Writing an Effective Newsletter, Blog, or Wiki
Newsletters are Easy!
A newsletter can be an incredibly effective way to educate your members and at the same time increase AMSA visibility at your school. Our website is full of useful information on health policy, medical education, humanistic medicine, advocacy, public health, and global health. Any of the fact sheets on our website can be reprinted and distributed to your members in newsletter form.
Depending on your target audience, an e-mail newsletter or a blog may be the best way to communicate with your members. Here are a few points to consider when you chose the format (you may even want to print these questions and discuss them with your members):
- How often does information change, or does new information become available?If there are constant new updates about your issue or project, you may want to consider a blog or other type of website that can be updated continuously and allows members to check back as frequently as they wish. If you want to make information available on a monthly (or longer) basis, members may be frustrated with a blog that is rarely updated, and e-mail or a paper newsletter can be the most appropriate format.
- Where is your target audience geographically?If you are working on a local level, a printed newsletter gives members something tangible to look at, as well as reading material on the bus, at the gym, or during breaks in class time. If your audience is spread out to a degree that might complicate distribution, e-mail or another online option may work best.
- Who will be generating the content of your newsletter?Printed and e-mail newsletters lend themselves to a having a small group of editors, with a potentially larger group of contributors. A blog or wiki-type site allows more interaction between users, and can be more collaborative. Consider who the experts are on your issue, and whether your primary purpose is to inform individuals who may not have a great deal of background knowledge, or to connect and share information between people who know a lot about your issue.
- What does your membership want?It’s worth asking your potential readership what they are most likely to read and enjoy. If e-mail boxes are overly cluttered, the extra effort of printing a newsletter may be what it takes to get the information out there. If you have a large group and are concerned about saving paper, a paperless newsletter may be the only option.
For a printed newsletter, include things like your chapter’s name, logo, issue date, volume, table of contents, tag line defining chapter, mission statement (optional), page numbers, lead story, columns and departments. Try varying the design between the first page and the inside pages. Jump text on a front-page story to get readers into the publication. If you have a graphic element on the front page, repeat them inside for continuity.
Formatting for electronic media can vary, but it’s important to make your information easy to find. If you’re writing an e-mail newsletter, include your chapter’s name, logo, issue date, list of contents/sections, and lead with the most important information. You want members to be able to scroll down and find what they are looking for, even if they don’t have time to read the whole e-mail. Working with a blog will require some experimentation. Some sites, such as Wetpaint allow you to customize pages to your needs, creating community-edited calendars, information pages, and blogs. Others, such as Blogger have relatively fixed formats, with the most current posts at the top and comments following each post. The basic elements you can choose from will depend on the site/tool you choose, and what you need to communicate.
Regardless of the format, make sure to use correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. Use the active voice. Avoid clichés and mixed metaphors. Start with the most important information first, so you can cut copy easily from the end. Try attention-getting devices such as highlighting text from future issues in a box or using a question from an article title. Use pull quotes, and highlight statistics or catchy phrases.
For a paper newsletter, lay out copy in columns-it immediately improves the look of the page. The three-column grid is the most common grid format for newsletters. Keep all margin widths the same. Choose a fixed format for columns and departments. Use photos and artwork. Think about proportion, balance and consistency. If the publication is black and white, consider using tints or screens of black for special highlights or backgrounds. Use color effectively. For example, red suggests power, while blue connotes tranquility. Also remember that many individuals are red-green color blind, and do not use red and green to distinguish between important elements.
Many of these also apply to e-mail newsletters, though there are a few additional considerations. Many individuals view e-mail in plain text, rather than HTML, so make sure to preview your newsletter both ways to ensure that it is attractive to all readers. Length is also particularly relevant for e-mail newsletters, as readers are often rushed. Make sure to highlight important elements early, and direct readers to the sections they need.
The design elements available on blogs and wikis vary a great deal. Make sure that your layout reflects the tone of your organization, and that information is easy to find. Play around with the design of the site, and seek feedback from your membership.
Be professional, be consistent! Select appropriate typefaces and fonts for body text, headlines and subheads or special heads. Common typefaces that work well are Times Roman, Helvetica, Century Schoolbook and Palatino. Don’t use more than three typefaces in one issue. Use pull quotes, bullets, special effects and special characters to enliven text.
Use clip-art. In photos, action shots and shots of people are more interesting than objects. Make sure that you are not infringing on copyrights when using photos.
Work up a production schedule starting from the date of final mailing of the printed piece and moving backward through labeling, stapling, printing, final copy, layout, editing and assigning. This also applies for electronic media – you want to make sure that your members know where to go, and when, to get the most up-to-date information about your issue or your project. Establish a schedule for your e-mails, or for your blog posts, and make it public. Establish a timetable for submissions, or schedule of posts to ensure that everyone’s contributions can be included.
Communication News, American Society of Association Executives, “Leading Newsletter Workshops,” September 1995.