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How to start a newsletter that will get read and generate impact from your research

Newsletters are a surprisingly efficient and effective way of getting engagement with your research, that can lead to impact. In recent years I have heard many people tell me that they get more traction from their newsletter audience than they do from social media. This is my experience too. Despite having 54,000 followers across my Twitter accounts and almost 6,000 connections on LinkedIn, when I send out an email to my 5000 subscribers, I get replies and see people engaging with my work. So how do you start a newsletter that will get read and generate impact from your research?

Watch the video or read the blog below:

1. Define your goal

Why are you thinking about writing a newsletter? Before embarking on any new activity to generate impact you should have a clear plan, with impact goals. See my guide to making an impact plan and make sure that you are doing this for a clear reason. It could be that I want to grow an audience of interested people so that I can invite an engaged and enthused audience to a series of planned events next year. I find it useful to keep key contacts warm and engaged between projects, when I don't have time to regularly visit and engage one-to-one when the project funding has ended. Maybe you want to get people to learn more about or use your research. Newsletters are a great way of building relationships with a large audience, and there's something slightly more personal about a good newsletter that you look forward to in your email inbox compared to a tweet or LinkedIn post that you might scroll past.

2. Know your audience

Get to know the people you hope will read your newsletter. You can do this systematically and quickly by doing a stakeholder analysis. Alternatively, follow your target audience on social media and listen to what they are passionate about, and their concerns. Then try to speak to those issues in your newsletter, prioritising content that you think will really interest them.

3. Track your progress

You'll need newsletter software to make sure you are GDPR compliant and can enable people to unsubscribe easily. I use MailChimp but there are many other options available. This software will tell you how many people open your newsletter email, and which links they click on most. If you send out a newsletter that very few people opened, what can you learn? Maybe there was something wrong with your content or maybe you just sent it on the wrong day at the wrong time (in which case, maybe you should try resending it to those who haven't opened it yet after a few days - MailChimp allows you to do this). Which types of story consistently get most clicks and which attract very little engagement? Can you generate more of the popular and less of the unwanted material in your next newsletter?

4. Headline content people will love

Your goal is to provide so much value that people look forward to your newsletter. If they haven't got time to read it when they first see it, they save it for later, and look forward to coming back to it. They forward it to their colleagues, and maybe they even reply to you and start a conversation. If you know your audience (point 2) and are learning from what works (point 3), then you will get better and better and generating content people love. Spend time on your headlines, and if you are providing a first paragraph teaser in your newsletter, make sure it resonates with your audience and makes people want to click "read more" and head over to your website. Match your style to your audience. I'm more conversational in the Fast Track Impact newsletter because I want to build rapport and relationship with people who I hope will reach out to me and continue the conversation one-to-one. For a project newsletter you may want to be more formal. Focus on retaining quality - it is better to skip a newsletter than to put something out that isn't valued by people. One poor newsletter may mean the rest get ignored or people unsubscribe, so save up the best content and only put out material you are proud of.

5. Keep it short and regular

Lengthy, dense newsletters put people off. You know how you feel when you get an email from a colleague that looks like an essay. Well you get the same effect with a long and dense newsletter - people decide to look at it later and never get round to it. Of course if it is too short then you are unlikely to generate enough value. Better to save additional material for a future newsletter and make them short and regular, than bore people with too much material. Keeping it regular means people get to know you, recognise your newsletter and remember that it is always worth checking what's in there. It also increases the chances that at least some of them get opened. You will know yourself that you don't manage to read all the newsletters you want to, if they happen to arrive at a particularly busy time. So it is good to keep a steady trickle coming, in the hope that people read the next one.

6. Think about your design

Finally, it is worth giving some thought to your design. Clear and attractive design will make it easier for people to navigate your content, increase the credibility of your content and build trust in what you are trying to do. There are two very different approaches to this though. For project newsletters, I like to have an HTML template. MailChimp and other newsletter services make this easy by providing you with templates you can easily adapt. This means you can generate a really professional looking newsletter with no design skills. However, when I'm trying to build trust, rapport and engagement with a newsletter audience, I like to go for a plain text approach that looks much more like a standard email. This gives the feel of being in conversation with me, and increases the chances that people hit "reply" and continue that conversation with you.

You can see some examples of newsletters including an institutional and project newsletter that I love, and my Fast Track Impact newsletter in the video version of this blog:

Sign up for the Fast Track Impact Newsletter here.

About the author

Mark is a recognized international expert in research impact with >150 publications that have been cited over 14,000 times. He holds a Research England and N8 funded Chair in Socio-Technical Innovation at Newcastle University, and has won awards for the impact of his research. His work has been funded by ESRC, STFC, NERC, AHRC and BBSRC, and he regularly collaborates and publishes with scholars ranging from the arts and humanities to physical sciences. He has reviewed research and sat on funding panels for the UK Research Councils (including MRC, BBSRC, ESRC, NERC), EU Horizon 2020 and many national and international research funders. He has been commissioned to write reports and talk to international policy conferences by the United Nations, has acted as a science advisor to the BBC, and is research lead for an international charity. ​

Mark regularly advises research funders, helping write funding calls, evaluating the impact of funding programmes and training their staff (his interdisciplinary approach to impact has been featured by the UKRI, the largest UK research funder, as an example of good practice). He also regularly advises on impact to policy makers (e.g. evaluating the impact of research funded by Scottish Government and Forest Research), research projects (e.g. via the advisory panel for the EU Horizon 2020 SciShops project) and agencies (e.g. Australian Research Data Common).

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