How to Write Like Axios, Your CEO’s Favorite Newsletter

November-December 2023
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It might be your CEO’s favorite email. Every policy wonk in D.C. sits by their inbox waiting for it to come. It’s the only newsletter I know of that has ever been covered — for formatting! — by The New York Times.

It’s Axios. And if you haven’t started learning from it yet, it’s time to start learning from it now.

Here are four things to learn from — and one way to improve on — everybody’s favorite newsletter.

1. Report average reading time. 

If your newsletter is short, you might boost readership by letting readers know. 

One recent issue of Axios weighs in at 4.5 minutes. That would be a little long, if editors didn’t have a great formatting hack. (See No. 4.)

2. Cover 1 big thing.

Email newsletter subscribers ding senders for underpromising and overdelivering. 

Give them fewer stories, and make them better. Even better: Focus your newsletter on one story and cover it well.

3. Practice smart brevity.

One recent issue of Axios weighed in at:

  • 1.3 sentences per paragraph. That’s perfect for emails and other screen reading. Make your paragraphs hyper-short for the hyper world.
  • 20.6 words per sentence. That’s actually a little long for an average sentence length. 21-word sentences can be hard for people to follow. Outwrite Axios: Make your sentences shorter and sharper. 
  • 5 characters per word. Axios covers science, technology, business and health in an average of 5-letter words. Don’t tell me your topic is too complex for short words; it’s your writing that’s too complex! Short words convey complicated topics to more people more easily. 
  • 0% passive voice. Passive sucks the energy out of your message, makes sentences longer and more sloggy and makes it look like you’re trying to avoid pinning the blame on someone. Who needs that? Zero passive sentences is all you need!

4. Pass the palm test.

Break your message up into chunks no larger than the palm of your hand. Use bullets, boldfaced lead-ins and links to make your newsletter look easier to read. The easier it looks, the more people will read it. 

(And there’s your solution for the 4.5-minute newsletter.)

5. Pass the skim test.

Can skimmers learn everything you want them to know about your topic — without reading the paragraphs? If so, you pass the skim test. If not, you need to keep working.

Axios breaks the newsletter up — but does not facilitate skimming — with emphasized words. Here’s what a skimmer of a recent issue would read: 

Voicemail might be dead… People are dropping… The voice message… Supposedly abandoning… What’s happening… A group chat studded… By the numbers… YouGov poll, conducted by Vox… On Hinge…

So outwrite Axios: Help skimmers get more from your message with a better strategy for emphasized words. 

Copyright © 2023 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved. 

Are you ready to be loved by your recipients?

Learn more ways to boost open and clickthrough rates, readership and shares. Learn Ann Wylie’s full system for writing marketing emails and newsletters at Think Inside the Inbox, our email-marketing course. PRSA members: Save $100 with coupon code PRSA23.

Return to Current Issue Tech and Social | November-December 2023
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