How to Design a Strong Newsletter

Tips and hints for designing one that generates interest

Woman with glasses on laptop

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Newsletters don't occupy the same informational niche they did even a mere decade ago. The move to online-first correspondence and the growth of social media has sidelined the newsletter, but a newsletter that's well designed and filled with informative content offers real value to recipients.

Whether you are designing a newsletter for print or for electronic distribution, adhering to well-established design principles can help you craft a professional-looking and reader-friendly newsletter. Use these basic guidelines when you construct your publication.

Focus on Content

Newsletter and coffee.
hocus-focus / E+ / Getty Images

To stand out and be worth the recipient's time, a good newsletter must surface meaningful content in a concise fashion. The era of 20-page newsletters died in the 1990s. Today, content that informs, educates, and entertains outperforms content that reads like meeting minutes.

Some best-practice tips:

  • Give the reader something he or she couldn't otherwise get from alternative sources — special interviews, meaningful insider tips, etc.
  • Most people aren't interested in content that includes meeting minutes, vacation reports, or other stuff that's of historical interest only.
  • Keep it short and simple. No need to write a dozen paragraphs when just three or four will suffice.
  • Use photos and illustrations, but avoid off-topic stock photos or clipart.

Think twice about lifting an image or a story from the internet. In most cases, republishing content you don't own, and for which you didn't obtain a license to re-use, could get you into legal and financial hot water. As a rule of thumb: If you didn't create it yourself, you can't include it in your newsletter, unless you have proof of permission.

Be Consistent

Newsletters aren't primarily consumed on paper anymore — emailed newsletters prove much more common — but what you create still ought to be printable, which means you'll need to conform to common print standards.

In particular:

  • Use grids for page-to-page consistency. Good alignment is important for a professional-looking newsletter.
  • Use templates and style guides for consistent formatting. Whether you use someone else's template or develop your own, stay with it.
  • Use repeating elements such as footers, headers, and department heads.
  • Use the same few fonts throughout the newsletter. 
  • Use color to attract the eye to important information, but don't overdo it.

Avoid Clutter

A blue, white, brown, and red Christmas newsletter template.

More isn't always better. If your newsletter is chock full of fonts, colors, photos, and graphics, the reader may be put off. Keep it clean and approachable.

  • Use three or fewer typefaces.
  • Use frames and boxes sparingly.
  • Use no more than one or two pieces of clip art, photos or graphics accents per page.

Avoid clip art if you can. Nothing screams "amateur hour!" like a newsletter filled with random line images.

Use Contrast

Although a too-busy newsletter is off-putting, a newsletter design without contrast—a giant wall of text—tends to be boring. Ways to include contrast in your newsletter include:

  • Use high-contrast typefaces such as a bold sans serif type for headlines and a serif font for body text.
  • Make it big, really big. Use an exaggerated drop cap or enlarge a media attachment to make a statement.
  • Use white space in the form of extra-wide gutters or margins to counteract dense text. White space adds visual breathing room for the eye.
  • Add pull quotes to break up a long article and tantalize the reader. Keep them short and interesting.

Electronic Newsletters

If you transmit your newsletters by email, you're required by U.S. law to comply with the terms of the CAN-SPAM Act. At a high level, you must include (usually in the footer) the name and mailing address of the publisher as well as an easy-to-find link to unsubscribe from the mailing list.