Document Appearance Is Important For Clear Writing Success

Document appearance plays an important part in developing a successful clear writing style.

Writing that appears cluttered and dense will create a negative reaction in your reader.  Work on creating well-spaced documents with ample margins.  They are visually attractive and easier to read.

Basic design decisions such as typeface selection can dramatically determine if your writing is easy to read.  Whether you are writing an advertisement, company manual, letter, essay, book report, or anything else, the appearance of the finished writing can make a big difference in its success.  If the writing has a sloppy, disorganized appearance, you are starting off with one strike against you.

Add some thoughtful design choices to your writing to enhance its readability by making it easier to read and the information easier to understand.  Poor design choices can hamper the communication success of even a well written document.  A well organized document makes the goal of clear writing easier to achieve.

While the subject of design is very broad, there are five basics to keep in mind to make your document as clear as possible:

–   Organization of writing to distinguish levels of information

–   Typography

–   Layout

–   Graphics

–   Color

They may not all apply to your document.


Organization is probably the most important appearance factor to consider.  The organization of your writing should follow the same organization contained in your outline.  This organization helps the reader understand the relationship between different levels of information.  The hierarchy in a typical document may follow this sequence:

–   Title

–   Section headings (first level)

–   Subsection headings (second level)

–    Paragraph headings (third level)

–    Text (fourth level)

Use of different typefaces in the headings to distinguish them for the reader is demonstrated by the following:


Subsection Headings


Break up your writing into visually manageable pieces.   Limit the number of sections on each printed page to not more than five to six at the maximum.  The use of shorter sentences and paragraphs and grouping related items together will make it easier for your audience to understand your writing.         

Be discreet in the use of emphasis. To highlight important points, use bold or italics to focus attention on them. Use these techniques in moderation for maximum effect.  Don’t overdo it or you’ll dilute the impact.  Also, don’t put everything in capital letters or underline everything.  Overuse of this technique makes the document harder to read. 


Typeface selection may seem like a minor decision or one that you may not even consider at all.  But nevertheless it should be considered because it is one of the elements that influences the appearance and readability of your document.

There are two typeface varieties, serif and sans serif.  Serif  typefaces have small lines at the beginning or ending strokes of each letter, also more commonly known as cursive writing.  Sans serif typefaces, known as print, lack those small connective lines.  Serif fonts are easier to read than sans serif  because their small connective lines help to lead the eye more quickly and smoothly over the text.  It is best not to use sans serif  typeface for general text.  So, many newspapers and magazines use some form of serif type for their general text.  Both serifs and sans serifs work well for headings.                            

If you are writing for a predominantly senior audience, it’s preferable to use 12 point font or even larger type.

Tables and Graphics

Tables and graphics may be useful in some situations to communicate your thoughts.  They may enable a reader to grasp information faster than text by increasing clarity and cutting down on dense, block-appearing text.   Keep the design as simple as possible so that the design elements do not interfere with the clear presentation of information and the data stands out.  In other words, you should use as much of the table or graph as possible to explain the data point and as little as possible for the decoration.

Tables and graphs are often the most effective way to summarize numbers or other numerical and statistical data such as annual sales revenue for a specific number of years, market share captured by various products, market segments captured by country, operating profit per year, and other similar types of information.

A basic principle to remember in creating useful graphics is to create graphics which gives the viewer the greatest number of ideas in the shortest time with the least ink in the smallest space.

Layout and Color

The layout of your writing is another important appearance issue to consider.  Generous white space on your writing enhances readability, helps to emphasize important points, and lightens the overall look of the document.  Avoid the impulse to fill up the entire page with text.  Use a wide left or right margin to help make the document easier to read.  Dense blocks of impenetrable text are discouraging to readers.  The current trend is to use justified left, ragged right text, to make your writing easier to read.  That is, the text is aligned to the left with a ragged or uneven right edge.

Stick with a white color unless you are using a theme which justifies a different color.

I have two Civil War articles available on  “Antietam and Gettysburg – Two Pivotal Civil War Battles That Saved the Union,” and “Bloody Shiloh and the Rise of U.S. Grant.”  They may be reviewed in part without purchase.

Copyright©2013.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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Filed under active voice, clear writing, good diction, punctuation, sound sentence structure, tips for good diction, Writing Improvement

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