Balancing Content In Newsletters
Foreword By The Author
Balance is an abstract, and some might think an obscure, concept so it might be an idea to establish what is meant by it in the case of newsletters before discussing how to achieve it. In the real world we know that, in order to achieve balance, a weight must be countered by an opposing weight. In publishing, it means something similar but it depends, to an extent, on whether we are talking about the physical aspects of a publication (how it looks) or the 'editorial' side (the content). Editorial and lead articles set the tone for a publication and consideration of 'counterweights' necessarily start there. Be cautious though. Whilst trying to introduce balance it can sometimes be only too easy to inadvertently change the tone of the whole newsletter.
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In visual terms it is fairly easy to ensure balance. An abundance of text in a small, cramped typeface cries out to be balanced by 'white space'. You can also use pullquotes to break up an article and experiment with different sized headlines. A sidebar can add a new dimension to a page. The inclusion of clipart or other well-placed pictorial matter can add variety to a publication and even little known typefaces can sometimes be very effective contributors to the overall balance. Color is another consideration. However, important though these things can be when used as balancing elements (and always in moderation, of course) they are all basic design features and therefore outside the scope of this article.
In terms of the newsletter content, serious matter needs to be balanced by an opposing amount of light matter; 'one-off' items can be balanced by serialized material, instructional or 'how-to' articles by question and answer features etc. It is much more of a 'balancing act' though, than is the case with the visual aspects, because there is no way of measuring whether or not you have got the 'mix' right. It's the reader's perception that matters and the publisher needs to employ a little empathy, coupled with her own instinct and experience.
Why Bother With Balance?
Why then, do we have to bother about balance in newsletter content if it is impossible to measure? The short answer is that a lack of balance can be very detrimental to a publication. Too much serious material tends to have a depressive effect on the reader. It feels 'out of balance' and that feeling tends to result in distracting the reader's attention from your core message. Not only that but no matter how focused the niche is that a newsletter services, individual readers still have individual preferences. You can't please all the people all the time but by striving for balance, you have a better chance of including material that a majority of readers want to see.
A Lighter Vein
The most popular way to introduce a lighter vein into a newsletter or similar publication is to employ humor. This can be done by the inclusion of jokes, cartoons, funny stories, nonsense verses such as limericks—even simple clipart caricatures incorporated into article headings. Obviously, gratuitous humor is nowhere near as effective as topic-focused humor. A cartoon that gives an amusing slant to the main topic on the page, even if the association is somewhat tenuous, tends to be far more 'balancing' than one that does not seem to have any obvious link to the subject matter at all. Sometimes it might even unbalance things. Another word of caution too, especially if you write your own material; make sure that anything you include because of its humor value cannot be mistaken as simply facetious comment. If your sense of humor tends towards the quirky and you're unsure whether everyone will 'get the joke', err on the side of prudence and leave it out.
These are probably the most useful of all 'content balancers' because they are so versatile. They can be found to suit almost any newsletter, they cover the full gamut of human emotions, they are available on just about every topic imaginable, they can be long or short—the list could go on. Most, of course, are very short (one-liners in fact) and that is often a virtue. They can be scattered throughout a newsletter or, in the form of a list, they can fill a column, or they can even be used rather like pullquotes to emphasize a story angle.
Proverbs, Fables, Aphorisms...
These are not as versatile as quotations and don't have the same vast range of coverage but they can still be extremely useful. Their main advantage is in their historical significance, their standing as 'pearls of wisdom' that have stood the test of time and sometimes their poetic turn of phrase. Every newsletter would benefit from the inclusion of an occasional proverb or similar.
Quizzes And Puzzles
These can prove very welcome as a way of balancing content and you do not have to be a wordsmith yourself to know that crosswords are one of the most popular pastimes ever devised. As with most other fillers, topic-focused material tends to be more effective than non-topic specific copy but it does not need to be anywhere near as relevant to the subject as is the case with humor or advice-type features. Don't underestimate the potential that these types of items offer your newsletters. Many people scan every publication that falls into their hands for their crossword 'fix'.
Any kind of 'advice' items can improve newsletter balance. The best types are usually of the regular 'tips' variety. 'This Month's Car Tips', 'The Weight Loss Column', 'Household Hints', are all examples of the types of titles that might be used. Included as part of this genre would be astrological predictions or 'What the Stars Say'. Admittedly, these would be entirely unsuitable for many newsletters; they would need to have very specific readership profiles for them to be considered appropriate. But, for the right type of readers, they could prove a very popular addition. Recipes and similar items are also forms of 'advice' fillers but, popular though they might sometimes be, the same reservations apply for them as do for astrology columns.
A very important consideration regarding these types of copy is worth mentioning at this point. Quizzes, puzzles and advice-type fillers are best included as ongoing series, continuing from issue to issue, including even being placed in the exact same position in the newsletter every time. That way, those readers who enjoy the particular entertainment that you are providing soon learn that your newsletter contains something of interest to them and they will actually start looking forward to the next edition! Isn't that just what you're aiming for?
Notice the value given to newsletter fillers in this article. The right type of material is what matters when it comes to improving the content balance of a newsletter and the right types of fillers do exactly this job. There is a misconception that 'filler' is a word used to describe trivial or irrelevant content used merely to 'fill up' blank spaces. Nothing could be further from the truth, in my opinion. Used properly, the right type of fillers can have a very positive overall effect. They can enhance copy relevance, improve balance and ensure that all the text and additional material links together into a cohesive whole. So, where do you find the additional material you need to balance your newsletters? One place you should look is ClipCopy Content Solutions (see below). It has links to more than 6000 newsletter fillers and articles (called ClipCopy ) that you can simply copy and paste into your newsletter.