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Guidance on writing newsletters about Big Local in your area

November 2015

A newsletter is a print or electronic publication that promotes your work and spreads the word. It carries information about your recent and forthcoming activities and is distributed regularly to a group of interested people. Newsletters vary in length, and if this is your first venture then it's a good idea to start small. Your newsletter can be short and still contain lots of useful information.

Purpose and audience

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As with all communications, the first thing you need to know is your purpose and your audience. The purpose might be that you want to keep people up to date on your Big Local activities and progress, or let them know about opportunities. Your audience might be people who live in the area, businesses and shops in the area, or families of children who attend the local schools.

Once you’ve agreed on your purpose and your audience, you can think about the format, and then the content.

Printed newsletters and electronic newsletters

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Printed newsletters can be delivered directly to people’s doors, or left in places like local shops, the library, GP surgery or schools. You might have a volunteer or group of volunteers who produce the newsletter, or you might work with a local printer or designer. Either way, there is likely to be a cost for the printing. You will also need to arrange for the newsletter to be delivered.

Electronic newsletters, sometimes called e-newsletters, are delivered by email. There are software packages to help you produce your e-newsletter, with templates you can customise. E-newsletters rely on your having email addresses of people who have agreed to receive emails and newsletters from you. This list will need to be carefully managed for legal reasons.

For information on data protection please see our guide on how to collect personal data as part of Big Local activities.

Top tips: creating great content

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1. Choose an inspiring and punchy heading/subject line

A heading which grabs people’s attention will make people want to read more. Instead of a heading like ‘April newsletter’, think about your big news. Maybe you have a solution to a problem, a unique opportunity or a call to action.

2. Keep it short and to the point

Avoid the temptation to tell people lots about everything. Newsletters are for your highlights or most important news.

3. ‘Frontload the content’ of your newsletter

Most readers will read some but not all of your newsletter. They are likely to read the start and then skim for what they are interested in. Put important ‘must read’ items first or where they will be noticed, and make sure the key points are in the first few lines so people don’t miss them.

4. Use plain English

Plain English is something the intended audience can read, understand and act upon the first time they read it. Avoid using jargon and write in short, clear sentences. For more information read our how to guide.

5. Bring stories to life with photos

Pictures are a great way of getting people’s attention and bringing a story to life. Make sure you get permission from the photographer, and credit them where appropriate.

Check that the people in the photo know it was being taken and that, where appropriate, they have given their consent.

For example, when taking photos at a Big Local meeting, the photographer should ask if anyone minds their photo being taken and explain how it will be used. If photographing children or vulnerable adults, the photographer must get the consent of the parent or guardian or carer.

6. Share the work

One or two people may be responsible for putting the newsletter together, but many different people can write the stories. Other duties include doing the layout, adding photos, managing any printing, putting together the mailing list or agreeing distribution, and delivering the newsletter.

7. Ask different people to contribute

Ask people if they would write a short piece about an event/activity/meeting they have attended (it might be helpful to give them some questions as a framework). People are more likely to contribute if you ask them personally. Remember to say thank you, and give them positive feedback about their contribution – they’ll be more likely to be involved again in the future.

8. Check for accuracy

Ask someone other than the person who wrote the article to check that it's accurate and sending out the right messages. When it’s ready, print it out and get somebody with a keen eye for detail to check it for spelling, grammar and mistakes. Often the person who put it together won’t spot these.

9. Provide information for events/activities

The more people know about the event, the more likely they are to attend. For example, if the event is a fun day, say what the activities or entertainment will be. If it is a learning workshop, say what the topic is and what people will get out of the day. Tell people if there will be live music, free activities for children, food and drink, and any other attractions.

10. Set deadlines

Decide when you want to send out your newsletter and work backwards to identify a timeline. Think about how long it will take to complete the different tasks involved. If you are working with a printer, check how long they need and what their deadlines are.

11. Give options to get in touch, find online or unsubscribe

Once your reader has read your newsletter they should be able to take action! If you’re asking people to get involved, make it easy for them to call or email you, or know where to go to find out more. If it’s an e-newsletter, they should be able to share it with others - add an option for people to link to Facebook/Twitter, or for new users to subscribe. Importantly, you'll also need to allow people to remove themselves from your distribution list. So every newsletter needs an unsubscribe option.

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