The Better Newsletter
3. Write powerful headlines.
Headlines tell readers what they’re going to read. If your headlines are boring, it hardly matters how exciting the copy is.
Check out this headline from the newsletter of a nonprofit that shall remain nameless: “Empowering Partnership.”
I’m sorry to say I didn’t make this up. As so often happens in nonprofit newsletters, the writers stayed away from drama and specificity, and instead defaulted to meaningless, flat jargon. It might as well say, “Warning: If you read this, your eyeballs will turn purple and drop out.”
Here are some hallmarks of strong headlines:
* Strong action verbs. The verb is the heart of a good headline. Once you have a vigorous verb, the rest of the headline falls into place. Avoid “ing” verbs.
* Multiple elements. You aren’t stuck with just one sentence. You can enrich headlines with kickers (smaller copy above the main headline), subheads and other elements that add clarity or drama.
* Conflict. That’s what a good story is. Make sure the elements of the conflict are in the headline.
* People. Good verbs need good subjects and objects. People in relationships are about as interesting as it gets.
4. Make it readable.
No matter how good it is, your newsletter is a waste of paper if people don’t read it. It’s critical to focus on the principles of readability. Among them: grade level (use short words and sentences, and aim for a fifth- or sixth-grade reading level); rip-roaring narrative, not bland, inverted-pyramid journalistic copy; and many entry points like subheads, pull quotes, captions, bold copy, etc.
The other side of readability is good design. By good design, I don’t just mean pretty or cool — I mean reader-friendly: lots of images and white space; large, black text in a serif font; no reverse type, type over photos or patterns, or type over dark tints. All these things kill readability. I know they look cool. But if it’s so cool nobody can read it, where does that get you?