How to write a newsletter

guidelines for effective communication skills

newsletterA newsletter is designed to keep people up to date with events and activities.

It can be issued as a printed document, an email message, or even a blog posting.

Some online companies issue a newsletter every few days, whereas big organisations might issue only two a year.

Some newsletters are just a humble sheet of A4 printed on both sides: others may be multi-page glossy brochures.

A newsletter is a vehicle for spreading information to members of a group, and can also contain amusement and entertainment.

How to be an editor

Your number one task is to gather interesting and relevant news and information, then make it available to your readers.

The biggest part of that task (unless you are very lucky) is likely to be gathering enough information to fill each issue.

The simplest way to do that is to add each news item as it comes in. This saves you the trouble of relocating it again later. Keep a file (paper or electronic) with a copy of each item for the next issue.

Make a note of any important details attached to the news item – such as times, dates, URLs, prices, contact addresses.

Don’t leave all the information gathering until just before a newsletter issue goes out, otherwise you will put yourself under a lot of pressure

Readership

An in-house newsletter for a large business has the advantage of a stable and known readership. But this presents you with the difficulty of coming up with newsworthy stories from one source.

This type of newsletter also has the double-edged characteristic of being driven by company policy.

A newsletter that is aimed at a wide readership has the disadvantage of a largely unknown audience. But by way of compensation, you can take more risks in selecting the content.

Asking for contributions

Lighten the burden of writing a newsletter by inviting contributions from your readers.

People are often willing to write a short article, particularly if it is drawing attention to an event they wish to publicise

Invite readers to notify you of product launches, forthcoming events, or novelties which might interest your readers.

It is quite common to attract such contributions by offering prizes or free gifts in return.

House style

It’s very useful to establish a house style, then stick to it. Choose colours, images, font types, vocabulary, and layout to create your house style.

Tailor your style to reflect your organisation or line of business. This means that your readers will know what to expect.

It also means that any potential contributors know how to present their work.

Editing tips

Every editor’s nightmare is to publish a newsletter then suddenly realise that it contains a silly mistake – a mis-typed phone number, the wrong date for an event, or a URL that doesn’t work.

For this reason, rigorous editing and proof-reading is required before every publication date. Here are some antidotes that work

  • edit and proof-read your newsletter rigorously before every publication
  • check all factual details, but in addition check your spelling and grammar
  • ask someone else to check the text before you send it off
  • don’t try to edit for several features of the writing at the same time

Read through the text several times with only one of these issues in mind:

  • spelling
  • syntax
  • layout
  • grammar
  • punctuation
  • numbers
  • names
  • dates
  • URLs
How to present the content

If you want people to read a newsletter, it’s got to be interesting – to the readers. Pack your newsletter with items that are fresh and newsworthy.

Grab your readers’ attention in the first sentence of any item.

You can make any collection of news more attractive by adding smaller items of entertainment.

Take a tip from newspapers. Almost all of them have crosswords, cartoons, pictures, recipes, and horoscopes scattered amongst their main items.

Add a selection of not-directly-related news items. Remember that –

  • scientists also practice the arts
  • housewives follow current affairs
  • politicians enjoy sports

Here are some tips on regular stand-by extras that can help give your newsletter variety:

  • a quiz
  • an advice column
  • seasonal recipes
  • personal profiles
  • questions and answers
  • how-to articles
  • top 10 lists
  • votes and polls
Legal issues

Even if your newsletter is a small-scale affair, you should take care not to leave yourself open to legal prosecution. Be careful not to libel or defame people – which means making sure that everything you say is true.

Tread carefully with your content: you might be amazed at how easily some people take offence..

On a large-scale circulation newsletter keep in mind that there may be subscribers with views and beliefs quite unlike your own.

Unless you wish to be daring or radical, treat sensitive issues such as religion, politics, and ethical beliefs with care.

[I once printed some of George W. Bush’s famous ungrammatical statements during his illegal invasion of Iraq. Even though they were all things he had actually said, I was heavily criticised by patriotic Americans. I refused to retract the quotations, but lost a lot of subscribers. So decide which is more important – your circulation figures or your political commitment.]

Advertising

If you reach a big enough audience, you may be able to attract paid advertising.

Knowing how much to charge is the biggest problem – especially if you are starting from scratch.

Try to find out how much newsletters like yours charge for both small insertions or paid features (advertorials).

Don’t be greedy. A smaller but regular income will be more useful than a larger but one-off payment.

Make a clear distinction between any advertising and your own content. Readers will be annoyed if they feel they have been duped into reading what turns out to be an advert.

Evading spam filters

If your newsletter is an email message or an HTML attachment, spam filters on the reader’s server will block messages containing certain words.

They are obviously on the lookout for obscene words. But that’s not all. They are checking for the tell-tale signs of get-rich-quick offers, ponzi schemes, and the Nigerian letter scam.

These are some of the hallmarks of spam message that you can easily avoid:

  • titles in all capital letters
  • over-use of exclamation marks
  • satisfaction guaranteed
  • lose weight – cash bonus

Even the simplest and most innocent-looking words can become spam alerts if viewed in a certain way. The easiest was round this problem is to insert characters in such a way that the words are still legible – f.r.e.e   k.n.i.c.k.e.r.s   to cover your   b.o.t.t.o.m.

What to avoid

I receive two dreadful newsletters every quarter – one from my local council, and the other from a university. They both display just about every feature of a useless newsletter publication.

  • all articles heavily self-conratulatory
  • small issues blown out of proportion
  • celebrity profiles – of nonentities
  • financial news with no critical analysis
  • no invitation for reader feedback
  • all negative news omitted

Both of these organisations (at the time of writing) are suffering enormous cuts in government funding, and making huge numbers of staff redundant. These is no mention of this in either publication.

The net result of their phoney optimism and lack of honesty is to debase the value of any serious news they report. Few people read these newsletters. They go straight into the bin.

Email newsletters

Format the newsletter so that it can easily be read on screen. Use narrow columns and plenty of white space between each item of news.

Use shorter sentences than you would for printed materials. Long sentences are particularly difficult to read on screen

Use clear headings for each topic. This gives readers a chance to scan the newsletter for topics which interest them.

Avoid the use of continuous capitals for emphasis. This decreases the chance of being trapped by spam filters.

Always make it quite clear how readers can unsubscribe. Nobody wants to feel trapped. Keep in mind this good joke from Dick Vosburgh: “I haven’t been so happy since the day that Reader’s Digest lost my address”.

Offer a list of topics to be covered in the next isue. This gives reader’s an incentive to keep reading.

Template

Title

——– MANTEX NEWSLETTER ——–

Create a title for your newsletter – then stick to it.

Issue number

Number 165 – December 2010 – ISSN 1470-1863

The ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) is an identification number for serial publications and other continuing resources in the electronic and print world.

The number is issued by the national library of any country, and is free of charge.

Sub-title

Arts, Culture, and Technology as seen from
the digital hub of Media city Manchester UK

This is a brief explanation of the topics covered by the newsletter, and a hint at its general approach.

Advertising

** 13,000+ subscribers will see your AD **

This is an internal announcement, letting potential adveritisers see where their advert would appear.

News item One

0— ‘Here Comes Everybody’

http://www.mantex.co.uk/2010/10/22/here-comes-everybody/

This is without doubt my outstanding reading experience
of the last few weeks. Clay Shirky is what some people
are now calling a ‘futurologist’.

He analyses the latest developments in computer technology
and uncovers new shifts in social and economic forces.

His prime target is the newspaper industry, which used to
have what seemed like a monopoly on the distribution of
information about current events.

That has now been completely undermined by something as
apparently innocuous as personal blogs.

He also shows *why* Wikipedia has become the greatest
encyclopedia the world has ever seen – even though nobody
gets paid for writing it.

His study is a very engaging mixture of technology, sociology,
politics, and anthropology. Full review here –

http://www.mantex.co.uk/2010/10/22/here-comes-everybody/

This is the lead article – the news item to which you attach most importance, and which you think might be most interesting to your readers.

Make the clickable links as clear as possible. They can be shortened if necessary using services such as TinyURL.com and Bit.ly

Entertainment item one

0— Pub Quiz Question #1

What part of the body suffers from glaucoma?

Quizzes are a popular way to add variety. You could also try jokes, odd facts, today in history, famous birthdays, or handy household tips.

News item Two

0— Language Skills

http://mantex.blogspot.com/2010/10/language-skills.html

This is an amusing YouTube video of a young kid
speaking English in 24 different accents.

Warning! It’s not safe for work (NSFW) or for
showing your maiden aunt.

What’s even more remarkable is the fact that
he nails so many UK dialects – which as all
good linguists know is not the same thing as
regional accent.

http://mantex.blogspot.com/2010/10/language-skills.html

This is a lighter news item with a link to a YouTube video clip. Keep in mind that these are sometimes removed and may become copyrighted.

Formalities

Copyright (c) 2010, MANTEX
All Rights Reserved

PO Box 100
Manchester
M20 6GZ UK

Tel +44 0161 432 5811
www.mantex.co.uk

This is a formal declaration, claiming copyright and stating a business address.

Promotion

If you like this newsletter, PLEASE
FORWARD IT to friends and colleagues.
subscribers should register at the
following address —

http://www.mantex.co.uk/

BACK ISSUES featuring news items,
reviews, and product details at –

http://www.mantex.co.uk/articles/news/

Please retain the copyright and
list-joining information. It may be
posted, in its entirety or partially,
to newsgroups or mailing lists, so
long as the copyright and list-joining
information remains.

This encourages your subscribers to create new subscribers by forwarding the newsetter to their friends. It’s free promotion.

Interaction with readers

If you have any requests, observations,
or items you would like to be included
in our next issues, just mail us at —

news@mantex.co.uk

Unsubscribe instructions

You receive the MANTEX newsletter
because you subscribed to it. If you
wish to leave the list, send a message to

unsubscribe@mantex.co.uk

It is important and respectful to your subscribers to know that they can unsubscribe at any time.

Always respect their wishes. Some people subscribe by mistake; others change email address.

And incidentally, you should never sell or pass on your subscription lists to advertisers. This would be sure to annoy subscribers; they would lose faith in your integrity; and they would certainly unsubscribe – in large numbers.

Tailpiece

News-165-December-2010
ISSN 1470-1863
The British Library

This isn’t strictly necessary, but it forms a neat reminder of the status of the publication.

© Roy Johnson 2010


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