Newsletter first aid

When creating a holiday newsletter or a PDF outlining your company’s new dental plan, you generally don’t have a cadre of nitpicking designers and copy editors to help you—you may not even have a page-layout program other than Microsoft Word. But no one else has to know that.

In fact, it’s surprisingly easy to create professional-looking newsletters, using only the typesetting tools built into your word processor.

If your newsletters suffer from a boring or clumsy design, my makeover plan will help. By following the editing and typesetting rules the pros follow, you can give your work a fresh new look and make it easier to read. And the best part is that all these adjustments are possible not only in professional layout programs such as QuarkXPress and Adobe InDesign, but also in Word 2004 (as well as other versions) and Pages, part of Apple’s $79 iWork ’05 suite.

Divide the page

Nothing kills a reader’s enthusiasm more quickly than a long, unbroken block of text (see screenshot).

Rather than cramming a year’s worth of activities into one narrative, look for ways to break out some pieces into stand-alone stories. Then place each of those stories in its own text box.

To create a new text box in Word, go to Insert: Text Box and then click and drag to draw the box on screen. To give the box a background color and help separate it from the rest of your text, choose Format: Text Box and click on the Colors And Lines tab. To remove the default border around the box, set Line Color to No Line.

To create a new text box in Pages, go to Insert: Text (if the menu item is grayed out, click on the edge of your document to hide the blinking cursor) and then drag the edge of the box to create the desired shape. You can add a fill color or a border from the Graphic section of the Inspector palette.

If you can’t turn your long story into a few shorter stories, you may be able to separate your text into smaller chunks by adding subheads. Leave an empty line above each subhead, but not below it—you want the eye to associate the subhead with the paragraph beneath it. Also, make your subheads similar in size to your body text (you can use a special font or color to help them stand out). If the subhead is much bigger than the body text, it could mess up text alignment.

Tip: To ensure that your subheads are consistent—a key tenet of good design—create a style for them. Once you’ve designed a subhead, highlight it. In Word, go to Format: Style. Click on New and give the subhead style a name. If you’d like to use it in other documents, select the Add To Template option. Then click on OK. In Pages, click on the plus sign (+) at the bottom of the Styles drawer (if you don’t see the drawer, press Command-shift-T to open it).

Add white space

What isn’t on your page can be just as important as what is . Elements tend to look messy when they’re crowded together. Leaving breathing room around all the items on your page will make your document more inviting.

Set Wide Margins Start by placing generous margins—an inch or so—on either side of your page. In Word, set margins by going to Format: Document. In Pages, go to the Layout section of the Inspector palette (it’s the second button from the left in the Inspector window). (After your newsletter is complete, adjusting margins is a good way to fill a page or fit more text.)

Create Columns Long lines of text are hard to follow; short ones can look choppy. To keep the eye moving, limit the length of lines to no less than 20 and no more than 75 characters. The easiest way to keep this proportion in check is to divide the text into columns. In Word, go to Format: Columns and enter the number of columns you want. In Pages, go to the Layout section of the Inspector palette.

Adjust the Leading For readability, your document’s leading —the amount of space between lines of text—should be at least one point larger than your text size. But adding slightly more leading often looks better.

In Word, you can fine-tune leading by going to Format: Paragraph. Set the Line Spacing pull-down menu to Exactly and enter the desired leading size in the text box. In Pages, you’ll find the leading controls in the Text section of the Inspector palette. Use the Line slider to adjust leading, or use the arrows to the slider’s right for more-precise control. (Adjusting leading is another great way to precisely fit text on a page.)

Change the Indentation Too much white space can also be a problem. By default, many word processors and page-layout programs create indents that are too deep, especially for narrow columns. An indented line should usually project only two or three characters into a paragraph.

To set a more moderate indentation in Word, press Command-A to select all of your text and open the Alignment And Spacing section of the Formatting palette; the First setting adjusts the indentation of paragraphs.

In Pages, go to the Text section of the Inspector palette and open the Tabs pane. The First Line setting adjusts paragraph indentation.

Be Consistent When you’re working with white space, check for consistency. For instance, the space around an image (defined by its text-wrap setting) should match the space between columns. To specify the text wrap in Word, select the image or text box and go to Format: Picture or Format: Text Box, respectively. Select the Layout tab and click on Advanced. Use the Distance From Text settings in the Text Wrapping tab to define your spacing. To access text-wrapping controls in Pages, click on the Inspector palette’s Wrap button (the third button from the left).

Pay attention to details

Once you’ve settled on your page’s overall design, it’s time to focus on the details. Before I prepare any document for print, I check for the following problems:

Correct Straight Quotation Marks Even professional designers sometimes neglect to watch out for straight apostrophes (') and quotation marks ("); they seem to crop up everywhere, marring otherwise lovely typefaces—their biggest problem is that they’re unsightly. To make sure they aren’t in your document, find and replace all your apostrophes and quotation marks (keep in mind that you should use straight apostrophes and quotation marks in some cases, such as when they’re referring to feet and inches). The process is the same in both programs. Press Command-F to open the Find palette, enter an apostrophe or quotation mark in both the Find and Replace fields, and then click on Replace All. (If this doesn’t work in Word, go to Tools: AutoCorrect. Click on the AutoFormat As You Type tab and select the Straight Quotes With Smart Quotes option. Click on OK. Perform the search and replace again.)

Save Stragglers A widow (a one-word line left alone at the top of a page) can be a sad sight in an otherwise cheerful document. Both programs have options for controlling widows. In Word, go to Format: Paragraph: Line And Page Breaks and select the Widow/Orphan Control option. In Pages, go to the More tab of the Inspector palette’s Text section.

Turn On Hyphenation If your paragraphs are justified —meaning that all lines are the same length—you may end up with odd gaps in your text (also known as loose lines ). To even out the spacing, turn on the document’s automatic-hyphenation settings. In Word, go to Tools: Hyphenation and choose the Automatically Hyphenate Document option. To prevent the stacking of too many hyphenated words, set the Limit Consecutive Hyphens To option to 3 or 4.

To activate the hyphenation settings in Pages, go to Inspector: Text: More, and make sure that the Remove Hyphenation For Paragraph setting is not selected.

Hyphenation will also help prevent abrupt, jagged edges in nonjustified (or ragged ) lines of text. If you still end up with a word hanging in white space, well beyond the lines above and below it, place the cursor in front of the lonesome word and press shift-return to force it to the next line.

Check your work

Your holiday newsletter might just become a family heirloom, so take the time to check it twice. When your pages are perfect, run your spelling checker one last time; then you’re ready to print.

This holiday newsletter (left) suffers from poor font choices, long stretches of dense text, and overall spacing issues. To fix the problem (right), I divided the text into more-manageable chunks with subheads and a small text box, added columns to shorten the lines, and created consistent white space throughout the page.
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