Newsletter Editors: Publishing Pointers

Whether you are the newsletter editor for your club, a nonprofit organization or your employer, you're providing a valuable service. From a simple, four-page quarterly to a multipage monthly that's published online or mailed, successful newsletters follow certain principles. Adhering to these publishing pointers will help you produce a quality newsletter.

Overall appearance

  • Keep it clean. Begin with a clean, crisp layout that enhances readability. Lines of type that span the width of a page are difficult to read. Use a three- or four-column layout instead.
  • Be consistent. Each issue should follow the same layout. Readers expect to find certain information in certain places. They don't appreciate having to search for favorite features.
  • Be strong. Resist the urge to use a riot of fonts, especially the whimsical ones. A headline -- or worse, an entire article -- in Crazylegs may look like fun, but it is distracting for many readers. Equally amateurish is to make everything appear elegant by using a script font. Choose classic, readable fonts like Times or Arial.

For variety, choose one font for content and another for photo captions. Use 'pull quotes' (quotations enlarged and highlighted as an artistic element) and white space to break up heavy text blocks and to add visual interest. Always have a good reason for using clip art, and be sure it is relevant to content and not just filling space. A photograph is almost always preferable.

Content

Every newsletter has a purpose and serves a target audience. Whether you are writing for your local rock-climbing club or community garden organization, you have the luxury of making certain assumptions about readers' interests, experiences, background and knowledge.

Each issue should present news and features and tell of upcoming events and seasonal activities. Interview local experts or members with specialized knowledge. If appropriate, advise members on current events or trends that may affect them.

Keep a notebook handy, and jot down ideas as they occur to you, or write 'evergreen' pieces for later use. When things are slow, it's helpful to have extra content at the ready. Maintain a list of readers' questions as topics for future articles.

Make your writing simple and easy to read, striving for a conversational tone. If you are not completely comfortable with your writing skills, ask others to proofread your work. Be sure to run spelling and grammar checks before you publish.

Other writing tips:

  • Many writers edit their own work by reading it aloud and listening for things that sound funny. Your ear is a good critic and will alert you to overly long or incomplete sentences.
  • If possible, proofread a printout of your newsletter. Many mistakes that your eye skips over on the computer monitor will be more obvious on paper.
  • After you write an article, put it aside for a day or so. Passages that need revision are much easier to spot when the writing is 'cold.'

Of course, if your duties as a newsletter editor are part of your job, you might feel more confident if you have some formal training. Consider enrolling in a desktop publishing class. Check out online help from experts like Mary Sauer at Microsoft or David Kandler at CompanyNewsletters.com. At the very least, spend some time closely studying other newsletters. Look at the layouts, review headlines and captions, and notice the features that appear in every issue. Also pay attention to things you like or dislike.

Distribution

Finally, decide how you will distribute your newsletter. Old-fashioned mailings are still popular, especially with older readers. In other situations an online newsletter may be completely appropriate, whether it's sent via email or posted on the organization's Web site. If your newsletter is only available electronically, consider alerting your readers when a new issue is available.

Regardless of your audience or your experience as a newsletter editor, following tested publishing pointers will ensure a readable and engaging publication.

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