Breaking up text isn’t hard to do

I’m quite amazed by the amount of really dense text I see in publications. From local press to the magazines of schools and other organisations, I keep coming across page after page of virtually unbroken, impenetrable looking text with excruciatingly long paragraphs and wide columns too!

It’s bad enough that professional writers produce this stuff, but what the Dickens are the editors doing?

Most people are busy. Nobody, other than the extreme enthusiast, is going to have the time or the will to read difficult, long, boring and unappealing blocks of text.

Maybe the writers and editors are ignorant of the reader’s needs or maybe they’re too lazy to edit the copy properly. Perhaps they’re under the illusion that they’re following in the footsteps of great writers like George Eliot, Jane Austen or Tolkein, who do, actually, let paragraphs run on. And on.

Make text inviting and somebody might read it!

As a writer and/or editor, it’s really important to make it easy for people to get what you’re trying to convey quickly and easily. Text has to look inviting and be easy not just to read, but to skim-read too.

Breaking up text is so effective and so easy to do. I’ve produced three newsletters in the last couple of months and because I do the layout as well as the writing and editing, I try to make all the elements on a page work together.

I aim to get people’s attention with visuals, pique their interest, give them the gist and, hopefully, encourage them to read the whole article, story or report by using these techniques:

  • Short(ish) sentences and paragraphs of usually 2 or 3 sentences
  • Sensible column widths – theories differ as to the exact number of words/characters/picas, but I know when it looks right
  • Sub-headings (though not too close to the bottom of a column)
  • Pull-out quotes to highlight an important or humorous point
  • Boxes/sidebars and tables wherever possible to replace repetitive text
  • Pictures/illustrations not just for visual appeal, but because research shows that captions are often the first thing people read on a page

Publishing made easy

And all this is so easy with today’s technology. There’s really no excuse for not having visually appealing pages – no matter what the budget.

It’s not just the brilliant software like InDesign (which I love) that enables us to achieve great layouts, it’s also the fact that pictures and images are now so easy to access on the web.

Gone are the days of leafing through stock photo catalogues, when motorbike messengers would whiz around with transparencies. There’s no need to visit picture libraries, or stick strips of galley proofs onto dummies or mock-ups and as for Letraset… Actually, I’ve just discovered it’s still going strong.

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