Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What Makes a Useful Newsletter?

Newsletter Content, Part I: Print
by Alan Eggleston, writer and editor

A LinkedIn question recently asked, “What makes a useful newsletter?

In the 10 years I spent editing five corporate print newsletters, two ingredients made them valued:
timeliness and newsworthiness.

Timeliness is important because no one wants old news. Sometimes current news repackaged or looked at in a different way can work, but old news is old news, and more important, news printed as new when it occurred but delivered old because of production or distribution issues is a killer for a newsletter.

Newsworthiness is important because that’s what newsletters are all about. You don’t buy a newsletter for its sidebars or opinion pieces, although a newsletter can have both. Instead, you buy a newsletter to get news you can’t get anywhere else or presented in a way you can’t get anywhere else.

Not every inch of a newsletter can be news. And the reader needs a break from just news. So there are other things that add value to a newsletter or that can make a newsletter useful.

  • Facts presented in an easy-to-digest format, such as graphically (see USAToday Snapshots)
  • Information presented as a game or puzzle that challenges the reader to find it
  • Data or interesting facts presented as fillers
  • Photo captions that present extra information
  • Charts, graphs, and tables with facts and figures
  • Short biographies, geographies, or other featurettes
  • Lists related to that issue’s theme or topics
  • Bibliographies or reading lists

Just as useful to the newsletter reader as subject matter is the newsletter’s format and layout. A newsletter should be a quick, easy read, something the reader can pick up and glance through and pick out detail but not worry about getting bogged down in yet can lay down and pick back up at will. So pieces should be short and pithy. Headlines should be short and punchy. Use lots of subheads to break longer pieces into bite-size chuncks and to help the reader pick through details at a glance. Use bold and italics sparingly but effectively to highlight keywords the reader may value to find information.

Finally, use design to punctuate the newsletter, to make it lively and fun to read. I did a lot with two colors, between colors and screens in print. You can, too.

Alan Eggleston is a writer and editor with e-Messenger Consulting Corp.

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