Stop Reinventing the Wheel:
Use Templates to Jump-Start Your Designs

When you sit down to design a newsletter or sales letter, you are faced with two choices: Start from scratch and spend a lot of time with trial-and-error efforts. Or use templates to save time and increase your productivity … and profitability.

Templates save time by letting you get right to work on your project. They are often based on hundreds of hours of work and years of experience. They can help you avoid wasting time with false starts. And you can adapt or change templates to suit your exact needs.

You can buy templates for just about every type of project you're likely to create with your word processing or desktop publishing software program. You can also download them from numerous online sites. Do a Google search on “newsletter templates.” (See the end of this article for an invitation to my site.)

Here are some tips, based on the hundreds of templates I've created for my clients. While these recommendations are oriented toward newsletters, you can and should adapt them for sales letters.

  1. Place files in the right folder.

    After downloading a template, install it in the proper folder associated with your software program. (See your software program's documentation on how to do this.) Properly installed templates will appear as an option every time you select File>New.

  2. Always use paragraph style.

    The biggest mistake non-designers frequently make is to format headlines and subheads from scratch, rather than using a template's paragraph styles.

    Paragraph styles save time and guarantee consistency throughout your publication and among all of your marketing communications. A single click accurately applies dozens of formatting attributes.

    To apply a paragraph style, place the text insertion point anywhere in the paragraph, and select the desired style from the formatting toolbar. You can use pre-existing styles that come with your word processing and page layout programs. Or you can define a style. (See your software documentation or help file on how to do this.)

  3. Limit headline, subhead length.

    Long headlines and subheads can undermine the appearance of even the best templates. Limit headlines and subheads to two lines. Pay attention to where you break these elements. Be sure to start the second line with a powerful or convincing word. You can force a line break by pressing Shift-Enter (Shift-Return on Mac).

  4. Add punctuation and symbols.

    Although most software programs automatically enter the typographically correct apostrophes plus open and closed quotation marks, you have to enter other punctuation and symbols, such as:

    • En dashes (–) to indicate duration. An En dash is longer than a hyphen (–), but shorter than an Em dash (—).
    • Ellipsis ( … ) to accentuate the importance of the following idea. Ellipses are also used to indicate omitted text.
    • Symbols, such as copyright ©; trademark ™; and registered trademark ®.

    Use non-breaking spaces to keep first/last names and cities/states together on the same line. Use non-breaking hyphens for words and phrases that should not be split over two lines – e-mail, for example. (See your software documentation on how to do this.)

  5. Eliminate unwanted space.

    Before printing your file, select Edit>Replace and search for every instance where two spaces appear next to each other. Replacing the two spaces with a single space eliminates unsightly gaps that often creep in during editing.

  6. Pay attention to text flow.

    Make sure visuals don't obscure any text. This can occur if you have not selected the proper text wrap options.

    And watch out for overflow text at the end of your document. Often, only a small icon indicates that your important concluding sentences are not properly displayed.

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The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: October 20, 2005

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