By Caroline M. Cole
Though less important than the actual message, a document’s format (the way text is typeset) and layout (the way text is arranged on a page) contributes to the reader’s impression and, hence, reception of the information. Some documents, for example, are visually appealing, catching our attention and inviting us to engage with materials we might otherwise dismiss. Other documents employ format and layout in ways that keep them in the background, barely noticeable, attracting attention for neither good nor ill. Then there are materials that look so cluttered, distracting, or discombobulating that we actually struggle to find or focus on what the message itself is trying to say.
To demonstrate the impact that format and layout choices can have on people seeing a document for the first time, this discussion invites readers to identify elements that work for and against their aesthetic sensibilities. As a starting point, readers will use a letter formatted in lorum ipsum—a placeholder text that graphic designers use to test layout and other visual presentation elements
After downloading the sample letter and accompanying assessment page, record your initial impressions. As you identify elements that attract your attention, for better or worse, consider what changes you would suggest to enhance the document’s appearance, as well as the basis upon which you would make those suggestions.
There is no right or wrong in the approach to this exercise. It simply aims to highlight seemingly superficial elements that can impact the ways an audience “sees” information, sensitizing us to format and layout decisions we can use in our own messages to enhance their reception.
Next week’s discussion will examine possible revisions to this sample letter.
Working toward Areté…
Download the “Letter Format Find and Fix Exercise” .pdf and see what you would revise for greatest visual impact. Then, check back next week for a discussion of enhancements according to traditional letter format conventions.