Purdue University Agricultural Communication
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July 2000

Masthead Myths

"On Target" readers and other Purdue Extension staff are always asking me, "Is there a rule on the format for newsletter mastheads that we must follow?"

I'm glad to get that question because there are a couple of newsletter masthead myths that need debunking. But first, let me clarify the definition. In this case, I know that people say "masthead" when they mean "banner." The banner runs across the top of the newsletter and primarily provides the title of the publication. The masthead, which appears elsewhere in the publication, provides more information, such as the names of the editors, writers, and printer; how to subscribe, and other stuff. Now back to the two myths. One myth involves the Purdue Extension stationery letterhead, and the other involves the Purdue Extension EEO statement.

Some people still think the Purdue Extension letterhead design should adorn the top of all newsletters. This was true at one time (long, long ago), when we used penalty mail for newsletters. But we don't anymore, so that rule no longer applies. It's a good thing, too. While the simple and clean look of Purdue's stationery is great for a letter, it's not so great for a newsletter.

Instead, your banner should contain the name of your newsletter in big, big bold letters. It should be a name that people can easily remember. Your banner should also include the date of the publication and some identifier indicating who or what you are.

For example, if the name of your newsletter is "Ag Notes," put this in big, bold, attractive type. Below the newsletter name put something like "Purdue Extension, XYZ County" in smaller type. Add the date and the volume and issue number, if you want them, and you have a clean banner that "pops."

But what about those essential details like your office's address, your telephone number, your email address, your Web site's URL, etc.? Put them in another part of the newsletter, but put them in the same place every issue, where they can be found easily.

Talking about "essential details" brings me to the subject of EEO statements and the second banner myth I want to debunk.

A lot of people are under the impression that the EEO statement must be in the banner or at least on the first page. That could be a deadly design error because the EEO statement could clutter up your banner or the look of your first page.

A better option would be to put the EEO statement with those other essential details I mentioned above. Or you could run it along the bottom of your last page. Again, put it in the same place every issue. It may not be attractive, but it is important.

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It's the Words, Dummy!

That's what most online readers are most interested in, according to a study published recently in "Editor and Publisher" magazine.

Several of the findings, as summarized in "The Editorial Eye" newsletter, go against the common wisdom that a Web site should be full of bells and whistles to attract attention and that readers won't scroll down a page to get more information.

As a veteran editor and wordsmith, I had accepted such "wisdom" and assumed that the way I read Web pages was an aberration. But this study confirms that most people browsing the Web use it as I do.

Among the findings:

The study subjects said good writing was important to them, and that they searched for it. When they found a good story, they read 75 percent of a text that required scrolling.

The obvious conclusion is that Web surfers are looking for information, and they tend to get most of it from words. It's an important lesson for Extension as we careen into the electronic age.

The Poynter Institute for Media Studies and Stanford University conducted the study. It tracked the eye movements of 67 subjects who spent 40 hours surfing 211 news-content sites. The test subjects viewed 6,000 pages, spending an average of 34 minutes per session and visiting an average of six sites.

So another important message for Web designers is that a site should get to the point: If readers don't quickly find something interesting or what they are specifically looking for, they'll quickly move on.

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Remember Your Audience (& Forget Web Bells and Whistles)

More and more educators and specialists want to produce a Web site to reach a larger audience with information from Purdue Extension. And they should.

But some have wanted to leap full-force into the virtual education realm and build a site with all kinds of bells and whistles, including streaming video, to show meetings and field tours. It's easy to understand the temptation. Those bells and whistles are neat.

We have one word of advice: "Fhageddaboudit" (for now, anyway).

Think about your audience and how they access the Web. Most people access Web sites via modems, often slow ones, at that. So, instead of showing a video of a field or plot that demonstrates disease problems and resistance, use two low-resolution before-and-after photos and some easy-to-read, short text to describe the nugget that the viewer needs to know.

Keeping your Web site technologically simple will make it easier for your audience to get to your information (and easier for you to maintain your site).

Look for more on building Web sites with your audience in mind in next month's "On Target."

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Grammar Trap: Stationery vs. Stationary

Two words that are too darned similar.

There's "stationery," which means special paper for letters.

Example: While the simple and clean look of Purdue's stationery is great for a letter, it's not so great for a newsletter.

Then there's "stationary," which means immobile or unmoving.

Example: He was so stationary that I thought he was a statue.

Is there any way to remember which is which? I didn't think so until I talked to a colleague.

Helpful Tips: Remember that the first vowel in "letter" is "e." Remember that the first vowel in "statue" is "a."

Thanks to Steve Cain, Ag Comm, for the suggestion and the tips.

If there's a grammar (or usage) trap you'd like me to discuss, or if you have a tip that will help the rest of us avoid one, please let me know.

Visit the Grammar Traps Web site for past Grammar Traps.

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