Design your document for easy reading
We want our documents to help the audience get information, comply with requirements, and apply for benefits with the minimum possible burden. Documents that appear cluttered and dense create a negative reaction in the minds of our readers. We've heard many times from readers that when they get a dense, uninviting document from the government, they often put it in the "to be read later"
pile, even though they know they should read it right away.Document design is an important part of developing an effective document. Documents that are easy on the eye are far easier to understand than more traditional styles. You can use design elements to highlight important points and to ensure your user reads the most important parts of the document.
Even with regulations and the limits of publishing in the Code of Federal Regulations, you can replace blocks of text with headings, tables, and lists to create more white space. Short sentences and sections will also break up a regulation into visually manageable chunks. You will help your audience by making the main points readily apparent and grouping related items together. The easier it is for your audience to get through the regulation, the more likely it is they will comply with its requirements.
Here are a few brief guidelines for good document design:
- Have five or six sections on each printed page (about two on each typewritten page)
- Use lists and tables often, but don't overuse them and don't have lists within lists
- Use ragged right margins where possible, rather than fully justifying your text
- Schriver, Karen, Dynamics in Document Design: Creating Text for Readers, 1996, John Wiley and Sons, Hoboken, NJ.