Embarrassing "art’ of letter writing | VailDaily.com

Embarrassing "art’ of letter writing

Face it, most of you embarrass yourselves every time you write a letter to the editor. You stumble, fumble, bumble and grumble your way around literacy the way Democrats do around politics.

But have no fear, for help is hear (sic).

See what I mean? That little (sic) thingy after the word – hear – explains that the source (moi) misspelled that word and the editor put that little “code” in there to prove to all readers that an illiterate boob wrote the sentence.

That is also an editor’s way of saying, “This person has an opinion, but since they spell as well as VRI justifies cutbacks while making gazillionaires of top management, then you should take their opinion with an unusually large grain of industrial-sized salt.”

And that, my friends, is how many of you humiliate yourselves. Let us continue with a few other basic points.

Length of letters

Easily the most abused of all tactics. You want folks to understand your point? Then tell it to them quickly, as most letters over 300 words are never read. People read the letters for quick snapshots of Joe Blow’s opinion, not to peruse dissertations on why Joe thinks Bush is an idiot, all buildings should have domes, or why I-70 is too noisy (hint: cars and trucks).

Nine times out of 10, if the reader has to turn the page to finish your novella, they’ll skip ahead to another article. If you still insist on more than 300 words, convince the editor to give you a column instead (believe me, my job ain’t carved in stone).


These are bad-bad-bad! If your words alone don’t make your point, you only further insult the reader by insinuating excitement while typing. Trust me, no one really cares about your emotional state while typing. Further tip: Refrain from alcohol consumption until after hitting the “send” button.




Literal articulation can undeniably be construed as extraordinary. However, reduced simplicity for the mediocre reader is essential if remaining unpretentiously belletristic (re: big words are impressive, but keeping things simple for the average reader is much easier to read).


While usually used for entertainment’s sake, they can take on much more meaning if used correctly:

Bad – The mayor thinks too highly of himself and should reconsider his position for the greater good of the town and a sense of respect for the office.

Worse – Ludy Kurz is a selfish egomaniac on the same level with Newt Gingrich, forcing the town to waste precious tax dollars on a needless election for vanity’s sake and allegedly helping a friend become the new mayor.

See the difference? One implores ignorance toward facts and contains childish name-calling, while the other simply states a position. Which one would you rather read in your local paper?


This is an area where, alas, I myself am apparently not always crystal clear. Take my column a few weeks ago concerning conservation easements and my empty lot next door. Some people, albeit a minority, actually thought I was serious when essentially I was just simply implying that funding wealthy land owners with uncollected tax dollars is a bad thing.

Sarcastic? Yes. Understood by all? Nope.

Either way, here is an example of good sarcasm vs. bad sarcasm concerning Adam Aron’s $8 million bonus after two of the worst financial years in company history:

Good – Timing is everything, boys and girls, but giving this bonus now is like congratulating the Broncos on winning the 2004 Super Bowl during the preseason.

Bad – Giving this bonus now is like congratulating Kobe on successful knee surgery last July.

Remember, you are not highly paid professional writers like the rest of us, so please use restraint when pretending to act like one. But if you insist, the next time you feel the urge to purge your opinions in a public forum, please feel free to follow the aforementioned handy tidbits of advice.

You will thank yourself in the morning.

(Next week: Tips for TIPSLine!)

Richard Carnes of Edwards can be reached at poor@vail.net

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