Improving Document Readability

Well-designed documents are easier to read and comprehend. Readable documents enhance the credibility of the writer by projecting intelligence and organization. The SEC devoted an entire chapter to enhancing document readability in its handbook, How to create clear SEC disclosure documents.

1.   Use Lots of White Space

Empty space on a page is called white space. Good writers use headings, bulleted and numbered lists, and shorter paragraphs to increase white space and readability of their documents.


2.    Use Left-Justified Alignment

While many writers use justified alignment (where text aligns at both the left and right margins), research shows that the gaps in justified text inhibit the flow of reading, and that left-aligned text (with ragged right margins) is easier to read.


3.    Use a Legible Type

Don’t use more than two types of font in the same document (bold and italic font are okay), and use at least an 11-point font (although 12 point font is preferable). Larger fonts are harder to read and should be avoided (except in headings). Limit the use of all capital letters to short headings as readers tend to skip sentences typed in all caps.


4.    Use Bulleted and Numbered Lists, Tables, and Graphics to Enhance Readability

Bulleted and numbered lists greatly enhance readability due to their conciseness and the additional white space that results from their use.

Numbered lists should be used when order is important, such as when listing steps in a sequence. Otherwise, use bulleted lists. Place periods at the end of bulleted and numbered items only when they are complete sentences.

Be sure to capitalize the first word in each bulleted and numbered item. Also, use parallel construction with your lists (for example, begin each item with a verb, or consistently use an adjective/noun sequence).

Certain information can be depicted much more clearly with tables and graphics, especially quantitative information. The SEC’s A Plain English Handbook provides many specific suggestions for formatting tables and graphics attractively.

5.    Use Headings to Highlight Information

Use section and paragraph headings in your document to separate topics and enhance readability. Busy readers can scan headings to get an overview of your document and quickly find information they are interested in reading. Headings can also be used in bulleted and numbered lists as illustrated below:

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