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12 most common newsletter design mistakes

By: Roger C. Parker

Mistake 7. Long subheads

Short subheads are more effective than long subheads. The best subheads are simply keywords introducing the next topic. Readers can see them , and understand them, at a glance.

When subheads contain full sentences, they slow readers down and take up more than one line, further reducing their effectiveness. Problems involving type The bulk of your newsletter likely consists of articles set in text columns.

Here are some points to review to ensure that your newsletter encourages, rather than discourages, easy reading.

Mistake 8. Inappropriate typeface choices

Nameplates, headlines, and subheads should form a strong visual contrast with the body copy they introduce. There are three categories of type:

* Decorative. These heavily-stylized typefaces are intended to be "recognized" as much as "read." Their use should be limited to just a few words. Typefaces like Stencil or OCR, project distinct images.

* Serif. Typefaces like Times Roman, Bookman, and Palatino contain tiny strokes at the edges of each letter. These contribute to your reader's ability to easily recognize each letter. The serifs also draw your reader's eyes from one letter to another. Serif typefaces are ideal for body copy.

* Sans-serif. Typefaces like Arial, Frutiger, and Helvetica lack serifs. The simplicity of these letters makes them ideal for headlines and subheads. Mistake 9. Inappropriate type size Type size should be proportional to line length, or -- stated another way-- column width. Too big is as bad as too small!

* Too big. Body copy is often set in 12 points, which is often too large for two or three column newsletters. Oversized type is hard to read because there aren't enough words on each line for readers to comfortably scan. Oversized type can also result in awkward word spacing and excessive hyphenation.

* Too small. When type is too small for the line length or column width, readers must make several left-to-right eye scans on each line, slowing them down and tiring their eyes. Under-sized type is hard to read because readers must strain to read it.

Mistake 10. Insufficient line spacing

Many newsletter editors rely on their software program's "default" or "automatic" line spacing. This is wrong. Appropriate line spacing, or leading, depends on the relationship between typeface, type size, and line length:

* Typeface. Sans serif typefaces usually require more line spacing than serif typefaces.

* Type size. As type size increases, line spacing should increase. However, the readability of small type sizes can often be enhanced by adding extra line spacing.

* Column width. Extra line spacing can enhance the readability of both wide and narrow columns.

Line spacing is important as the white space improves recognition of word shapes and provides "rails" which guide your reader's eyes along each line.

Mistake 11. Failure to hyphenate

Body copy should always be hyphenated. A failure to hyphenate interferes with word spacing and line endings, depending on text alignment:

* Justified. Failure to hyphenate justified text -- i.e. text set in lines of equal length -- plays havoc with word spacing. Word spacing becomes very cramped in lines containing several short words. Large gaps appear between words in lines containing a few long words. These variations in word spacing become very noticeable when they appear in adjacent lines.

* Flush-left/ragged-right. Failing to hyphenate text set flush-left/raggedright results in irregular -- or ragged -- line endings. Lines containing a few long words are very short. Lines containing several short words become very long. This can create a distracting zig-zag effect when short lines follow long lines.

Hyphenation should be carefully reviewed. Avoid hyphenating more than two lines in a row.

Mistake 12. Excessive color

Color succeeds best when it is used with restraint. When overused, color interferes with readability, weakens messages, and fails to project a strong image. Headlines, subheads and body copy set in color, or against colored backgrounds, are often harder to read than the same words set in black against a white background. Be especially careful using light colored text.

Restrict colored text to nameplates or large, bold, sans serif headlines and subheads. A single "signature" color, concentrated in a single large element and consistently employed -- like in your nameplate -- can brighten your newsletter and set it apart from the competition. The same color, used in smaller amounts, scattered throughout your newsletter, fails to differentiate your newsletter or project a desired image.

Consistently using black, plus a second highlight color, creates a quiet background against which an occasional color photograph or graphic can emerge with far greater impact.


depends on its design. An attractive, easy to read newsletter encourages readers to pay attention to your message. Cluttered, hard to read newsletters, however, discourage readership -- no matter how good the ideas contained inside.

Before they begin to read your newsletter, your clients and prospects will be judging the value of your ideas by your newsletter's design. Effective design pre-sells your competence and makes it easy for readers to understand your message. Design also helps set your newsletters apart from the competition.

Roger C. Parker
      Author, coach, design educator, consultant

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