Creating Family Newsletters

THINK BEFORE YOU INK

by Elaine Floyd

When did family newsletters get such a bad reputation? I've been asking everyone I know the same question, "Have you received any good family newsletters lately?" The answer has been surprisingly consistent. "Oh, we've received some. But not any good ones."
The bad newsletters lead to other bad newsletters-since they're the only ones people can use as models when they sit down to create their own newsletter. It's time to change that.

Watch Out for These Trouble Spots
Problem: Time of severe trauma or sadness. The death of a loved one or other times of sadness make it hard (or sometimes impossible) to write or result in a very sad newsletter. Solution: Many newsletter creators miss an issue from time to time because "they just can't" put together the newsletter. Others get contributions from others to pull the family together through the difficult time. Others wait until later and then make a short statement telling what has happened and thanking family and friends for their support.

Problem: Right amount of detail. Long newsletters telling readers more than they ever wanted to know.
Solution: If you have trouble shortening the news, ask a friend to help you. Ask a few people to read your newsletter and highlight the most interesting information. Save the long version for your scrapbook and shorten down the final letter.

Problem: Health updates. Describing unpleasant details such as deaths, surgery or pain in timeline or detailed fashion.
Solution: Make one statement telling what has happened after waiting for the event to take perspective. Devote the detail of unpleasant events to describing how you are thankful for the help that family or friends gave you during the trying time. If a loved one has passed, consider sharing memories of a special time.

Problem: Children's accomplishments. Discussing children's grades, trophies, awards, teacher conferences, sports results.
Solution: Have the children write about themselves. Or, ask them questions and write using their words. Write about or show photos of children's specific gifts and talents such as their favorite school subjects. Mention what the children are doing, not quantifying how they are winning.
Here's an example of effective news of children:
"The children are doing great. Patrick and Keenan did really well in school the previous six weeks. Patrick received A's and B's in all his classes and Keenan earned S's. They both need to improve their reading skills, and Keenan is going to have to learn to concentrate for a full day of school. But, all in all, they are doing excellent.
"Sara is doing exceptionally well in 'Daddy's School.' She's an expert in the installation of sprinkler systems, laying sod and installing basketball goals. In the next semester, we are planning an agricultural class, a fence installation class and techniques to escape trouble from behind trees and in the rough by utilizing a weak left hand grip to slice the ball."

Problem: Parent's accomplishments. Telling so much about a business venture that it seems like a sales pitch.
Solution: If your friends are interested in your business, put them on your business mailing list. This way, they'll receive separate mailings that keep them up to date on your ventures.
For both parents and children, let everyone create their own brag list. List it as a "Brag List" and use a numbered or bulleted list.

Problem: Hard to read text. People have trouble reading long lines of type, no matter how interesting or fun it is.
Solution: Increase the page margins to at least one inch on each side.

Problem: Bats and Balls!!! (School-teachers' lingo for exclamation points.) Every other sentence ends with an exclamation point.
Solution: Let your writing and content share your enthusiasm. It's much more effective than !!!!'s. Save them for the punch line or surprise ending of a story or joke.

Miscellaneous Notables

Decision-Making Chart
Avoid most of the trouble spots by selecting a newsletter format that's suited to your interests. Consider a photo-only newsletter. Or, your news may be part of a larger family Web site. Decisions, decisions. Here's a quick planning list to help you decide which type of newsletter you'd like to create.

Here are some common purposes for newsletters.

Here are some common things that readers enjoy. How often do you want to update or publish? What do you enjoy doing? How much time do you want to spend per issue? To how many people do you want to send your news? What is your budget? (For a mailing list of 50 people)

Additional information on newsletters is available at the Newsletter Resources Web site.

From Creating Family Newsletters, by Elaine Floyd. Copyright 1998. Elaine Floyd. Excerpted by arrangement with Newsletter Resources. $19.99. Available in local bookstores, or by calling 800-289-0963, or you can click here.