Designing Documents for a Quick Read

Does it seem your memos or communications never get read all the way through? Do your employees simply bog down after a few paragraphs of reading? You might be suffering from "information overload writing" and I know the feeling; I do it too. We all do. Writing is a form of communication, not a place for us to drop in every opinion we"ve ever had on the topic. It’s hard to unlearn, but there are tricks to help in case it’s an issue.

Use Headings and Subheadings
This is a trick I learned from a marketing expert a few years ago. Breaking up long paragraphs of text with headings and subheadings helps focus a reader on reading and provides a logical path to follow through the document. It also helps a writer write faster. Outline it and then fill in the blanks. That may be a simple version of writing memos, but simple is good.

They must be able to stand alone. Your heading should do the work by itself. At one glance, your readers must know what you intend to say overall.

They should be short. Don’t make them long and complicated. It"s a heading, not a sentence.

They should continue the flow. A reader should be able to trace your thought process through your headings. Then if they want to read specifics, they can read the text.

Use White Space To Your Advantage
White space is your friend. It may not seem like it, but when you give readers a chance to breathe while reading your piece, they actually comprehend it better and faster.

Break it into shorter blocks. No one will read page after page without a break. Give your readers a chance to pause if necessary and they"ll be back refreshed and ready to continue.

Use a list for emphasis. I use lists a lot. They offer me a chance to make my points quickly and succinctly.

Use white space to show organization. I’m using white space and different formatting to show organization in this post. Don’t overuse all the elements (like I may be doing in order to show how I would approach this), but pick and choose and have fun.

Choose Your Typography With Care
I chose bold for the main headings and italics for the subheadings. That way anyone reading this post would know that the bold was the main ideas and the italics were the supporting ideas.

It shows importance. The bold headings invite readers. The italics offset the subheading from the text. It all works together to create a neat hierarchy.

It improves readability. A report organized like this will get much more attention than a page of single-spaced 8-point type. Trust me.

It helps a reader read faster. Didn"t you read faster? Good. See, now you know what you can do!