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Picking the right structure for your newsletter

Anna from Revue
Anna from Revue
Hi there,
Happy Tuesday! 
During my conversations with creators, I often end up discussing structure. It’s something people ask about in the early stages, just when they’re trying to pin down their newsletter’s identity.
Questions might include:
  • How long should my newsletter be?
  • How many images should I use?
  • Should I use the same section headings every week?
The answer, of course, is “it depends” — but there are some tips and ideas I can share to get the creative juices flowing. Structure is something that should be reassessed as a newsletter grows and develops, so I hope this will be useful no matter what stage you’re at in the creation process.
What is structure?
I may be stating the obvious here, but it’s good to make sure we’re all on the same page from the get-go: structure is the format that your content is delivered in. The skeleton, if you will.
It guides the reader through your newsletter from start to finish — and it may include section headings (find out how to save section headings for future issues in Revue here), images, and other media elements. Which leads me to my next point…
Think about your reader
Some of the structural elements you go with will depend entirely on who your reader is, and in what situation they’re reading your newsletter. 
Are they a busy commuter checking the headlines before work? Or are they sitting down with a cup of tea at the weekend to read all the latest info about their favorite topic? You can tailor the way you package your content so that it’s convenient for the majority of your readers, thereby improving their experience. 
Let’s look at some examples. 
This newsletter has a super-clear value proposition:
Become smarter in just 5 minutes. Get the daily email that makes reading the news actually enjoyable. Stay informed and entertained, for free.
People open Morning Brew to get up to speed with business news as they drink their morning coffee. With this in mind, the creators orient the reader within the newsletter so they don’t waste their time working out where they’re at on the page.
It is split up into digestible chunks. Each of those chunks has a category or topic above the subheading, and a short explainer underneath. Here’s an example:
Morning Brew is built with blocks like the one above, and the result is an immensely readable newsletter that delivers bitesized information and doesn’t demand any more of your time than it needs to.
Ann Friedman’s newsletter, which has been running weekly since 2013, has a very different flavor. It’s chock-full of wonderful things, and the experience of reading it is more explorative.
It also includes sections, many of which come back week after week with new content under the same subheadings, but much of the value comes from clicking through to the links Ann includes in the “I’m reading” section:
I think about this section a lot when discussing newsletter structure, because it kinda breaks the rules of how to make things easier for your readers — and yet it just works.
Here’s why. It’s usually better to separate out long chunks of text so that readers can skim through and pick out the links that interest them most, but this newsletter is not for skimming. It’s for taking your time with. It’s a rich tapestry of threads that lead in so many directions, and the experience of picking some (or all!) to follow is part of the joy of it.
It’s a bold choice that won’t work for every newsletter, but it’s a great example of why there isn’t a golden rule for structure that every creator should follow.
A few weeks ago, I spoke to Matt Navarra about how he structures his newsletter Geekout — a weekly download of everything happening in the world of social media:
The newsletter format is shaped like a funnel. It starts very wide with a summary of the big stuff I spotted that week, plus lots of light-hearted and fun stuff to draw people in without it feeling like a heavy read. As you scroll through, the newsletter goes from talking in detail about the biggest news stories at the start, to a quick link list of all the other stuff people may want to skim or bookmark for later.
It’s clear from his response that he’s also thought long and hard about how people read his newsletter — but not only that. He’s thought about how the reader’s energy and attention changes over the course of an issue.
The longer chunks of text at the top give way to bullet-point lists and visuals later on, hitting the reader with the meaty content right at the moment when they’re showing the highest levels of intent: when they’ve just opened the newsletter. Later, when their attention may be starting to wander, the information is delivered in snippets, and they’re rewarded with fun memes and other tidbits.
It’s a deceptively sophisticated strategy that once again keeps the reader front-and-center.
Photographer Kirsten Alana’s newsletter goes down a very different route to the examples above. It is highly focused on showcasing her stunning work, and that of others she comes across in the week.
Each issue starts with a short, thoughtful essay, which she wraps around one of her own photographs like a poetic, personal envelope:
The text then gives way to other sections within which she gathers more visual elements from creators she admires. It’s a treat for the eyes, and it makes complete sense for an audience that appreciates visual arts.
Experiment
The vast majority of newsletter writers, including the really successful ones, change up their structure over time. As new ideas come to you, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t try them out.
If you’re at the start of your newsletter journey, you may not know the precise situation of your reader — but you can hypothesise, try something out, and go from there.
Let’s recap
The main takeaway here is to build your structure around your reader. Imagine where they are when they pick up your newsletter issue. I mean really imagine it. Are they reading at a computer screen or on a mobile? How much time do they have? Are they in a break at work, or is this their leisure time? What do they come to your newsletter for?
The examples above work because the creators have tapped in to a clear vision of who they’re writing for. The ideas might not make sense for your newsletter, but they might offer some inspiration for what your readers might respond to.
I’d love to hear if this issue made you think about switching up your structure. Let me know by hitting reply!
Newsletter inspiration
I love how Amelia E. uses structure and fun visual elements to make the experience of reading her newsletter a delight. She uses lots of gifs which give the eye a break while reading — plus, they really make her profile page pop ✨
You can check out (and sign up to) The Pickety Witch here:
The Pickety Witch
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Have a great week,
Anna
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Anna from Revue
Anna from Revue @revue

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