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Keep those letters coming — within reason

As we head for another New Year, it's a good time for a refresher on how to submit a letter to the editor and see it appear in print. It's actually much easier than you might think.

Contrary to the claims of some readers, we don't print only the letters we agree with, and we don't pick and choose. We run every letter we get the meets our guidelines, in roughly the order in which it was received.

I way roughly because the letters have to fit the space available on the page each day, which varies depending on the length of the editorial and the syndicated columns that also run on the page. Letters vary in length, too, so if I have a shorter letter or two, they might get in ahead of a full 200-word letter, but only by a day or so.

We are strict about the 200-word limit, because if we let writers expound at greater length, it would take longer for letters to appear, and that's not fair to the writers who adhere to the limit. If I get a letter that's 205 words or so, I can easily tighten it to 200 without losing any of the point the writer is making. If it's 210-220 or more words, I'd rather not risk it, so you'll get the letter back with a request to shorten it.

Another reason for deviating from the first-received, first-printed rule is an attempt to provide some balance on a given day. We regularly get accused of favoring letters from liberal readers if that point of view dominates on a particular day. The truth is, that's probably what we had available. A better way to get a sense of what letter writers are thinking is to read the letters over a week, not one day at a time.

For some reason, liberal readers seem to write more letters to the editor. I don't know why that is; you may draw your own conclusions. But we don't pick letters based on point of view. We never have, and as long as I'm doing this job, we never will.

We print more than 1,000 letters every year. As of Tuesday, we had printed 102 this month; some months are busier, some less so.

Besides the 200-word limit for regular letters — 150 words for letters at election time supporting or opposing candidates or ballot measures, and for letters thanking the community for supporting the latest fundraising event — our guidelines are pretty straightforward.

Every writer is limited to one letter every 30 days, counting from the publication date of the previous letter, so a few regular writers don't dominate the conversation. We don't run letters from outside our circulation area, complaints or compliments about a specific business (send those directly to the business, please), and we don't print letters about personal disputes. We're looking for comments on issues of public policy. We don't print letters that are strictly evangelizing or debates on religious doctrine, and we don't print letters responding to other writers that stoop to name-calling or personal attacks. Address the argument, not the person.

The best way to get a letter to us is by email, to letters@mailtribune.com. That way, we can copy it into our computer system easily. We understand that not all readers have internet access, and we're happy to type in your legibly printed or hand-written letter, but if you have email, please use it. Not only will your letter get in faster, but there is less chance we'll introduce errors in the retyping process.

Questions? Shoot me an email and I'll be happy to answer them.

— Reach Editorial Page Editor Gary Nelson at gnelson@mailtribune.com.