Treat each other well and remember your goal

We believe strongly that free speech about important ideas is the best mechanism for refining those ideas. We also believe that free speech is most effective when it helps people to consider new ideas, and that's best done in respectful dialogue, not by attacking those who hold differing viewpoints.

Our staff has limited time, and our print edition has limited space. Civil, well-reasoned letters by local writers who have followed our guidelines rise to the top of the stack. Here are some lighthearted but true tips for getting your submission published in 2013:

Include your name, address and phone number. Failure to tell us who you are and how to contact you is the top reason letters don't get published. Opinions are more powerful when those who espouse them are willing to stand behind them publicly.

When your email address is johnjones@whatever.com, don't be surprised that we're skeptical when your signature says Robert Smith or Bud Weiser or Betty Boop.

Don't call the Journal and pretend to be someone else who thinks your work is "the only thing in the paper worth reading." You know who you are. So do we.

Offering to have someone else sign and submit your letter won't work, either.

Don't submit numerous letters expressing the same opinion. Don't forward form letters from national lobbying organizations. Don't plagiarize other writers. Don't fudge on the facts. Don't use profanity. Don't call people names.

Avoid recreational nastiness. Play nice.

Adhere to the 350-word limit. It offers sufficient space in which to state your opinion and support it, especially if you omit ad hominem attacks and don't repeat what others have already written. We may choose to shorten letters that are only slightly over the limit, but those who want to see their work published should understand that the responsibility for meeting the word limit lies with the writer.

If you want to write a guest column, call me and we'll talk about the criteria. You'll need a unique perspective and some credentials to back it up. A strong opinion is not a credential. Everybody has those.

Don't write, "You probably won't publish this because ...." The typical becauses include my alleged politics, my advanced age, my inferior gender, and the persistent contention that I am an atheist from "back east." Alluding to those "facts" is not an effective way to manipulate me into doing what you want. The real reason I won't publish your letter is that it doesn't meet the criteria to which other writers are held.

Please use capital letters and punctuation. Last week I received a 320-word letter that appeared to be all one sentence, or perhaps only part of one, as there was no capitalization at the beginning or punctuation at the end. Editing such a letter requires a lot of guesswork. Don't complain when we guess wrong.

Don't address those with whom you disagree as "you people." People and issues are complex, while "you people" is an ill-mannered code phrase suggesting that everyone different from the writer is inferior. The same goes for "you" alongside any other noun.

Remember you're writing to the readers of this newspaper, whose opinions are diverse - not to the person who wrote the letter with which you disagreed. If all you want is to bicker with that person, do it one on one.

Pretend your prospective readers aren't anonymous. They aren't, actually. They're your neighbors. They have lives very like yours, their own opinions, and feelings too. Belittling them won't bring them around to your point of view. Write persuasively, not abusively.

Remember, please, what you're trying to accomplish.

Contact Suzy Meyer, Journal publisher, by calling 970-564-6040, emailing smeyer@cortezjournal.com.

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