Newsletters - Design and Production

Factsheet - ISSN 1198-712X   -   Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario
Agdex#: 057
Publication Date: 01/88
Order#: 88-026
Last Reviewed:
History: Reprinted March 1991, March 1997
Written by: Cindy Lindsay - Communications Specialist/OMAFRA

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Why a Newsletter?
  3. Building Content
  4. Four Principles of Good Writing
  5. Newsletter Design
  6. Graphics
  7. Page Layout
  8. Copyrights
  9. Final Thought
  10. Off to Print
  11. References


A newsletter is just what the name says - a letter about news. It is most commonly defined as a form of direct mail sent on a regular schedule to a selected group of people. It is short, easy-to-read and provides essential information. It should be designed to create interest and awareness. The key word for newsletters is simplicity - simplicity in design, simplicity in writing, simplicity in format. This Factsheet will help you prepare a newsletter that follows the simplicity rules.

Why a Newsletter?

As a newsletter editor do you ever ask yourself if newsletters are a waste of time and effort? Consider this - 80% of newsletter readers say they are useful, 90% get an idea from each issue and 75% save issues.

This is good news for all editors, but why do we do a newsletter in the first place? Newsletters help to:

  • inform
  • announce events
  • get people interested
  • reach people by mail when other means won't work
  • reach many people economically
  • reach a small, special interest audience
  • in other words - to communicate.

Does this fit in with your organization's goals and objectives? Your newsletter must serve its purpose. People typically assume newsletters are needed to link people together. The assumption is usually accurate, but not always.

Just as your organization has a goal, so should your newsletter. When setting the goals, consider two factors:

  1. The purpose of your message can be described in a few words - it may be to teach, inform, announce, advertise, inspire, etc.
  2. The nature of your audience can be described on a list and should be highly specific, e.g., members, prospective members, members or leaders of similar groups, government officials, key civic or industry leaders, media, etc.

When you combine the purpose of your newsletter's message and the nature of your audience, the result is a statement of your communication goals. This provides a solid basis on which to start your newsletter.

A newsletter editor's job is often a combination of many things - writing, interviewing, research, typing, design, printing, maintaining mailing lists, keeping accounts and so on. It is important, therefore, to plan your time well.

Most successful editors work with a small group which meet occasionally just to discuss how things are going. A newsletter committee with no other job than to advise and review can be a welcome source of support for work. The committee can suggest sources of help and new approaches which might not occur to you on your own.

When judging the time it takes to do a newsletter from start to finish, the following guidelines might help:

  • to collect and write stories; plan text and visuals; do layout and paste-up and supervise production and distribution:
    • 10 - 12 hours - for one sheet, two sides, typewritten and using a quick printer
    • 25 - 30 hours - for four pages, sending your material to a word-processor or typesetter and having it printed commercially
    • 65 -70 hours - for eight pages, typeset and printed hours commercially
  • when adding a second colour of ink, complicated graphics, paste-up and printing, increase your time by 20%.

Building Content

Newsletters have four special strengths:

  • Timely information. The informal look of newsletters makes them seem always up-to-date.
  • Inside information. Because audiences are so specific and writing so personal, newsletters are often seen as an excellent source of information.
  • Trustworthy information. Newsletters usually don't contain advertising and are not often strongly opinionated.
  • Specialized information. Often a newsletter is the only source for a topic.

Building on these strengths you need to gather news from various sources. Keep an accurate, up-to-date list of key names and phone numbers. Make the rounds by phone a few days prior to your deadline.

Get yourself on mailing lists for materials you might summarize or use for tips. Look at reports, lists of sources, etc. Ask to be sent copies of newsletters from groups similar to yours. They will be full of ideas for design as well as content.

Start a clipping file from newspapers and magazines. If the clippings don't lead to a story, at least they may produce a filler to replace a last-minute deletion.

Don't forget to tell your readers about your need for news in every newsletter issue.

For many, writing is the hardest part of newsletter work. Sometimes the whole idea of putting words on paper leads to paralysis of hand and brain!

Four Principles of Good Writing

  1. Writing is work. Editors often think good writing comes naturally - on the contrary, writing is a learned skill and requires constant practice. Good writers write, rewrite and rewrite again.
  2. Good writing reflects a personal style. It must be as simple and direct as speaking. Read aloud some of your own writing. If you react, "I never talk that way" go back and rewrite. It should convey a "you and I" message.
  3. Readers are impatient. Your job is to get information to the readers before they get your newsletter to the wastebasket. Keep sentences, paragraphs and stories short.
  4. Set goals. Just as with your newsletter as a whole, each story, paragraph and even sentence should have a purpose. These goals will help you keep readers in mind so your words don't stray from the effect you want.

When writing your newsletter, ask yourself - what does the reader want to know about this story? The answer is your lead paragraph. If the answer is "nothing" think some more about how the story might be developed. Look for the personal angle to any story. People are interested in what other people are doing.

Don't overuse description, humour, value judgment, adjectives and nouns. Use strong verbs, it helps make other words work. They link directly to the reader's senses - touch, sight, smell, sound and taste. Use simple words, action, direct questions and contractions.

A story should usually answer the five W's - Who, What, When, Where, Why - and How. The most important of these should be answered in the first paragraph, with the rest in the first two or three paragraphs.

Newsletter Design

The first principle in making your newsletter look professional is to keep each page uncluttered and appealing to the eye in order to get your message across.

Choose the colour of your paper with care. Pale, neutral shades such as buff, off-white, very light blue or green are easier on the eye than white. Use only one colour for each issue. Avoid bright coloured stock except for special uses. Some colours actually repel readers - tests show mustard stock is the worst "turnoff" with purple-red shades second.

Ink should always be very dark - black, dark brown or navy blue. Typeface should be chosen for readability. For large amounts of body copy, type with "serifs" (crossbars) is more readable than sans serif or script type.

For a clean, uncluttered look stick with the same typeface throughout your newsletter. The body copy should be no smaller than 10 pitch and headlines should contain both upper and lower case letters for readability. The most common typefaces used are: Times Roman, Palatino, New Century School Book, Bookman, Courier and Helvetica.

As a newsletter editor, it is important to lure the reader into your newsletter so they read your message as quickly as possible. The diagram below shows the percentages of time spent looking at the different areas of the page:

Time spent looking at different areas of page -- 41% top left - 20% top right - 25% bottom left - 14% bottom right

The upper left-hand corner of the page is where the eye goes first and readers spend most of their time there. The most important information should be placed in the top left quadrant.


Artwork in a newsletter can help to:

  • express your ideas
  • convey a mood or image, and
  • transmit information.

Good graphics can make your newsletter more attractive and readable and help to reinforce your message. It also helps to break up blocks of print which otherwise might seem too heavy.

Copyright-free and camera-ready artwork is available from various "clipart" books. These books may be found in most libraries listed under art or advertising. They contain hundreds of art examples that are ready to use. Rub-on transfer border designs, letters, and figures are also available to help give your newsletter a professional look. Contact your local art supply store to find out what's available.

Most newsletters have regular features in each issue, e.g., Coming Events, Deadlines, Contents, etc. These headlines or "bullets" can be made up ahead of time using transfer letters or typeset and used for each newsletter.

By doing this, you provide your readers with continuity. You help to save their reading time as they will get to know where to look for information when each issue arrives.

Remember to choose appropriate graphics, don't just put something in to fill up the page. "White space" helps to keep your page uncluttered, frames your text, and provides a more balanced look

Borders, boxes and rules should be used sparingly and to highlight important information. Graphics should lead the reader's eye into the page and the copy, rather than off the page.

Page Layout

Does your newsletter have that stuffed, crammed look? Remember to be generous in your space. The purpose of your newsletter is to communicate, not to get the most on a page.

Good design begins with a good format. Most editors work with 81/2 x 11 inch paper because it's standard - paper is readily available, it fits into a file folder, three-ring binder and #10 envelope.

Most newsletters are either a one or two column format. Three or more columns usually requires typesetting by a printer which is an additional cost. Allow enough room so headlines and copy aren't covered up or destroyed if the sheets are stapled or punched.

One-column format is best suited to typewriter production. It should have margins at least 1 1/8 inches at the edges and top and 1 1/4 inches at the bottom. One column format provides an up-to-the minute look, however, it's rather rigid, making it hard to work in photos or illustrations. This format benefits more from the use of lines and borders.

A two-column format looks clean and is relatively easy to do on a typewriter. It gives a more formal tone as the margins are usually justified. Two columns are more flexible for artwork. Margins should be at least 3/4 inch at sides and top and 7/8 inch at bottom. The alley (space between the columns) should be 1/4 inch.

The name plate on the front page of your newsletter is the first thing readers see when they open your newsletter. Its design is a strong signal of how you want to be regarded. It's well worth your time to have several sketches done and ask for reactions from members, executive, staff and anyone else who will read your newsletter.

In addition to the name of the newsletter itself, the name plate should include the name of your organization and the date of that issue. If your organization's name does not clearly suggest your purposes or activities, those should be added.

Other important items to include on the first page is the mailing address of the newsletter, telephone number, your organization's logo, and the editor's name.

Designing a newsletter can require artistic skills, but the primary activity is common sense. Your job is to assemble the materials on the page so people will read its content. Keep the following points in mind:

Simplicity. Help your reader be efficient by keeping pages uncomplicated. Put short items in groups; keep headline sizes and styles consistent; and use photos and graphics only with a specific purpose in mind.

Unity. Try to make everything on the page visually related to everything else. Place large elements near the middle and smaller ones near the edge.

Contrast. Give your newsletter some life. Instead of photos all the same size, make one big and others small. Make boxes and screens to call the readers' attention to what you consider important

Proportion. Newsletter pages look most interesting when unequally divided. Try dividing areas into thirds or fifths for pleasing proportions.


As a newsletter editor, your sources of information may be drawn from all corners for the benefit of your readers. One aspect that is often overlooked is copyright.

If an article or book has a copyright, you cannot make copies of it without the copyright holder's permission. In some instances that may cost money. Most of the time there is no charge, but that also depends on what you're going to do with the material.

Copyright legislation applies to all works, whether registered or not - articles, audio-tapes, books, charts, films, computer software, cartoons, photographs, videotapes and the like.

If you are going to use copyright material you have two options: (1) get permission from the holders, or (2) re-work the material.

Even if you choose the second option, it is always best to give the author credit for the original work. It's also illegal to photocopy copyright material without consent. This includes cartoons and articles.

Final Thought

When it comes time to determine what it's going to cost to produce your newsletter, don't forget to include mailing expenses. Contact your local post office to determine the most economical method of delivery.

If you're responsible for writing, editing, layout and a million other jobs, try to get somebody else to look at the final product. It's harder to see your own mistakes and the bigger they are, the harder they are to spot.

Be sure all regular features are included. How about the name plate? Don't be too proud to use a checklist.

Off to Print

When it's time to actually print your newsletter, there are three processes to choose from: mimeograph, photocopy, and offset. There are four criteria to keep in mind when selecting a print process. For any publication, all processes have both strengths and weaknesses. The choice is highly individual.

Cost. Each process involves direct costs for paper, printing and perhaps services such as collating, stapling and folding.

Time. Your time is your newsletter's most valuable resource. Each print process requires different amounts of time, depending on your circumstances.

Quality. An offset printed product almost always has a professional look to it. Mimeographed newsletters say "we do it ourselves" and will always look home-made. Photocopied newsletters usually fall somewhere in between.

Flexibility. How often will you want to make last minute changes? Do you want some art or copy in colour? What if production is held up? Consider these factors when printing.

Your newsletter is now together. You've had it printed, collated, punched, stapled, folded, stuffed and mailed. But don't sit back and relax yet! Take some time to evaluate your newsletter. Does it look inviting, easy to read, are the items timely and informative, what do your readers think? A quick review will make your job as newsletter editor an easier one and still allow time for it to be fun.


Copyright: Questions & Answers, Consumer and Corporate Affairs. For a free booklet write: Department of Supplies and Services, Publishing Centre, Mail Order Section, Hull, Quebec, K1A 0S9.

Editing Your Newsletter. Beach, Mark. International Self-Counsel Press Ltd., Vancouver, 1980.

Newsletters - designing and producing them. Schuk, Colleen. University of Wisconsin - Extension, 1978.

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