A good first impression makes a difference; a document that looks unreadable will probably not get read.

Just as your business clothes make a clear statement about your professionalism, so the appearance of the material you write makes a statement too. If the page is sloppy or if it looks wrong, your expertise may be questioned. If content sounds arrogant, out of date, or impossible to read, you may have unwittingly set up a negative response.

Before you send your document, take a good look at it. Does it look inviting? Or is it off-putting? The white space you see is not merely an absence of print; it leads the reader’s eye to the nearest black. If there is too much black, it looks too tough to read and readers are reluctant to plunge in.  They may set it aside, skim here and there, or simply trash it immediately. Whatever they do, you have not impressed them.

So, if there is not enough white space in your document, add some. How? Split any paragraph that is more than two and a half inches long. Use lists. Maintain good margins. Or create one wide column for text and a more narrow column for “pull quotes.” By the way, pull quotes are an ideal technique to use in dense documents because they lighten the overall look while repeating an important phrase or sentence from the text–and drawing attention to it.

Conversely, if there is too much white space, the material looks disorganized and impossible to read. Of course, you may have a paragraph that is only one sentence long. But if all your paragraphs are single sentences, the document looks like the writer doesn’t really understand what a paragraph is. Fix it.

Here’s how to improve the appearance of all your documents.

  • Think of the white space as an important component of the letter or document. The margins should frame the material, and the text must not appear too dense to wade through.
  • Try to keep letters to one or two pages. If you must convey a lot of information, use a cover letter and attach the information to it.
  • Avoid loose odds and ends–such as a single sentence on a second page.
  • Use lists to efficiently move the reader’s eye through information and to add white space.
  • Keep paragraphs to a maximum of four sentences. In a letter, remember to close with a separate paragraph “Call for Action”; do not write a one-paragraph letter.

What you say is important to the reader only if they bother to read. When you make your material look easy to read, it will actually get read. When your document looks accessible, it is.  The truth is, whether we like it or not, appearance counts.