Print or electronic newsletter?

surtitles available

Q. Can we save money on our printed newsletter?
We print 1,900 copies monthly, and both paper and mailing costs have skyrocketed. Can we e-mail it instead?

A. Yes, of course. Publishing electronically can be a brilliant, cost-saving alternative. Several good software packages allow you to write into a template. If you go that route, you can lose your graphic designer and your expensive printing company.

First you need to survey your members to learn how many prefer the electronic version. I’ll bet it’s more than 80 to 20, even higher if your membership is young. You can switch to normal office paper instead of the fancy stock your designer or printer recommends. Print and mail the few you need for your elderly or offline members.

This solution excels for nonprofits, of course. But for-profit organizations can benefit from saving money, too.

You’ve got style

tourist season

Whose style?

Q. Recently a local seminary invited me to do some copy editing. A group of professors plans and writes articles, and the president’s executive assistant coordinates logistics, sending me “the ones that need editing.”

I’m doing my best to determine what they consider good copy editing, but there’s no managing editor, and I don’t communicate directly with the authors. And they are inconsistent. Should I make stylistic suggestions or just take my very generous pay and be happy?

A. I recommend that you ask your contact person if they would like you to create a style guide. After they say Yes, create a brief one and submitting it for review. If the profs care about style but have never had one, they will be thrilled.

If they are not sticklers for stylistic consistency, you will have chosen the style you prefer.

Your suggestion sends the signal that you are a professional editor who cares about their publication. If they accept and use your guide, it’s another way to promote your name – and work ethic.

If or when the relationship ends and they hire a new freelancer, the style guide will help your successor. Its’ a nice way to ensure good will, even after you move on.

How to count items in a Word doc?

faraway places

Q. I write alphabetical lists in Microsoft Word.

Like the movies I love or the members of the committee or the company’s human resources policies. Is there an easy way to count how many entries I have?

A. Here’s how.

  • Open the Home tab of the ribbon on top.
  • Highlight all the items you want to count.
  • Go to the Paragraph section at the top.
  • Click the Numbering tool. (If you mouse over, it says Numbering).
  • Presto: All your items have numbers.

When you’re done, press Ctrl+Z to undo.

Less is more


Q. How long should my blog posts be?

A. That’s a common question. My short answer is: Short.

Q. How short is short?

A. Let me count the ways.

Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill and Woodrow Wilson all get credit for saying, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” All of them realized that it’s difficult to write short.

When you write a blog post, take the time to write it short. Limit yourself to 300 words almost always. Dare yourself to stick to 200 words sometimes.


Because short is quick, and everyone everywhere is in a hurry. Because short on a screen requires scrolling. Because the idea is to catch people’s attention by getting directly to the point. Because readers can scan a short treatise and learn from it.

Want supporting evidence? Jakob Nielsen, who researches and evaluates user interfaces, says that typical webpage visitors “read at most 28 percent of the words during an average visit. 20 percent is more likely.”

Last December,, a blogging site, said that the best posts take 7 minutes to read. That’s about 1,400 to 1,750 words. If you know anyone who is willing to wait 7 minutes for a bus, watch 7 minutes of commercials between tv shows or devote 7 minutes to reading a blog post, I want to meet her/him. S/he has the patience of Job.

Happily, ends by saying, “Great posts perform well regardless of length, and bad posts certainly don’t get better when you stretch them out.”

So write tight. Try to stay under 300 words. (This post contains 265 words.)

The best time to write

When is the best time of day to write?

A. Whatever time works for you.

When teaching adults to write nonfiction, I often ask when they prefer to write. The most common answer is 2 hours after awakening. The second-most-common time is late at night, when most other people are snoring. Occasionally people set an alarm for 2 a.m. and write until their eye-drops run out.

Morning is best for me, by the way. But it’s also the best time for me to go to the gym. If I don’t walk the treadmill first thing, I never do. If I delay writing in the morning, though, I always make time later. So I go to the gym as early as I can, then write.

The only reason to think about your best writing time is so that you can articulate it. Then build your life around it.

Now a question for you. What is your best time? How can you build your day around that time? Can you post a sign on your cube from 8 to 9 a.m. – or 3 to 3:45 p.m. – that says, Writing in progress? Can you find a quiet corner near your office or office building where you can hide out frequently?

Most important: Find the best time of day for you to write. Then write then.