Think About Lay-Out and Design

If you’re lucky, you’ll have marketing or communications folks who will prepare your piece for publication, but there are some design aspects you should be thinking about too.

White space
Dense blocks of text are hard on the eyes. Too many words will repel readers.

Think about breaking up long paragraphs and sentences so your piece is easier to read.

Headings and sub-headings
A useful way to impose order when you’re writing – and to guide the reader when the piece is published.

Block quotations
Avoid long quotations. As Matthew Butterick says in his illuminating book, Typography for Lawyers:

‘Lawyers sometimes put voluminous material into a block quotation intending to signal “Hey, I quoted a lot of this source because it’s really important!” The actual signal a reader often gets is “Hey, I didn’t write any of this, I just cribbed it from somewhere else!”‘

As a result, readers tend to skip big chunks of quoted text.

You’re better to quote only the essential bits, integrate the rest into your own text or, if a long quotation is absolutely necessary, explain what it says before you quote (on the assumption the reader won’t actually read the quotation).

Bulleted and numbered lists
These are really helpful:

  • they’re easy to read
  • they provide emphasis and
  • they break up your text

Keep each item in the list short, though. Punctuation optional after each item (more modern and elegant without it).

Boldface and italics
Use sparingly.

As Butterick points out, ‘if everything is emphasized, nothing is emphasized.’

Bold and italics are also harder to read than roman (regular) text.

Next on the agenda: go gender-neutral

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

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