Format: The Way a Document Looks

In the past two newsletters, we covered Syntax, Vocabulary, Complexity, and Numbers from our list of writing concepts. This month we pick up with Format and Style.
  • Syntax: the arrangement of words
  • Vocabulary: the choice of words
  • Complexity: the level of detail
  • Numbers: the presentation of numerical information
  • Format: the way a document looks
  • Style: conversational and emphasis methods
  • Organization: the grouping of process information
  • Conditions: the decision criteria
  • Lists: related items, possibly in sequence 
  • Alerts: For warnings, cautions, and notes

This article covers document formats. The next article (see below) is about document styles.


Type Size

Document templates should provide a type size that is readable in the worst conditions. Although 12 point is generally accepted for text being read from 18 inches, a larger size may be necessary under different conditions, especially low lighting.

Type Font
The font (typeface) gives text an appearance than can affect its readability. Choose a font that is easy on the eye. For example, Times New Roman and Arial are the fonts most often used for documents and slides. Avoid use of an ornate or complex font that may be difficult to read.

Type Case
Write with mixed case (upper and lower case letters). Do not use all capitals since they significantly slow down the reader. Use capitals sparingly to emphasize a single word or phrase.

White Space
White space (blank space) should be used to frame content, separate subjects, define sections, and highlight information. Use space between text lines, for page margins, between columns, for indentation, and for paragraph separation. Use indented text to indicate logic since it appears to be subordinate text.

Text Indentation
Most text is left-justified (same distance from the left margin). Fully-justified text can be more difficult to read since large gaps can appear between words. Use ragged right margins for documents with short line lengths.