How to write for the Digests
Purpose of the Digests
The purpose of the digests is for internal University communications. It allows the campus to easily email an automated system, which in turn, sends a daily email with all the messages it received for the day. This system consolidates many messages that would normally end up in your inbox into one single message list.
The headline is the first thing people see that advertises your news or event; it is the deciding factor on whether or not a person clicks on it to find out more. Readers will scan all the headlines for the digest, make sure yours gets the right attention it deserves in a positive way.
- DO make it informative. Instead of saying "UWS Blood Drive", say "Donate your blood at the UW-S Blood Drive". Use keywords that directly relate to your content.
- DO get right to the point and keep it short. Instead of saying "Upcoming Training - This will show you how to do many things in Office 2007", say "Office 2007 Workshop - Learn what's new and what's changed since Office 2003."
- DO use a noun and a verb. Stay away from sentence fragments. Instead of saying "Parking Notice", say "Parking Lot 13 will be closed Thursday afternoon." Readers shouldn't have fundamental questions after reading your headline, such as "well, what about a parking notice - ehh, can't be that important.. next."
- DON'T use exclamation marks. We all know you are very excited about your news/event, but exclamation marks are unprofessional and mean you are shouting. No one wants to be shouted at, which brings us to the next point.
- DON'T USE ALL CAPS. All caps on the computer means you are screaming at the reader. Don't scream. All caps headlines get ignored by most readers. So instead of saying "GO TO JOHN'S RETIREMENT PARTY" say "You are invited to John's retirement party.". Treat your headline like a title of a book, properly - like you are speaking to a real person, because you are.
- DON'T use "sentence enhancers". We have all seen them, they are not "normal" parts of a sentence: "!!!~~-- (Come to my event) --~~!!!". The use of sentence enhancers is just a gimmick to try to get readers attention; this is the fast lane to an unprofessional image and will not get anyone to click on your article.
Your Article Body
Now that you have the interest of the reader (which is the hardest part) and the reader has invested the time and energy to learn more about your article, you will want to present them with the details of your news or event.
- DO answer the basic questions a reader will have - who? What? Where? When? Why?
- Who is in charge of this event? Who should I contact for questions?
- What is this event about?
- Where is this event?
- When is this event? - dates and times so people can add it to their calendar
- Why is this event happening? Give some background information about the event if necessary.
- DO include contact information and links to webpages that supply more information, such as maps, directions, registration information, other webpages that talk directly about the subject.
- DO proofread your message before sending it. We are all swamped with work, and the faster we can send the message the better. A lot of the times, you will misspell a word or forget to include basic information without knowing about it. Step back, take a deep breath and go through your article to make sure it's typo-free and says everything you need it to say.
- DO Use Links. Links allow your readers to quickly find out more information about certain topics. If your event has a guest speaker, turn the speaker's name into a hyperlink to the guest speaker's homepage. If registration is required for your event, link to a webpage where they can register.
- DON'T clutter your article with odd fonts, colors or background images to "get readers attention" or "to make things more interesting". Keep it simple, use the default system fonts such as Arial or Times New Roman, which will ensure that your text will look the same on all computers. It's been proven that black text on white background is the easiest and fastest way to read text on the screen, so don't make your text green or all blue. Keep in mind that your message has to meet ADA compliance. People who have low vision will not be able to read your bright red text on a bright green background. Black text and white background is the way it should be.
- DON'T Over Use Stylized Text. Don't bold or italicize an entire paragraph. Italic text is the hardest text to read on the computer screen. Remember that people are in a hurry to quickly read your information and move on with their life. They're not interested in any "pizzazz" or "fancy" even though you might think it "helps".
- DON'T write everything in one long sentence or paragraph. Break portions of your article up into paragraphs instead of having one big block of text. Text broken up into shorter paragraphs helps your readers digest your information faster.
How to Handle Attachments
Sometimes we need to attach a file to a message, such as a PDF, spreadsheet or other documents. The recommended size limit of an attachment is around 60k. Did you know that each person who receives the Digest also gets a copy of your attachment? This will over time, fill-up the email server's hard drive, reducing the amount of available disk space for future use.
If you attachment is small, under 60k, feel free to attach it to the email you send to the Digest. If your attachment is quite large - 100k+, you should think about putting that file somewhere on the Network or Website, then in your email insert text and hyperlink to the document. Linking to a document that lives elsewhere is a great way to reduce the file size of your email.
Inserting a picture into an article is useful to show the reader what the event or news article is all about. We encourage this on the website when posting a news or event. However, with the digests it has some drawbacks:
- An embedded image is actually an attachment that gets displayed inline with the email text, so for every person that receives the Digest, a copy of that image has to be made on the server.
- Readers don't have time to be confused or distracted with an image, especially on University-time. Just give them the raw text, perhaps with some slight formatting and call it good. If you want to show readers photos, link to a webpage that has more photos.
- Many people have images disabled by default in their Outlook settings, so they won't see the pictures anyway without manually allowing the image download, email by email.
Fonts, Colors and all that Jazzy Fun Stuff
Many digest articles include multiple fonts such as Times, Arial and Calibri - all in the same article body. Sometimes, these different fonts also carry different styles, such as weight (bold), italics, size, etc. On top of that, these fonts are also in multiple colors, such as red, green, blue, yellow, orange.
Why are these articles like this? The author thinks it "helps" - it decorates the message, it adds some "jazz", makes it more "fun". Some color might be useful to highlight certain points, but too much can be overwhelming and your reader may become more focused on that instead of the actual message.
The best advice anyone can give you regarding article publication is use only one or two fonts. This will make the article body easier to read and less cluttered. Use one font for a heading and another for body text. This will make your article look more presentable and professional - giving you and your department or group more credibility. Don't pick strange fonts that are only on your computer - ones that no one else has, such as "Algerian" or "Jokerman". Stay with Arial and Times New Roman. Campus computers have these fonts installed, as do most computers off campus.
Colors - keep everything black text on a white background. This has been proven to be the most usable and readable color scheme for reading text on a computer screen. You may change the colors of a heading, but keep the color to something that is easy on the eyes, such as dark blue or dark green - not bright yellow or light red. Always keep the background color white.
Styles - keep special formatting to a minimum, such as bolded text and italicized text. Any additional styles to a text block make it harder for a reader to quickly read your content. Imagine trying to read a whole article or even a whole sentence that is all italics - ick!
ADA Compliance - all our messages should meet accessibility standards, meaning - people with low vision issues or are restricted to only a keyboard or other input device should still be able to consume your information. More ADA information is found at ada.gov.
CommonSpot News/Events sends to the Digests
A recent update to the website News/Events System is the ability to compose your message on your department website and have it appear in the Staff and Student Digests.
Posting your news/event to your department website is preferable for articles that you want the public and internal faculty/staff to see. When you post a news or event to your department website, it has many more outlets that allow people to consume your information. To put a website News/Event into Staff/Student digest:
- First, you need to be a CommonSpot Author. Only CommonSpot authors can log into their department websites and post news or events.
- Second, at the News/Events Editor, when you create a new article or edit an existing one, you will see a "Digests" tab in the Editor. Select this tab.
- Here you can select which Digests you want your article to appear - Staff/Student/Both
- You can also set the "Start Date" and "End Date" of the digest publication - meaning, normally you have to email the digests every day for the duration you want the article to appear. With CommonSpot, you set the date range and your article will automatically appear every day during the specified date range.
When you post an article to your department website, it will meet ADA compliance by default. It will also take care of any font issues and make it conform to University Standards. To see an example of an article submitted to Staff Digest via CommonSpot, check out any of the Technology Services Tech Tips.
Only post relevant articles to the Digests. Relevancy also applies to your department's CommonSpot website. The campus doesn't need to know there are brownies in room 113. The Digests are an "official" method of campus-wide communication and are restricted to "official" messages that affect most or all of the campus community.
It doesn't hurt to include your article into the Digests for multiple days in a row. Sometimes people don't read the Digest every single day, maybe on the 3rd day they do and are finally informed about your announcement. However, don't go over-board. The campus doesn't need to see the same article running in the Digests for more than 1 work week. If people haven't read your article over the course of a full week, most likely they aren't going to.