I confess that ugly, unreadable documents are one of my pet peeves. With word processing software, it is easy to create a nice looking document, so it’s sad that many hideous acts of layout continue to be committed. Here are a few tips for creating documents that are a pleasure to read.
1. Use white space effectively.
As the name indicates, white space is any part of the page that does not contain text. If you decide to change the margins of your document, consider the ramifications. Squashing more text on the page by decreasing the margins leads to a document no one wants to read. Margins that are too big are almost as bad, leaving the reader wondering about all the trees that had to die because you wanted to make your document look more "substantial."
2. Watch your line spacing.
White space also includes the spacing in between lines of text. For example, it helps readability to set spacing so headings look like they belong with the text that goes with them. In other words, you need to increase the amount of space above the heading and decrease the amount below it, so the heading and the text it is associated with form a "block." In Word, for example, you change line spacing by choosing Format, Paragraph. In the Spacing section, edit the numbers in the Above and Below fields. Note that your body text (Normal) should have spacing above or below the paragraph, so your eye can easily distinguish where paragraphs begin and end. However, as with margins, if you increase the spacing between lines too much, it looks like you’re trying to artificially lengthen the document.
3. Use typefaces appropriately.
Just because you have 700 fonts on your system does not mean you should use them all. Consider the document and use an appropriate typeface. For example, don’t use Comic Sans in a professional business document; it just looks stupid. If you think you "might" have used too many fonts, you probably did. From a design standpoint, it’s generally more effective to stick with just one or two fonts in a document. As with margins, don’t go to extremes. It’s rarely a good idea to use enormous or tiny fonts in a business document. Along the same lines, control your use of text emphasis such as like bold and italic, and special formatting like borders, colors, and so forth. Remember the old adage, if you try and emphasize everything, you end up emphasizing nothing.
When you look at professional layouts, you’ll notice that the ones that catch your eye don’t use every graphic treatment under the sun. Pros know that clean, simple, readable designs are extremely effective. If you take the time to create legible layouts, you’ll be rewarded with designs people are actually willing to read.