Its More Than Just the Writing

By: Mary Anne Donovan

I carry the torch of good writing: make no mistake about that. But there is another critical piece to conveying messages successfully in today's hurry-up, fast-paced, techno-world. That piece is the design of your documents.

No, you don't need to be an expert designer, nor do you need to hire one. What you DO need is to know the basics of document design to help you convey information clearly, concisely, accurately, and cost effectively. Let's take a look at what those design strategies are:

1. White space: Believe it or not, white space is one of your most effective design tools. You can use it to highlight or separate information, to simplify complex information, to make information more reader-friendly and less intimidating, and to organize information by "chunking" it into "bite-size morsels," so to speak.

2. Headings: Headings are the anchors of your documents. They allow readers to scan to find the information that is important to them and present a hierarchy showing how the information is organized.

3. Lists: Lists, whether bulleted or numbered, are the Godsend of business writing today. Lists are easy for readers to skim and grab hold of what they need quickly and efficiently. They also promote use of white space and that chunking of information we just talked about.

4. Emphasis: All CAPS and italics are out; bold is in. That's right. All caps are the equivalent of screaming in writing, as well as being hard to read. Italics are also hard to read. Instead, use your other design elements including fonts (see number 5) to draw attention to important pieces of information.

5. Fonts: Fonts are a wonderful design tool, if used properly. First, never use more than 2 fonts in a document. Second, use a plain font such as Arial or Helvetica for your headings and subheads and Times New Roman or Garamond for your body text. The reason for this is that the first two fonts, called sans serif because they don't have the little "feet" that Times and Garamond have, provide a bolder and authoritative sense of emphasis. On the other hand, Times and Garamond – serif fonts – have those little feet which guide the readers eye from letter to letter and word to word to facilitate easier reading.

You are now equipped with the basics of information design. Follow these simple guidelines to produce documents that are clearer to read, more likely to garner readers' attention, and ultimately more cost effective for your organization.

Bio of author :

Variety is the spice of life and the source of great fodder. So says writer, scholar, teacher, and business practitioner Mary Anne Donovan. Mary Anne has been teaching in both graduate and undergraduate programs for the past nine years, with a specialty in business, technical and professional communications. In addition, she is the Chief Editor of Writer Online, a professional ezine for writers and lovers of writing. Mary Anne has her master's degree in liberal studies with a concentration in digital virtual literacy and rhetoric from Empire State College.

The blog can be found at


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