Harsh Vardhan's List: Writing
Dec 01, 09
Nov 21, 09
Since I'm not the greatest newsletter namer, the no-brainer advice I offer on the subject is 1) include the topic of your site in the title and 2) use the word News or one of its synonyms that also indicate timeliness.
Do You Need to Do Background Research First?
If you're going to write a newsletter for someone else, you need to understand their business first. In my last newsletter assignment, not being an expert on the the printing business, I started by asking the clients to supply information that could quickly acquaint me with what they do. I requested they send me printing trade papers, yearbooks, and highlights of their own correspondence, preferably pitch letters.
- What's unique about your company?
- Who are your clients? (This tells you what kind of audience you'll be writing to.)
- What recent product are your proudest of? Show it to me. Describe it in your own words. (This can be the core of a news or new-product feature in your newsletter.)
- Have you won any awards?
- Are there any clients who would provide a testimonial about your services? (Makes good filler material -- as long as it's short.)
- What does your audience need to know about your business/service/product/idea?
- Are there any misconceptions we can use the newsletter to clear up?
- What advances in your industry will interest your audience?
After reading the background information, draw up a list of questions. Ask:
- table of contents
- news articles
- feature articles
- personality profiles
- new product announcements
- good news/success stories
- coming-attraction ads
Structure a Table of Contents
In developing a table of contents,think like an editor: Try to assemble a diverse and lively assortment of newsworthy pieces. Some articles can be long, others short. All need to be different in tone and content. How can you start?
Think of all the elements you see in a newspaper:
Now, adapt this mix to your subject matter.You don't have to write the full story at first. Just come up with headlines that reflect the content that will follow. Then map out which items will go on each page of the newsletter.Once you know the editorial line-up, it's time to start writing.
Unless your newsletter is oversize, assume you'll have room for 3-6 items per page. Some as short as a sentence or two might look good in a bigger typeface, set as a pullquote or "factoid."
If you include photos or illustrations, you won't have as much room for text. But images will help attract your readers' attention. Take advantage of that fact by making sure every image has a caption.
Consider building a response mechanism into the newsletter. It could be as simple as a box with a broken rule. Readers can sign and fax or mail it back to you for a free subscription. Or it could be designed to serve as an entry blank for a contest -- which traditionally lifts response. Either way, reader responses build a database of potential customers who've expressed interest in the company.
Issue I, Volume I
If you're starting your first issue, devote a column to introducing your newsletter and telling readers its mission and frequency. Include background on your own credentials and your business services. This can later be edited down and used as "boilerplate" copy that goes on the bottom of every issue.
Some newsletters carry mastheads, others just a return address. If promoting your name is important to you -- or you'd like to give credit to anyone who helped you with the newsletter -- list them in the masthead with a title.
- Research your subject first.
- Interview the client about his/her business. Find out what's his or her most important message to communicate to clients.
- At the end of any interview, always pose the question: Is there anything else you want to add? (You may be surprised by what you hear. When I interviewed Rupert Murdoch, I got the essence of the entire story by asking this open-ended question. He knew what message he wanted to convey far better than I.)
- Decide on the name and frequency of your newsletter. Stick to them.
- If you're the coordinator as well as the writer, work out a budget and a production schedule.
- Draw up a table of contents for each issue.
- Decide on a size, and how many articles can comfortably fit on a side.
- Allow room for photographs and other visuals.
- Vary the content to include different types of articles (news, features, editorial opinion, Q&A, letters to the editor, etc.)
- Keep articles brief and language simple. If necessary, include a glossary.
- Run items that won't be out of date in a month (or however long it takes to produce the newsletter).
- Include tips, site info, a calendar of special events, how-to's, profiles of successes.
- Provide a list of URLs where readers can find out more.
- Promote your site's "Coming Attractions"
- Build a "clip" file of information related to the subject that isn't particularly consumer-focused and use them to inspire ideas and as background information.
- Golden Rule: A headline for every article, a caption for every picture.
- Create a boilerplate paragraph (see part I) to include at the bottom of every issue that explains your newsletter's mission.
- Encourage readers to send you (e)mail.
- Create a contest.
- Double-check your spelling and grammar. If you're weak in these areas, have someone else read the newsletter with an editor's eye before mailing it.
- Carefully construct a mailing list. Keep it in good shape -- and work on expanding it. The more people who see your newsletter, the more business you'll get.
- Print enough copies -- and use them as sales tools and leave-behinds as well as direct mail promotion..