distract from the tone of your message and can easily cause your letter to be ignored.
- Provide contact information. It is important when you write to a journalist or editor that you provide complete contact information for yourself. Include a complete address, phone number, and e-mail address.
Leaving Comments on Articles or Blog Posts
The Internet is full of articles written about the Church or about Church members, and new ones are written every single day. Not every article or comment that seems negative about the Church is worth responding to, however. Learn to be judicious in what you respond to; don’t nit-pick every small discrepancy.
If you choose to leave a comment, then the following guidelines may be helpful:
- The golden rule applies in comments left on the Internet—assume the best about people’s intentions and try to treat them as you want to be treated.
- Be succinct in your response, yet provide enough information that your point is made.
- Do not get in back-and-forth discussions. Instead, post a positive comment about your experience, correct a major flaw, or compliment the journalist on the story. Arguments and debates seldom change the minds of the people you are arguing or debating with.
- Don’t call people names or compare them with Hitler or Satan. (Don’t even mention Hitler or Satan!)