3 reasons why no one reads your school newsletter (& how to fix it)

29th October 2019
Author: Chris McKay
Posted in: Content production, Education

Are you spending valuable time creating a newsletter that you’re not even sure is being read by anyone? You’re not alone. Schools are struggling to engage their communities with their newsletter, either because no one is reading it, or because they don’t know if anyone’s reading it.

Here are three reasons your school newsletter isn’t working for your readers, and lots of advice on how to whip your newsletter into the best shape it can possibly be in.

1. Your format isn’t designed for the reading brain

We’re not born with the ability to read. A baby will grow into an adult and live its whole life without ever being able to read unless someone teaches it. It’s a fairly modern invention in the grand scale of human existence. As every teacher knows, reading is a code that children and adults have to be actively taught to understand.

We can learn this code because of our brain’s neuroplasticity, but when we’re reading, we’re able to activate connections between the areas responsible for visual, auditory, linguistic, and conceptual tasks, while also activating the limbic system, responsible for emotion, learning, and memory.

Gif zooming in on the brain

If you think about the average school newsletter, many of them are static PDF documents with big blocks of text and a standard scroll-to-navigate setup. Is that really going to engage all the parts of the brain we can activate while reading? Unlikely. Applying certain psychological principles that relate to reading can have a huge impact on maintaining your readers’ interests.

a) Chunking

In cognitive psychology, chunking refers to a method of separating out information into smaller “chunks” of information to help readers take in and understand content quicker and easier.

It’s a tactic used a lot by marketers in order to convey information more efficiently as it captures the attention of skim readers by not overwhelming them with content. You too can borrow this tactic in your school newsletter. Break up your sections into even smaller paragraphs.

Also, consider moving away from the long-scroll format popularly used by many schools. When we read a long scrolling piece of text, our brains “run out of memory” with which to process it. Chunking information into pages helps our brains map it out logically without running into this problem, meaning we can engage for longer without feeling overloaded and can recall it more easily later on.

b) Focal points

When a student walks in late to a classroom, every single pair of eyes will turn towards them. It’s not to make the student feel uncomfortable for being late, it’s actually just an evolutionary adaptation we’ve all inherited. The human eye is attracted to motion and to things that stand out from their environment (as a form of protection against predators).

Tiger's eye moving back and forth

You can take advantage of this behavior in the design of your newsletter. If you’re formatting your newsletter in one big indistinguishable block of text, the eye has nothing that will catch its attention. You should be directing your reader’s focal point towards what matters most. Use pull quotes, imagery, different font sizes, and layouts to aid how readers cognitively navigate and interpret your newsletter.

c) Non-linear navigation

As children, we learn things by exploring, and this sticks with us into adulthood. We don’t enjoy being dictated to and prefer to figure things out on our own as we make our own choices. It’s exactly the same way with reading. Think of a magazine – do you open to the front page and read every word until you reach the very last page? Nope. You scan through the different headings and images, and you skim read until you find something that interests you, then you read that specific section. If there’s something that doesn’t immediately interest you, you leave it.

Individual readers have unique reading habits. When you present them with a newsletter in PDF for example, where everything is very linear and sections are designed to be read one-after-the-other, you’re taking away their exploratory choices. By creating your newsletter in a format that easily allows readers to navigate back and forth through your document, skipping what they aren’t interested in, and spending time exploring the sections that do interest them, you take advantage of this human need for exploration. Include interactivity (polls, videos, etc.) to further deepen the exploratory feel.

2. You’re not using enough imagery

There are countless studies out there on the impact of imagery on our ability to engage with and retain information. 

One study took two groups of people and presented them with a passage of text created in two formats: one provided only the text, while the other incorporated contextual imagery related to the subject of the text. Three days after reading, the two groups were asked to recall specific information from it. The text-only group could only recall around 10% of what they read, while the visually-enhanced group could recall around 65%.

A second study was conducted by Sky News to explore different combinations of images and text. Their goal was to determine the optimal way of presenting the news by AB testing different layouts. They concluded that large images with small amounts of text were the most effective way to encourage retention and engagement with the news articles in the test.

Screenshot from a school newsletter

Example: Rydal Penrhos School’s newsletter uses relevant imagery alongside text to capture reader interest, encouraging them to read further.

Reading isn’t a natural-born skill so our brains don’t always want to do it. But, you can trick the brain into absorbing textual information better by combining it with other sensory experiences. Incorporate prominent images and reduce text to evolve the reading experience of your school newsletter. Don’t expect your readers will force themselves to read a static text-heavy document, make it as easy as possible on the eyes with contextualized imagery.

If you don’t have original images, you can access a wide range of free images from unsplash, rawpixel, and pixabay.

3. You haven’t tailored your content

A lot of schools waste time creating content that no one is actually interested in. Usually, this is due to a lack of insights into how their audience is engaging with their newsletter.

Without knowing what people are reading (and what they’re not), you could be spending valuable time writing sections that virtually no one will read. If you were able to see how long people were reading each section, you might discover that what you think your readers are most interested in doesn’t match up to reality.

But how can you get access to this information? Short of tracking down each individual reader and timing them as they read, you’re going to need data analytics software. Most software will only be able to tell you whether someone opened or downloaded your newsletter, but there are more sophisticated tools out there (including Turtl), which allow you to measure reads and reading times by chapter.

Turtl analytics dashboard

This gives you invaluable insight. If people are skipping over or bouncing quickly from one chapter, you know for the next newsletter to either replace it with something else or tweak it to see if it performs better. Likewise, if you have a section that gets high reads and/or longer read times, you can see if that section can be built on or replicated for future issues.

When your newsletter is visually designed for the reading brain and your content is tailored to what your audience actually wants to read, your newsletter is optimally positioned to capture readers. You can’t force people to read something, but you can make it as easy, natural, and enjoyable as possible for them to do so.