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Style and Substance

Style and Substance

Straight from Common Ground’s creative director and editor, here are some quick tips for giving your newsletter form and function.


KEEP IT SIMPLE, LEGIBLE, AND ORDERLY.  Set up a grid to help you align columns of type and graphics.  A three-column grid is typical for most newsletters.  Set your copy in these columns and align your graphics by these guides.  Use white space to frame and organize the page.

DON’T USE MORE THAN TWO TYPEFACES.  A serif face for the body copy and a sanserif face for the heads and subheads will build good contrast.  Chose fonts that won’t date your publication.  Look to the classics: Garamond, Century, Helvetica, Times, and Univers, to name a few.

USE RESTRAINT WHEN CHOSING COLOR.  Remember, the reader has to read.  Chose colors that are soothing to the eye.  Safe bets are blues and greens.  Stay away from yellow type (too hard to see), and watch red—you’ll get pink screens.  Use color to accent or draw interest to parts of the page.

GIVE IT SOME PUNCH.  Add photos and graphics, but don’t complicate things with too many shapes and decorative elements.  Visuals can attract your reader’s eye, but too many can be distracting and make your page look junky.  Use contrast of size and weight.  For example, make one photo large (for the most important topic on the page) and all other visuals small.

CONSISTENCY, CONSISTENCY.  Once you have a design, stick with it.  It sets the identity for your publication.  Use the same fonts, grid, and mast from issue to issue.  Then, readers will recognize your newsletter and read it cover-to-cover.

—Mary Prestera Butler, creative director

REMEMBER THE BASICS.  Always cover hard news first, including meetings, budgets, elections, special or ongoing projects, and community events.  Don’t shy away from controversial issues, be objective, and, unless you’re Shakespeare, don’t get flowery.  Stick to who, what, when, where, why, and how.

GO BEYOND THE BASICS.  After you’ve taken care of hard news, the sky’s the limit.  Check your local newspaper to see what else it carries besides straight news.  To start, have a president’s column, and maybe a manager’s column, too.  Profile a different resident—or new residents—in each issue.  If someone is a film buff, ask her to write movie reviews.  If someone loves to cook, ask for recipes.

ALLOW LETTERS TO THE EDITOR.  What do your residents think?  Find out by encouraging them to send letters to your newsletter.  Make clear that you won’t publish anything libelous, gratuitous, or plain offensive, but otherwise, let them have their say.  Don’t withhold a letter just because the writer is taking issue with a board decision.

HAVE FUN WITH HEADLINES. Sometimes you just have to say “Board Approves Budget: Assessment to Rise $10.”  Other times, however, you can let your hair down.  Make a pun, or riff on a movie title.

INCLUDE A STAFF BOX AND BYLINES.  Always give credit where credit is due.  Use bylines to identify who wrote particular articles.  Put your staff box in the same place each issue—say the bottom of page 2 or the top of page 3—and include information on your staff (editor, copy editor, photographer, staff writers) and your newsletter (how often it’s published, association name, address).

—Christopher Durso, editor, Common Ground

(From the September/October 2001 issue of Common Ground)

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