How to Format Your Email Newsletter

When subscribers' email readers (programs) receive your text newsletter, they will display it in all kinds of ways. Not only are there different programs, but each one has several customization options.

One of the problems arising out of this diversity is line length. In extreme cases, recipients will get one extremely long line for each paragraph, because their email programs have not wrapped the lines (ended each line after a specified number of characters and moved the text onto a new line). In other cases, the lines may be too long for comfortable reading.

How do you deal with this? Opinions vary, again. Some publishers recommend you hit the RETURN key at the end of each line (hard returns), to make sure the text wraps. Others advocate setting a line length (65 characters or less) in the Preferences section of your email program.

If you do use hard returns, use a fixed-space font like Courier or Monaco. That way you can simply set your margins to an appropriate line length and hit the return key at the end of each line. If you forget and use a variable-space font (like Arial or Times), your readers will get all kinds of variations, since many of them will use different fonts. You can also change your fonts back to something you like again after putting in the hard returns.

Apostrophes and quotation marks: Many of us use these symbols liberally when we write, and quite frankly they improve the reading process. But, be sure you use the appropriate versions of these marks, which means using the straight foot and inch symbols, rather than curled apostrophes and quotation marks.

If you don't do this, some of your readers will get a message in which all apostrophes and quotation marks have disappeared. It will look like you don't know how to spell, or worse. Overcome this problem by using the Find & Replace function in your word processing program to make the changes quickly and easily.

And, it may seem obvious, but if you send out a text email newsletter, separate the paragraphs with double returns. Don't try to use tabs or spaces to set off a new paragraph - in many cases the formatting will go astray and your readers won't know you're starting a new paragraph.

If your original document doesn't use double returns, you can change it over quickly and easily, using our old friend, the Find & Replace function in your word processing program. Put one return symbol in the Find field, two in the Replace field, and hit Change All (or whatever your program uses for these terms).

One thing you can generally ignore is the font or typeface (unless, as noted you're setting line lengths). Many readers will set their email programs to display all text messages in a font of their choosing, and likely won't see the font you use anyway.

After drafting your newsletter, email a copy to yourself before sending it to your list. Even better, send it from one program and receive it with another. If you're like me, you'll be surprised at the problems that pop out when you do this. Not only content, but also formatting and links may look different, and you'll likely find errors that were not at all obvious in the original version.

While we're on this subject, don't forget to test the links you place. Click on each one to make sure it takes you where you want it to send your readers.

Summing up, be conscious of your formatting techniques when you create a text newsletter. A little bit of extra attention will keep the text itself from getting in the way of your message.

Robert F. Abbott, the author of A Manager's Guide to Newsletters: Communicating for Results, writes and publishes Abbott's Communication Letter. Read more articles about Internet communication, as well as email and printed newsletters at: http:// ml

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