Tip #1: Make sure your headlines are large and bold. You don’t want them so large that they appear awkward, but large, bold lettering attracts your reader’s attention and directs his eyes to the beginning of your message.
Tip #2: Use subheads to draw readers through your copy. Many people scan subheads to get an overview of the contents. If you promise a benefit in each subhead, your reader will conclude that he stands to reap so many benefits that he must read your article or brochure.
Tip #3: Choose type faces that are easy to read. Make sure you use common, everyday styles that look like those used in newspaper and magazine articles. Avoid fancy type. Avoid scripts. Avoid too many italics.
For Print: Serif fonts are easier to read than sans serif fonts. You should always use serif fonts for paragraph copy. If you use sans serif fonts at all, limit their use to headlines and subheads. Don’t use sans serif fonts for paragraph copy because they are hard to read and cause your reader’s eyes to tire quickly.
For Websites: The school of thought is that san serif fonts are easier to read online. In this case, use serif fonts for headlines and san serif for body copy.
Tip #4: Don’t use painfully small type. As I get older, I find small type really annoying. First, I have to find my glasses. Then I have to find the small type again. And then, when I finally read it, I often learn it wasn’t worth the trouble. Many artists use small type because it’s supposed to be elegant and stylish. How can anything be elegant or stylish when it’s too small to read!
Tip #5: Don’t put big spaces between letters. Another technique popular with artists is to put horizontal space between the letters within a single word. This is supposed to make the wording look upscale and sophisticated. What it really does is (1) make the words hard to read, and (2) make me wonder who paid money to an artist to create words that are hard to read. Readability is king. If your words are hard to read, most people won’t read them. As a result, you’ve wasted your money — and lost the opportunity to deliver your message.
Tip #6: Use reverse type sparingly. Type that is said to be “reversed” or “reversed out” is lettering that is surrounded by an area of solid ink, where the letters themselves are actually the paper showing through. You’re fairly safe using reverse type for headlines and sub-heads if you use it to emphasize only a few words. But do not use reverse type for paragraph copy because it quickly tires your reader’s eyes.
Tip #7: Don’t use more than two different typefaces in a document. (Bold and italic variations of the basic type font do not count as different type faces.) If you limit yourself to no more than two fonts, you avoid a clash of faces that don’t look good together.
Tip #8: Don’t let lines create obstacles for your words. Writers often insert a single line to make their layouts more attractive. The problem is, while the lines are intended to look nice, writers often put lines where they actually change the visual flow of the page. Last night, I was reading a magazine article that contained a horizontal line across the middle of the page. When I reached the line, I went to the top of the next column and continued reading. But the words didn’t match. I was supposed to jump over the line and continue reading below it in the same column. But the line obstructed the copy, sent me in the wrong direction, and broke my concentration.
Tip #9: Set key paragraphs and important words in bold or italic type so they stand out from the rest of the copy. Indenting key paragraphs from both the left and right margins is another way to draw attention to the paragraph.
Tip #10: Justify type to create the appearance you want. For a friendly, informal appearance, use left-justified type with a ragged right. For a more formal appearance, use fully justified type. Full justification gives you the added advantage of allowing you to squeeze more words into the same space. If you fully justify, proofread the copy to make sure your lines look natural. If you see a line where the letters are stretched so far apart that they look awkward, see if you can hyphenate the first word on the following line. This results in the first one or two syllables of that word returning to the previous line so they take up the extra space.
Tip #11: Use a column of bullets to emphasize important points. If you have a series of points you want to make, stack them in a straight vertical column and put a bullet or another symbol at the beginning of each point. The value of bullet points is in their straight, vertical appearance. Don’t center the column of bullet points because when the bullets are not in a vertical row, you lose their value.
Tip #12: Vary paragraph lengths so your copy looks interesting. When your lines of copy go all the way across a page, try to limit your paragraphs to no more than seven lines. Not seven sentences, but seven lines. For brochure- and article-copy, use two or three columns on each 8.5″ x 11″ page. This works well because most people are accustomed to reading newspaper columns, which are fairly narrow.
Tip #13: Put a double space (one extra return) between paragraphs so they are separated by a line of white space. The white space makes the paragraphs look less threatening.
Tip #14: Break pages at mid-sentence so you “encourage” people to continue reading on the next page.
Tip #15: Write in lists rather than paragraphs. Many people shy away from reading paragraphs because they look like blocks of copy. But people like reading itemized lists because they can read each point quickly.
Tip #16: Make sure your layout flows smoothly from upper left to lower right. This should be easy if your message is solid copy because people read from left to right, top to bottom. But things can get tricky when you include photos, illustrations, sidebars and other graphic elements. You want to avoid having anything block the visual flow so your reader can easily follow your message from beginning to end.
For example, in display ads, the coupon, phone numbers or other calls to action should always be at the bottom, right-hand corner because this is where the readers’ eyes stop after reading the ad.
Tip #17: Develop your own graphic style and use it in all your written materials. The repeated impact of your format, even with different content, can as much as double your material’s recognition and response.