The Second Law of Business Writing – Appearance Matters
A good first impression makes all the difference; a document that looks illegible probably won’t be read.
Just as your business attire makes a clear statement about your professionalism, the appearance of the material you write also makes a statement. If the page is sloppy or if it looks wrong, your expertise can be questioned. If the content sounds pretentious, outdated, or unreadable, you may have inadvertently set up a negative response.
Before you send your document, take a good look at it. Does it look attractive? Or is it repulsive? The white space you see isn’t just a lack of printing; leads the reader’s eye to the nearest black. If there is too much black, it looks too hard to read and readers are reluctant to dive into it. They can set it aside, skim here and there, or just throw it out right away. No matter what they do, you haven’t impressed them.
So if there isn’t enough white space in your document, add some. how? Indent any paragraph that is longer than two and a half inches. Use lists. Maintain good margins. Or create one wide column for text and a narrower column for “pull quotes”. By the way, pull quotes are an ideal technique to use in dense documents because they lighten the overall look while repeating an important phrase or sentence from the text – and drawing attention to them.
Conversely, if there is too much white space, the material looks disorganized and unreadable. Of course, you can have a paragraph that is only one sentence long. But if all your paragraphs are separate sentences, the document looks like the author really doesn’t understand what a paragraph is. Fix it.
Here’s how to improve the look of all your documents.
- Think of white space as an important component of a letter or document. Margins should frame the material and the text should not look too thick to get through.
- Try to keep letters to one or two pages. If you need to convey a lot of information, use a cover letter and attach the information to it.
- Avoid loose odds and ends – like one sentence on a second page.
- Use lists to effectively move the reader’s eye through information and to add white space.
- Keep paragraphs to a maximum of four sentences. In a letter, be sure to close with a separate “Call to Action” paragraph; don’t write a one-paragraph letter.
What you say is important to the reader only if they bother to read. When you make your material look easy to read,will actually be read. When your document looks accessible, it is. The truth is that whether we like it or not, looks count.
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