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Forget Your Words and Look at Your Page

“All writers I know underestimate the value of the visual aesthetics of the page. Enlightened writers should concern themselves with typeface, type size, white space, format and even with the visual effects of punctuation.” (Roy Peter Clark)

As writers we tend to get hung up on the detail of our words, to focus obsessively on the tussles we have to find just the right thing to say - and overlook the visual impact of the marks we’ve left on the page.

And yet the look of the page is the first thing your reader is going to see, long before they settle down to the actual content.

A clear layout will help your reader to:

  • find their way through your words
  • pick up your point quickly and easily
  • read without visual distractions
  • enjoy the experience - and come back for more

Thinking about visual impact requires us to shift perspective - from what the words say to how they look. Some things to think about here include:

Patterns: forget the detail of your words and look at the pattern and layout. Step back until you can’t see the words themselves - just the visual impact. How does it look now? (Mike Sansone at Converstations has a great illustration of this approach using “Lore Ipsum” as the text.)

Visual guides: paragraphs are a way of organising our words, thoughts and meaning, but also of breaking up our text. Aim for paragraphs that are wider than they are long.

Whitespace: is good! How much can you see on your page?

Clutter: watch out for visual clutter - different colours, font types and sizes, proliferation of headings and sub-headings - they will distract your reader

Fonts: I’m no font expert - other than to know they make a difference. I liked Seth Godin’s idea that fonts are like glasses on your face - changing your look, and the immediate impression you create

How much does design, layout and aesthetic matter to you when you’re reading - or writing? What other techniques do you use to create a clear look for your page?

Useful links:

Hater-ation for the Hyphen Nation - Roy Peter Clark on punctuation, hyphenation and visual aesthetics

Step away from the document - Kenneth W Davis at Manage your Writing

Blog posting: give your readers an eye rest - Mike Sansone on writing for readers who scan

Fonts and your face - Seth Godin on fonts and choosing new glasses

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  1. Mike Sansone says:

    Great (bullet) points! Many folks I talk with won’t follow these tips because it’s against what they were taught. Yet, in this day of quick-attention spans and skimming/scanning readership - as writers we must make our words easy to digest and remember. Great stuff!

  2. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Hi Mike

    Great to hear from you :-)

    Easy to digest is a good way to think about it - especially when we’re writing on the web.