Writing Tip: Design your words
By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel
You probably recognize good graphic design when you see it – even if you can’t explain it. Good design isn’t limited to images. It applies to writing, too. The way you arrange the words you write is important.
Good design is about aesthetics. It’s also about communication. Good graphic design helps tell a story. If it doesn’t do that, it hasn’t done its job – even if it’s aesthetically pleasing.
Words tell stories, too. And the way you arrange them on the page matters because good text layout helps your words tell your story more effectively.
The rules of typography are detailed and complex for those interested in exploring them in depth. But there are a few simple things you can do to help your words tell your story. Here are some of them:
- White space is important. It keeps the text on the page from feeling too dense or heavy. Cramming too many words on a page makes your writing less readable. How much white space do you need? There are too many variables to cover here. But on a standard page, I like to leave margins of at least an inch on all sides. And leave a blank line between single-spaced paragraphs (bulleted lists are an exception).
- Limit the fonts you use. Avoid the temptation to use all those fancy and unusual fonts available on your computer. Properly used, they can add zip to a document. Most of the time they just get in the way. A good rule of thumb: Limit yourself to one or two common fonts per document. If using two fonts, be consistent in how you use them: Sans serif font (like Arial) for headings, serif font (like Times New Roman) for body type, for example. If you want to use one of those unusual fonts, pick one that fits the message or mood you’re trying to convey.
- Be consistent. Headings, subheads and other type elements should be consistent. They should help your readers understand what’s important, what goes together, how your story flows. Don’t use 14-point italics for one subhead and 12-point bold for another, for example.
- Limit the use of underlined, bold and italicized text. Underlining, bold and italics are useful ways to emphasize certain words or phrases. They can’t do their job if you overuse them. Ditto for using different colors of type for emphasis.
- Eliminate widows and orphans. In the world of typography, widows and orphans are lines and words stranded by themselves at the top or bottom of a page or a line at the end of a paragraph. Whenever possible, avoid leaving a single word by itself on a line at the end of a paragraph. And avoid stranding the first or last line of a paragraph by itself at the top or bottom of a page. Not always possible in electronic documents because line lengths and page breaks often aren’t under your control.
We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?
Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.