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How to get a letter in "Miss Conduct" Part I

Posted by Robin Abrahams  August 27, 2007 08:45 AM

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I receive many, many more questions from readers than I can possibly answer, so I thought it might be useful and, hopefully, interesting to provide a little background on how advice columns--mine and everyone else's--work, and how to maximize your chances of getting your question into a column.

First of all, the only questions that I answer are the ones that are in the published column. So if your question is not for publication, my editor (who gets all the questions and then sends them to me in batches) will delete it immediately. Some people have the idea that advice columnists answer every question that comes through, and only publish some of them. That's not how the job works; our newspapers and magazines are paying us to produce a column, sadly, not to serve as a general oracle. (If the Globe wanted to pay me to answer every question I got, I'd be thrilled to take the job, but I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon.)

Be succinct! This is probably the most important thing. Questions in "Miss Conduct" average around 100 words. If your question is longer than that, it will be cut down--or, if it is too hard to cut, probably not used.

It may seem difficult to wrestle the whole complicated situation you want to ask me about into 100 words. Use this--I'm serious here--as an opportunity to help you work through whatever issue it is. What does a stranger really need to know about your problem in order to offer advice on it?

Writing is a good way to figure things out, and the discipline of paring down your question to its most vital components may clarify the situation in your mind. Heck, by the time you've distilled the problem to its essence, you might have solved it yourself! (But send it in anyway, if it's good--other people might have the same problem and want to hear a solution.) If you absolutely cannot write a succinct question, then write to Cary Tennis's "Since You Asked" column at Salon.com. Sometimes he actually gives advice and sometimes he will just riff, poetically and wittily and at times incomprehensibly, about your problem (a recent example). But he does give his writers word space, and plenty of it.

Please put your first and last name initials and your city or town in your letter.

This advice applies to getting a question into pretty much any advice column. Later this week, Part II of this post will be more specifically oriented to "Miss Conduct."

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at missconduct@globe.com.
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Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

Need Advice?

Curious if you should say "bless you" to a sneezing atheist? How to host a dinner party for carbophobes, vegans, and Atkins disciples—all at the same time? The finer points of regifting? Ask it here, or email missconduct@globe.com.

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