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Newsletters — 15 tips on writing, editing
A newsletter is the paring knife of communication tools. It seems simple and is easy to take for granted. Handled well, however, it's a highly capable tool.
- Keep your strategic audiences in mind, always.
What is relevant to them? What is important?
- Effective management involves planning and influence.
Develop a publication structure, an editorial calendar and written writers guidelines.
- A newletter must be sustainable.
Be realistic about the amount of content you can consistently produce.
- Begin with good basics and build on solid ground.
The most basic newsletter should have a few lead stories, shorter news items, and a message from your leader. A more developed publication might include features, departments, columns, an editorial, cartoon, in-house news, news tidbits, regional round-ups, etc.
- Deadlines are sacred.
Build in a safety cushion to allow for unexpected delays. [ TOP ]
- An editor, like a captain, needs to know where the ship is going.
When dealing with writers, negotiate topic, length, treatment and deadline before assigning an article. Include important sources and the key questions which the story will address.
- Offer feature writers a byline and an author's note.
Writers gain exposure and your publication gains credibility.
- Be concerned about how your newsletter reads before you worry about how it looks .
Attractive graphics can obscure important content needs. Relevant and well-written content should be able to stand on its own, even as plain text.
- If you're doing an emailed newsletter, 'clean and simple' spells 'effective'.
Keep it to plain text. Be concise, and put an 'in-this-issue' outline at the top. The footer should have complete 'subscribe' and 'unsubscribe' information. You should archive back issues, with an annotated index, on your website.
- Good writing and good editing require direction and hard work.
Your copy should sing rather than drone. It should ring when tapped. Write compact copy in the active voice. Edit for clarity, conciseness, jargon, length, correctness. The bottom line is your readership; give them top priority. [ TOP ]
- Lead with strong items that have broad appeal.
Learn from the best daily newspapers: "People decide within seconds whether or not to read."* Your editorial or a message from the CEO should have a regular spot after the lead items. In-house or more parochial news should have a regular spot much further in. This gives you the best chance of competing for attention, while those familiar with your newsletter know where to find what they want.
- Learn the distinction between simple information and a story.
Information comes to life as a story when someone talks about it. Try to cite sources as part of the way you do things.
- Any successful newsletter depends on plentiful and reliable sources.
Consider an acknowledgment box that lists everyone who contributed to an issue. This will reward people for helping and encourage others to participate.
- Look for reader feedback, always.
Watch to see how people scan your publication. Talk with a new sampling of readers after each issue. Do a formal readership survey on a regular basis. Track what's happening.
- The true test of performance is behavior.
You'll know you have an effective publication when your strategic audiences clip and save articles and when people are eager to write for it.
– Al Czarnecki APR FCPRS LM
* from Writing for Your Readers: notes on the writer's craft from the Boston Globe , by Don Murray
Note: My newsletter tips are reproduced with permission in Public Relations Writing: Form and Style, 10th Edition, a classic text on writing used in 80 colleges and universities.
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