Three questions to consider as you develop an awesome newsletter
I have been sending out a weekly newsletter called Too Long; Didn’t Read (TL;DR) for individuals that want to be experts in education, technology, and literacy. As we approach the 100th issue, I felt like it was important to take some time to document some of my steps involved in the process. In this blog post, I’ll document why I write, and then share three considerations you’ll need to have as you develop and share your newsletter.
Why do I write?
In my newsletter, I first write for myself. I believe the newsletter is an important part of the reflection process as I spend time to document the important events of the week as they relate to my focus. It is helpful to take time each week to synthesize and document events over time. This helps me in my larger blog posts and other publications, as well as materials for my webinars and online courses. In a way, it is a letter to myself.
In my newsletter, I also write this for you. I write this for my audience. As I interact with students, colleagues, and friends, I indicate that the learning is never done. After our webinar or course has completed, there is still much more to learn. I share continual feedback and guidance on my social networks, but it is difficult to keep track of every tweet, favorite, and like. It’s also difficult to separate the signal from the noise. In my newsletter, I conduct this synthesis for you. I look across the events of the week and point out the important things. The weekly newsletter also helps me see trends from week to week. Not only is the newsletter a letter to myself, it’s also a weekly gift to you to help make you an expert in education, technology, and literacy.
Keep in mind these reasons for why I write have evolved over time. When I started creating my newsletter, I merely wanted to find a mechanism to get a better sense of my audience and solidify my platform. I met people on the road and online through various workshops and classes. I also have a lot of friends in virtual spaces and I wanted to bring them all in together. The newsletter and the resultant list of email addresses was a perfect first step. My rationale has expanded as I have been writing and sharing this resource.
What are the possibilities?
As you begin to develop a newsletter, I recommend reviewing other newsletters to see what and how people are sharing materials. I subscribe to the following newsletters, and use their format as constant ideas for how to shape the look and format of my newsletter. Keep in mind that my focus is on education, technology, and literacy…so a majority of these resources are in those areas. I recommend reviewing their work to get some ideas on how to organize and share your work.
- 5it by Alexis Madrigal
- Documentally by Christian Payne
- Freshly Brewed Thoughts by Laura Hilliger
- NextDraft by Dave Pell
- ReadWriteRespond by Aaron Davis
- Sunday Dispatches by Paul Jarvis
- theSkimm originally started by Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin
- Thought Shrapnel by Doug Belshaw
- Todd’s Brain Newsletter by Todd Finley
As you look across the various newsletters, you’ll see that they’re all completely different. That is a good thing. You’ll also get a general feel for their individual style, and that way this impacts the focus of the newsletter. Finally, you’ll see various ways in which they integrate into websites, twitter accounts, and/or discussion boards. You should develop something creative and new. Write a newsletter that you would enjoy reading.
How do I get started?
I frequently get emails from colleagues and friends across many fields to get advice on starting up a newsletter. I indicate that a newsletter is a great tool for reflection. I also advise them (and you) to keep it simple as you begin. I think about focus, format, and forums as I develop my newsletter.
As you begin your newsletter, you’ll want to identify the focus of your newsletter. What will you write about? What is appropriate to include and share in your newsletter? What is outside of your focus and should not be shared? Will you include some content that is slightly off-focus? Will you include humor? Will you include you own voice, or will you simply report the facts?
In my newsletter I share information about education, technology, and literacy. Each week I review my tweets and bookmarks for the week and compile the top five links. Sometimes there are intersections between stories, but I try to allow the storied to stand on their own. I also include a video of the week from YouTube and something that you can make or hack each week. I settled on this mixture of content after trying different versions throughout the first dozen issues and asking for feedback from readers.
The title of my newsletter is Too Long; Didn’t Read, and I try to have that mindset as I write/share my newsletter. I want to put together a resource that my audience can read on a tablet on a Saturday or Sunday morning as they prepare for the upcoming week. I want this resource to be relatively brief as I know my readers are super busy and don’t have time to get bogged down and waste their time. I also inject a certain amount of humor and irreverence in my newsletter because that is part of my normal attitude.
As you start to develop your newsletter, you’ll want to think about how you’ll share information in your newsletter. By how, I mean that you should consider what types of information will you share. What is the look of your newsletter? Will you share images or video, or will it be text only? Will you include links to materials, or will you synthesize as well? Is this long form, or short form content? How long do you expect readers to engage with your work?
In TL;DR, I share images, links and short synopses of each post. I pull out the important info from each link and share this in my synthesis along with my own spin. My goal is to save you time and not have you click through to the link unless you’re intrigued and want to learn more. I conclude each issue with a quote from the week that is inspired by the links shared. This quote is also meant to inspire my readers to go out and change the world.
I embed a video at the top of the post along with eye catching images from each link I share. The quote at the end of the piece is developed in Canva and also shared on Instagram. I purposely add in images and video into my newsletter as I’m trying to play with and maximize multiple modes of content in my newsletter. I’m trying to keep it visually stimulating and interesting, while still keeping it simple.
One of the final decisions you’ll need to make as you develop your newsletter involves the function of this work. This involves decisions about where, when, and for whom this work will be published. What platform will you use to publish your newsletter? How often and when will you publish materials? Who is your audience? Where and when do you think your audience will consume your content?
As you begin, keep it simple. Spend your time thinking about the look of the content. I use MailChimp for my newsletter. I have colleagues and friends that have used and recommend TinyLetter. MailChimp (for the most part) does everything that I need for my newsletter. I still could use better integration with my WordPress site and other spaces online. I also could host my own site using various tools. But, at this point (as I approach 100 issues) I’m still trying to keep it simple and focus on the fit and finish of my work.
In your considerations of the function of your newsletter, you should consider your prototypical audience, or the avatar for your work. Yes, I write my newsletter for myself. I also write it for you, my audience. In this, I think about an avatar as I write and revise my newsletter. My avatar is a composite of several colleagues and students I have worked with over the years. My avatar has a name. I know what their wants and needs are. I know what their stresses may be, and how to best reach them. As I write, I’m writing for that avatar. That allows me to remain focused as I create content.
A newsletter can be a powerful tool as you not only make sense of your thinking, but also share this work with others. I believe that the process of reflection is involved as you create and publish a newsletter. I often have colleagues suggest that an RSS or Twitter feed, or subscriptions to their website is the same thing as a regular newsletter. IMHO, it is not the same thing. A good newsletter serves a specific purpose, and includes synthesis and reflection for you or your audience. You are actively curating content online.
Keep in mind the materials that I shared above are all in a constant state of revision. As I created and share my weekly newsletter, I am continually reviewing and iterating the focus, format, and function of my newsletter. This is a continual process that started at the beginning of my newsletter, and will continue as I regularly publishing individual issues.
If you’re at all intrigued by the possibilities of creating a newsletter, you should get started now. As you begin, keep it simple. Have fun and create something you would like to read. And…if you like content like this, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter if you haven’t already. If you are a subscriber…please let me know how I can improve my content.
Originally published at W. Ian O’Byrne.