Newsletter approaches?

Subject: Newsletter approaches?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Erika Yanovich <ERIKA_y -at- rad -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 08 Jan 2007 08:34:12 -0500

Erika Yanovich wonders: <<We are sending an HTML e-newsletter to our customers which includes contents exclusively created for the newsletter (cannot be found on our website as articles). However, the entire newsletter archive can be found on the site.>>

I'm not sure I understand this: If the "entire" archive can be found on the site, what's the point of creating content exclusively for the newsletter -- if it's going to end up on the site anyway? Make your life easier and produce the same content in both places.

<<Since the newsletter editor is on maternity leave, I'm getting help from a graphic designer and according to her this is not the way a newsletter should look like. She prefers a much shorter HTML, full of links to articles that appear on the site and no actual contents.>>

As you'll undoubtedly discover from replies to your question, you'll have a wide range of preferences to consider. Graphic artists in my experience have a near-allergic aversion to reading*, so her attitude isn't surprising. You won't get any single "this is the only good way to do it" response that everyone accepts. In addition, note that a goodly number of mail administrators block HTML messages because of the fear of spoofing and phishing and boobytrapped GIFs, so you may find that producing only HTML means many of your readers won't ever have a chance to read the newsletter.

* Yes, I'm stereotyping. Sorry! That's been my experience in 20 years in the biz.

All this being the case, the "ideal" solution is to provide both an ASCII (plain text) and an HTML version of the newsletter, and let subscribers choose which one they want to receive. Using automated software such as the Mailman software used by techwr-l lets users change their preferences on the fly, without your intervention, and that can be a very useful thing given the burden that subscriber management can become if you have to handle it all. It's fairly easy to turn HTML into ASCII, so this isn't an onerous burden for the publishing staff. Been there, done that.

In terms of content, the ideal solution would be to give readers the option of "just the links" vs. "the full Monty", but then you've created a difficult task for yourselves: you now have to create four different versions of the newsletter (HTML and ASCII version of links- only and full text). Not pleasant. The compromise solution that works reasonably well for everyone, if not perfectly for anyone, is the following: First, create an executive summary (100 to 200 words max, and shorter is better*) of every article, and start the full text of the article with that summary. Then post the full article only on the Web site, and e-mail a collection of these summaries followed by links to the full article. Those who just want the links only have to read a small amount of text to see the links; those who might want the full article get enough of a taste of its contents that they can decide whether to follow the link.

* Try this challenge (it can be a fun party game if you're the kind of word geek who enjoys Balderdash/Fictionary <g>): bet your audience that you can describe any topic that you're familiar with in 50 words or less. Surprisingly, you can. I once spent a profitable few hours proving this to some workplace colleagues who didn't believe me and who acquired a new appreciation for my ability to cut to the chase. Yes, you sacrifice all the details, but if you're clever and understand the topic well, you can do a surprisingly good job of presenting the important bits... and in the context of Erika's question, these are the bits that entice readers to read the article.

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca

(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)

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newsletter approaches: From: Erika Yanovich

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