Posted by: wordsmithsuk | April 22, 2011

How to create a professional-looking document

The appearance of your document is just as important for its clarity as the text itself. A well laid out document enhances the impression that you are trying to create and helps the reader to understand your message. A poor layout, on the other hand, may actually form a barrier to communication. There are many factors to consider here, but the main ones are explained below.

White space

Most people feel daunted when they are confronted with pages of densely written typescript. The amount of white space surrounding the words or graphics is almost as important as everything else. Ask yourself the following questions.

  • Do the pages look clear and uncluttered?
  • Is there enough space between the paragraphs?
  • Are the margins wide enough?
  • Is there enough space for headings?


Every document needs a heading or headings to help readers to find their way through the text. These signposts guide your readers, ensuring that they do not lose track of the message you are trying to communicate.

It is important that your headings are consistent, so that:

  • Main headings always look the same
  • Subheadings are less prominent than main headings
  • Subheadings follow a clear pattern.

If you write on a computer, you can select the heading styles for your document before you start. This ensures that they will always be consistent.


It is best to use bold if you want to emphasise particular words or groups of words. Other ways of making things stand out, such as:

  • italics
  • underlining

can be difficult to read because they alter the shape of words.


Pictures, graphs, charts and diagrams serve a number of different purposes:

  • They break up the text and hold the reader’s interest
  • They look attractive on the page
  • They can often communicate an idea more effectively than words alone.

But don’t use graphic elements for the sake of it. Like the words you use, each picture must earn it’s place on the page and contribute towards getting your message across.


A font is defined by the shape of its letters, called the typeface. There are many fonts available on word processors, but the two main categories are those with and without serifs. A serif is a small stroke added to the ends of letters. A typeface without serifs is called sans-serif.

Fonts with a serifed typeface are often used for the main text, while sans-serif fonts are used for the headings. As a general rule, avoid using more than two or three different fonts in a single document, as too many fonts make the layout look busy and cluttered.

Golden rules of page design

The power of word-processing and layout programs, and the ease with which anyone can now attempt complex, multi-font layouts, make it more important than ever to remember the golden rules of good page design:

  • Simplicity
  • Clarity
  • Consistency.

One of the best ways to learn is to look at the documents that other people produce and to learn from their good and bad points. And always use a style sheet when you are writing. Please get in touch if you would like me to send you an example of a style sheet.

Word Smiths have launched a new service called WS Design. Our print services include:

  • Typesetting
  • Layout design
  • Print management

Get in touch with Nick at WS Design, if you would like more information about these services.



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