Designing Readable Documents
The following rules of thumb
concerning page layout make documents easier to read:
- As with HTML source code, use whitespace and indenting
to convey the document structure and hierarchy. This
includes using whitespace to the top, right, bottom, and
left of text.
- Use all appropriate document features to orient
the reader. Things such
as headings, cover pages, titles, running heads/footers, tables
of contents, and page numbers are invaluable signposts
to your reader, particularly in large documents. Employ
these features critically, however: a five-page report,
for example, doesn't realistically need a table of contents.
- Take advantage of cultural and contextual expectations. For
instance, English-speaking audiences read from upper-left
to lower-right; therefore don't defy their expectations by
putting important visual information areas that defy that
- Think strategically about the ordering
of information on the page. Think about how the
audience's eye will likely scan the page... what is the
most prominent feature of the page? Visually, where will
they start and where will they end? Now, in the course
of this visual journey across the page, are the reader's
questions answered for them in the order in which
they are likely to be asked in their mind?
- Don't use something when nothing would
suffice. For instance, avoid the impulse to use
heavy-handed visual features such as lines and boxes, when
perhaps whitespace or alignment would be more effective.
- Establish visual unity. Establishing a
thoroughly consistent visual look to a document helps greatly
to establish its status as a single coherent, document.