How to write a newsletter
guidelines for effective communication skills
A 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
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.
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.
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:
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
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.]
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.
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.
——– MANTEX NEWSLETTER ——–
Number 165 – December 2010 – ISSN 1470-1863
Arts, Culture, and Technology as seen from
** 13,000+ subscribers will see your AD **
News item One
0— ‘Here Comes Everybody’
This is without doubt my outstanding reading experience
He analyses the latest developments in computer technology
His prime target is the newspaper industry, which used to
That has now been completely undermined by something as
He also shows *why* Wikipedia has become the greatest
His study is a very engaging mixture of technology, sociology,
Entertainment item one
0— Pub Quiz Question #1
What part of the body suffers from glaucoma?
News item Two
0— Language Skills
This is an amusing YouTube video of a young kid
Warning! It’s not safe for work (NSFW) or for
What’s even more remarkable is the fact that
Copyright (c) 2010, MANTEX
PO Box 100
Tel +44 0161 432 5811
If you like this newsletter, PLEASE
BACK ISSUES featuring news items,
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Interaction with readers
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© Roy Johnson 2010
Writing skills links
- Improve your Writing Skills (.pdf)
Improve your writing skills – now! Improve your English and your communication skills. Learn how to write with clarity and style. Choose the most effective vocabulary. Make every word count with clear grammar and punctuation. This eBook will show you how to write effective sentences and paragraphs, plus how to structure your writing. Overcome writer’s […]
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