Donna Shultz Graphic Design
One way to engage your organization’s current or prospective customers, members or donors, is through a newsletter. It doesn’t have to be big and splashy, but it should look professional and be easy to read. Here are some tips to help make your newsletter more readable.
Visually Organize Your Newsletter
Use a different size font for headlines, subheading and body text. Using a different size font for headlines sets articles apart from each other. Headlines should be approximately 6-10 points larger than your body text to stand out as a visual identifier of the start of a new article or story. Subheads help break up long articles into bite-size chunks, giving the eye a longer resting point. They also provide a quick read for someone skimming the article.
Use vertical or horizontal lines, called rules, or color backgrounds. They provide a way to separate and differentiate articles and special sections in your newsletter. Sidebars that pertain to an article can be visually separated from the article by using a rule or color background. You could also have a regular feature in your newsletter (such as a calendar listing) always appear in the same place within your newsletter but visually separated from the articles by using a rule or color background.
White space is your friend. Margins, line spacing and space between articles need white space to breathe and give the reader a chance to rest. Wider margins make the page more inviting and not look crowded. Don’t defeat the purpose of a nice wide margin by crowding articles together with little space between them, or by tight line spacing. When articles are tightly “packed” together your reader is presented with a page that looks like a solid gray block. A reader might find it daunting to even start reading your newsletter as it may appear to take too long to read.
Keep recurring features in the same location. Don’t make your reader hunt for a re-occurring feature every time they receive your newsletter. You probably have that item in your newsletter for a good reason, such as a calendar, a regular drawing or award announcement, puzzles, etc. If your reader enjoys that feature, they are not going to enjoy searching for it.
Some Important Do’s and Don’ts
Do use images. The saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” For your newsletter, the image doesn’t have to completely “tell” your story, but it should reinforce it. Lengthy text with lots of data can be supported or replaced with a graph that makes the information easier to understand, while a good photo can pique the reader’s interest in the article. Not to mention, using images throughout your newsletter helps in breaking up all the text, making the page look more interesting.
Do consider using columns. Business correspondence is set up at 7.5 inches wide across a sheet of paper. However, for a newsletter, reading across a wide section of type can get tedious. Using columns creates a shorter path for the eye to travel before it drops down to the next line to continue reading. It’s a more relaxing way to read.
Do keep your headlines short. Concise, catchy headlines can grab your reader’s attention and interest. Long, multi-line headlines can make your reader feel like they have read half the article before they even begin.
Do balance ragged edges. If you are using left alignment, sometimes you may have a line or two that are wider than all the others. Consider rewriting the line or using a hard line-break to ensure your lines of text are more even.
Don’t use center alignment. Center alignment for multiple lines of text is difficult to read. When the eye completes reading a line of text and drops down to pick up the next line, the mind expects it to start directly under the previous line. When there is nothing there, the eye is forced to hunt for the beginning in effort to pick up where it left off. While a few lines of centered text are readable, more than two or three becomes a strain on the eye. The reader can get lost. Poetry and formal invitations are the exception.
Don’t create rivers of white. While white space is your friend, it can become your enemy when there is too much space between words. The main culprit is justified alignment. Justified alignment creates those nice even edges on either side of a column, but it can also create unsightly wide gaps between words. When this happens multiple lines in a row, in can create the appearance of a “river” meandering through your article. If you are locked in to using justified alignment, consider re-wording the lines of text that are creating the gaps.
Don’t go crazy with fonts. There are a lot of fun and interesting fonts out there, but they don’t all need to be in your newsletter. The rule of thumb is to limit your use to two or three different fonts or consider a font with a larger “family.” A font family consists of a large assortment of styles, such a thin, regular, semi-bold, bold, black, italics, condensed, expanded, etc. A large font family will give you a lot of different styles that you can use in your newsletter for headlines, call-outs, etc. Mixing too many different fonts can make your newsletter look disjointed, unprofessional and difficult to read.
The best way to apply these tips is to create style guidelines for your newsletter that everyone can easily follow. Your guidelines should specify the fonts to be used, font sizes, colors and placement of reoccurring features/items and other things that are important for a more readable newsletter.
If you are producing your newsletter in-house and your software allows, create a template that has a built-in style sheet. If you are using an outside designer, you should clearly express your preferences and ideas so that the designer can create a template to use in creating each issue of your newsletter.
When you’re ready to lay out the next edition, these fundamental improvements are easy to adopt and execute to make your newsletter cohesive, visually appealing and easier to read.