Be nice to your readers (or how to style your documents)

i-like-yer-style-dude

So much of our communication, both in our personal lives and the workplace, is written communication. Whether it’s group-texting your 4 closest friend (hi ninjas!), emailing co-workers and teammates, commenting on a Facebook post, or reading a serious of blogs that contain user-friendly information and humor (insert shameless plug for the blog here). The flip side is that sometimes how the written communication is laid out is hard on the eyes, and hard to understand. Most people don’t read every single word. It’s just not how we operate. Our eyes bounce around from keyword to keyword, and our brain fills in the gaps. As I write more, and more, and more without breaking into a new paragraph or changing the styling, I lose my audience. As my subject matter becomes more dense, and more details are explained, I lose my readers they lose my message. My message might be really important, or timely, but if I keep on the way I’m writing, no one will know it. I can’t take it anymore! New paragraph starting…..now!

My eyes are dying a thousand deaths right now!

My eyes are dying a thousand deaths right now!

 

Whew, see what I mean? It’s too many words without a break in formatting. Luckily for us, we can avoid reader fatigue with a new easy steps. In my example, I will be styling a word document, but the same styles and options are available in Outlook. So yes, please style those informative emails too!

 

See this tool bar? For the love of all that is good, use some of it's options!

Getting starting with styling

Not sure where to start styling? Let’s start with the section named “Styles”. For some reason people tend to look right past this helpful tool when creating documents even though it’s front and center just waiting to be put to use. The default is “Normal”, which is your paragraph setting. This is your bread and butter setting, and it’s important, but you already know it. Let’s see what else we’ve got…

What’s your document called? Use style option “Heading 1”

Let your reader know what you’re talking about right out of the gate.

After my introduction what is my first topic? Use style option “Heading 2”

Now that your readers know the subject, you can move into your first topic.

Each of my main topics have subtopics. Use style options “Heading 3”

Keep the styling going! As your subject matter gets more complicated, keep using multiple heading options (heading 1-6).

 

If you've got it, flaunt it!

If you’ve got it, flaunt it!

I added a picture to break up a the ‘styles’ section? That’s so my readers know when I’ve moved on from the highly-stylized section onto the next topic.

More style ideas

There’s that header again. It’s so nice to know what to expect, and to break away from the previous topic. Besides headers, you have several options to within your text to make your document easier to read. You can:

    • Bold or italicize key words
    • Underline an important point
    • Choose a contrasting color for your text
    • Start a new paragraph
    • Add a photo or screen print

See what I did there? I created a bulleted list. A bulleted or numbered list is a great way to make several points. They are clean, easy and stand out among other text. Lists are especially useful for directions, especially if readers will need to refer to them multiple times. Remember the scanning discussion? This will certainly draw the reader’s eye.

This is an introductory look at styling documents, but there many advanced options as well. There are tables, effects, water marks, borders, themes are so much more that you can do to make a document not only be user-friendly, but beautiful (that list would have been so much better as a bulleted list…). Don’t be afraid to try some out. Remember you can always Control-Z  to undo your changes. Also remember to build in time into your project or task to style, and style responsibly.  IF all the words words are styled, your message can get lost. Making documents that looks like a confetti cannon just went off in your face does your readers no good.

 

In your face!

In your face!

Thanks for reading! If you’ve learned something, or at least found it entertaining, please share this post!


Ilse Ferris

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