How do you get someone to read your printed page or on-screen document? There are many theories and ideas. I’ve compiled a few of my favorite hints and tips to help make your Word documents more readable. Some relate to grammar and word usage while others relate to formatting and layout.
This is one of the lists that I have next to my computer. I use it almost every day. Jim Taylor developed the Eight Step Editing technique:
- Shorten sentences (average length should be 18 words)
- Take out the trash (eliminate jargon or explain it)
- Overcome the negatives (a positive statement to replace a double negative)
- Deflate pomposity (keep it simple)
- Eliminate equations (avoid saying “is” whenever possible)
- Activate the passives (every sentence should have an active noun)
- Lead with strength (draw in the reader with your opening statement)
- Parade your paragraphs (use a logical structure and flow to your text)
Another group of tips is from a Readability Formulas article. I have narrowed down, summarized, and sorted their tips into the ones that are most useful for me on a daily basis:
- Write short, simple sentences in active voice. Use headings to break up a bulky paragraph or groups of paragraphs.
- Use connective words (‘initially,’ ‘lastly,’ ‘however,’ etc.) to help guide the reader.
- Illustrations, speech bubbles, bullets, photos, and graphs can add appeal to your material and increase reader retention.
- Use numbered lists for sequential information and bulleted lists if order is not important.
- Depending on what you are writing and for what reason, it may be suitable to use a short slogan to convey information in a memorable way. “Take a break between exercises” is more effective than, “During a series of long exercises, take a 15-minute break to slow down your heart rate.”
Layout & Formatting Tips
The University of Southern California provides layout and formatting tips on their TEAM site post. Again, these are my abbreviated and paraphrased version of their list.
Use adequate white space to keep the document from looking crowded. A 1” margin all around is a good guide for most documents. Use left alignment to help the space look more natural. Avoid narrow columns, which are hard to read.
Serif fonts (like Times New Roman) are more readable than sans serif fonts on a printed document. (Serif fonts have curls at the end of the letters.) When reading from the screen, a sans serif font (like Arial) is easier on the eyes. Try to use no more than 2-3 different fonts and use a contrasting font style from your document text for headings. Use a font size around 12 point for body text and around 14 point for headings.
Make Your Materials Easy to Read or Skim
Use CAPS, italics and bold for emphasis, but limit their use. Avoid underlining. Shading on text or background images can make your text hard to read. Black text on white background is easiest on the reader’s eyes. Printing on matte paper with a medium weight is a good choice for most readers. A shiny coating on the paper creates glare.
Helpful Hidden Characters
In Word, turn on the hidden formatting characters by clicking on the Show/Hide button on the Home tab in the Paragraph group. You will see spaces (dots), paragraph marks (backwards P), etc. They will help you see why something may not be formatting properly in your document.
If you would like to learn even more, here are a few more sites to visit:
- Popular Mechanics post – 12 Ways to Make Microsoft Word Documents Look Great
- Gonzaga University article – Improving Document Readability
- wikiHow post – wikiHow to Improve the Readability of a Word Document
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/teegardin/