Space: it may well be the Final Frontier, because when it comes to documents it’s clear that it was never taught in high school. I think we were only ever flunked on content, and so we fixated on the text and forgot the page it was sitting on.
When you write a letter, a proposal to management, a resume or a promotion piece for your business, you put a great deal of thought and time into ensuring it says exactly what you want to say. It’s so good it will knock the reader’s socks off. IF anyone actually reads it.
So what would make someone not want to read your exquisitely crafted prose? What would put them off before they even start?
Obviously it’s not the words, since they haven’t started to read yet. As you’ve probably guessed already, one of the top ways to make your copy uninviting is to give it too little s-p-a-c-e.
The Not-So-Marginal Difference
The first important space in your document is the margins. Better than 80 percent of the Word documents businesses produce have margins that are way too narrow, partly because Word’s default margins are also too narrow and partly because there’s a common misconception that you have to fill every bit of space available.
Here’s a designer’s trick that will help to illustrate the point. Below are two “pages.” Instead of text I’ve used only gray lines to indicate where the text would be. This prevents the “Can’t see the forest for the trees” problem: it helps you to visualize how a page will look without being distracted by the words.
Which one, just instantly on a first impression, would you rather read?
The one on the left looks heavy, doesn’t it? It’s not inviting you to read it. In fact, it’s sending several unpleasant messages along the lines of, “I’m stingy, so I have to economize as much as possible by using every square inch of paper I can” and “I don’t care whether you like how this looks” and “I didn’t bother to adjust the margins.”
You formed all those impressions more or less instantly, even if you didn’t spell them out. They add up to, “I’m not going to enjoy reading this.” Most people, in fact, will simply skip it. I’ll take a wild guess, here, that this is not the impression you’re trying to create on your readers, so be generous with your margins. Wide margins show respect for the reader and that you’re not so hard up for cash that you can’t afford to buy paper.
There’s a lot more on this subject of space, but I don’t want this to get too long so I’ll save it for another time.
When you want the next part of what you’re writing to go on the next page, DON’T USE EMPTY LINES to fill up the empty space. If you add anything to your text later, those blanks lines with be pushed onto the next page, giving it weird-looking extra space at the top. To force the next paragraph to start on a new page, use a page break. In Microsoft Word, hold down the Control key and press Enter (that’s Command plus Return on a Mac). Most word processors use the same key combination.
When I receive the copy for a book or brochure that I will be designing, empty lines are the first things I have to get rid of. We’ll be looking at some other no-no items in later posts.
There were two popular books back in the early 1990s, one called “The Mac Is Not A Typerwriter” and the other “The PC Is Not A Typewriter,” by Robin Williams and David Blatner. (That was in the days when people knew what a typewriter was. Some of us are old enough to remember, and not so old as to not remember. Ahem.) If you can get hold of a copy on eBay or Amazon, I highly recommend them.