Designing a Community Newsletter

November 1, 2004

Let's face it, with everyone's busy schedules and hectic lifestyles these days, very few homeowners will find the time to seek out information concerning the news and events about their own homeowners association. This, in turn, invariably leads to an increase in apathy in the community, and a further burden on the few homeowners who are actively involved in administering the affairs of the community. One way to help prevent this from occurring is to keep the homeowners better informed.

Whether you want to update your homeowners about ongoing issues, inform residents of upcoming events, or simply provide them with essential information, one of the best methods of disseminating information to your community is to publish a newsletter. Association newsletters can be amazingly successful tools in getting more homeowners actively involved in the community.

To be effective, a newsletter must always be clear and concise. Clarity helps to avoid misunderstanding or confusion which endangers the newsletter's credibility. Conciseness saves time for both the reader and writer, and will help to enhance the clarity of the message.

The text of the newsletter should focus on five primary guidelines: Content, Grammar, Clarity, Conciseness, and Style.

Content:

  • Keep information timely and up to date.
  • Use informative headings.
  • Is the message narrow and consistent?
  • Check for accuracy and completeness.
  • Eliminate repetitious details.

Grammar:

  • Avoid fragmented sentences.
  • Use correct punctuation.
  • Use correct words.
  • Check for proper spelling.

Clarity:

  • Measure the degree of readability.
  • Use clear references.
  • Use consistent viewpoint.

Conciseness:

  • Avoid wordy sentences.
  • Prefer active voice verbs.
  • Avoid redundancies.

Style:

  • Vary sentence structure and length.
  • Avoid the use of weak verbs.
  • Use a personal, conversational tone.

After writing the text of your newsletter, the next step is formatting the layout. This step will require the selection of typeface, font size, alignment, type style, and paragraph formatting.

The goal in selecting a typeface and font size is choosing one that has a smooth transition and is easy to read. Use of 12 point type is normal for most text, although headlines and subheadings should be significantly larger. Always follow the hierarchy of type by decreasing the font size for headlines as you move down the page because those stories tend to be less important. And, try to avoid the use of too many different font types, as it often becomes confusing and distracting to the reader.

Alignment affects both appearance and readability. We generally see most professionally printed documents justified on the right edge; however, studies have shown that a flush left/ragged right type is sometimes more readable because the equal word spacing helps the reader move more easily through the story.

Type style refers to the use of boldface, italics, bold italics, underlining, and small capitals. These can be used to emphasize certain words, sentences, and paragraphs. Both boldface and italics should be used sparingly within the body of the text because they can easily dominate the page when overly used. Underlining should generally be avoided in desktop publishing because it reduces readability by obscuring the bottoms of some lowercase letters. The use of small capital letters (approximately 80 percent of the height of uppercase letters) can be effective in adding emphasis to a few words without darkening the page as boldface will.

Paragraph formatting can be accomplished in two ways—by indenting the first line of a new paragraph, or by skipping a line between paragraphs without indenting. Either style is acceptable, but it is important to be consistent throughout the newsletter. Skipping a line between paragraphs implies a more formal atmosphere, and is typically used with justified type. Indented paragraphs are considered more conversational and are usually used with a flush left/ragged right type style.

Before you start laying out your newsletter, it is imperative to rank your stories. The stories should be placed in descending order throughout the newsletter according to their importance.

When designing the pages, it is easier to start with the artwork and build your page around it. The artwork might include photographs and other graphics. Design options often become clearer once the photographs and graphics are in place. Varying the size and shapes of the photos and graphics helps to add variety and visual appeal. Always use a mixture of vertical and horizontal elements to add variety to the newsletter. It is important to cross the page at least once with type so that the page is not divided by a vertical gutter running all the way down the middle. You should also avoid stacking articles and stories on top of one another. Doing so will not allow either story to stand out properly. It is also important to always balance an appropriate amount of text and graphics in the available space.

Newsletters are a valuable way to communicate with your homeowners and help to ensure that everyone is properly informed about their community. An informed homeowner is more likely to take an active role in the administration of the association, and is less likely to present a negative influence toward the Board of Directors and management.

Mark Southall
PCAM®, AMS®, CMCA®, COS®, CPM®
President
Principal Management Group of North Texas
Dallas, TX

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