Art direct your writing for better results

12 Dec

How many emails did you send out last week? How many did you reply to? How many business letters flew off your fingertips? How many proposals, statements of work, contact reports, even blog posts?

So let’s establish that you’re a writer, even if you think you’re something else.

You’re probably not an art director but I advocate you start thinking like one to be more successful with your writing.

One thing I’ve learned in the ad game is that appearances count. If the great content you are writing looks like shit, no one will bother to read it.

You don’t need to go to school to learn this much-overlooked truism. I can teach you some things right here!

(I’ve deliberately kept images out of this post to make it all about the design of the writing.)

8 Visual Guides to Getting Your Writing Read.

1. Keep your sentences short. Your reader is hearing a voice in their head when they read. If they know you, it’s your voice they’re hearing. A reader breathes when the writer breathes. A run-on sentence makes your reader breathless and you don’t want them passing out from oxygen depravation.

2. Keep your paragraphs short. This has always been a good idea because space between paragraphs is visual breathing room. Today, we have way more content coming at us daily and we skim. Be skimmable as a first impression and you’re more likely to get that second, more focused read.

3. Create some visual order. Only a modicum of effort on your part is required to make a letter or email or proposal look premeditated. Bullet points help, bolded headers help, section titles help. A sense of organization suggests to your reader you know your stuff.

4. Keep to the minimum of fonts. Fonts are like personalities within your written piece. You have to shift mental gears imperceptibly when you move from font to font, as if you’re dealing with two salespeople selling the same thing at once. Stick to one at all times.

5. Keep to the minimum of point sizes. Type size equates to volume. I don’t trust TV evangelists who caress with one phrase and then rain down holy damnation with the next. One headline point size, one body point size.

6. Trust black and white over colour. Colour has its uses but the very designy-ness of it can make it seem less important. “So what’s the price?” “It’s there in big green type!” “Ah, I missed that.”

7. Left justify what you write. That means everything should start over on the left and return there, because that’s how we read, left to right. Not centered, or far worse, justified right. Unless it’s a headline, in which case, justify that left as well! (Please see Point 3)

8. Bold, underline or italics? Yes to all three, but no to combining. You would be more likely to read this sentence because it stands out but less likely to want to because it’s overkill. They are all emphasizers. Bold is the strongest, like raising your voice. Underlining is very formal and contrived. Now please pay attention to this! Italics suggests intimacy, something on the inside between you and your reader. It has a hissing quality. But who wants to read a shouting hisser with her elbow in your ribs?

Are these 8 points superficial? Yes.

But on the other hand, how likely do you think you would have been to read this post through if it had looked like this:

How many emails did you send out last week? How many did you reply to? How many business letters flew off your fingertips? How many proposals, statements of work, contact reports, even blog posts? So let’s establish that you’re a writer, even if you think you’re something else. You’re probably not an art director but I advocate you start thinking like one to be more successful with your writing. One thing I’ve learned in this business is that appearances count. If the great content you are writing looks like shit, no one will bother to read it. You don’t need to go to school to learn this much-overlooked truism. I can teach you some things right here! (I’ve deliberately kept images out of this post to make it all about the design of the writing.)

Eight Visual Guides to Getting Your Writing Read.

1. Keep your sentences short. Your reader is hearing a voice in their head when they read. If they know you, it’s your voice they’re hearing. A reader breathes when the writer breathes. A run-on sentence makes your reader breathless and you don’t want them passing out from oxygen depravation. 2. Keep your paragraphs short. This has always been a good idea because space between paragraphs is visual breathing room. Today, we have way more content coming at us daily and we skim. Be skimmable as a first impression and you’re more likely to get that second, more focused read. 3. Create some visual order. Only a modicum of effort on your part is required to make a letter or email or proposal look premeditated. Bullet points help, bolded headers help, section titles help. A sense of organization suggests to your reader you know your stuff. 4. Keep to the minimum of fonts. Fonts are like personalities within your written piece. You have to shift mental gears imperceptibly when you move from font to font, as if you’re dealing with two salespeople selling the same thing at once. Stick to one at all times. 5. Keep to the minimum of point sizes. Type size equates to volume. I do not trust TV evangelists who caress with one phrase and then rain down holy damnation with the next. One headline point size, one body point size.  6. Trust black and white over colour. Colour has its uses but the very designy-ness of it can tune people out. “So what’s the price?” “It’s there in big green type!” “Ah, I missed that.” 7. Left justify what you write. That means everything should start over on the left and return there, because that’s how we read, left to right. Not centered, or far worse, justified right. Unless it’s a headline, in which case, justify that left as well! (Please see Point 2) 8. Bold, underline or italics? Yes to all three, but no to combining. You would be more likely to read this sentence because it stands out but less likely to want to because it’s overkill. They are all emphasizers. Bold is the strongest, like raising your voice. Underlining is very formal and contrived. Now please pay attention to this! Italics suggests intimacy, something on the inside between you and your reader. It has a hissing quality. But who wants to read a shouting hisser with her elbow in your ribs?

Advertisements

8 Responses to “Art direct your writing for better results”

  1. Felix December 12, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    Love this post Doug.

    The art of writing is for sure something that doesn’t get enough attention. I particularly like the point about bolds, italics and underlines. =)

    Good stuff!

  2. Doug Brown December 12, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    Hey I appreciate that Felix. WordPress doesn’t allow me to underline within the post, which would have made that 8th point more compelling. Glad you found some value in it!

    Curious: Would you have read the second version?

  3. Felix December 12, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    I’m pretty sure I underlined something in a post yesterday! Weird.

    To answer your question: most likely not. It’s too hard to read.

    To be fair though – I’m one of those people that stops reading or wonder about the source’s authority when I see typos such as “you’re,your, peak, pique” etc. I’ve seen that on many a company presentation as well – a very notable fortune 500 comes to mind. I rolled my eyes.

  4. Doug Brown December 12, 2011 at 2:47 pm #

    You wrote something formal and contrived yesterday? Yeah, I do it too sometimes. I’m more likely to be hissing some insider info in your ear actually.

    Those typos you spoke of, well I’ve made a few in my time. Spellcheck doesn’t catch them and the writer is too often blind to them. However, grammatical horrors are something else!

  5. Stephan Rosger December 17, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    This is really good advice, thank you Doug!

  6. Doug Brown December 17, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    Very welcome Stephan. How about a guest post on design??

  7. srosger December 21, 2011 at 7:59 pm #

    Hi Doug, forgive me for not replying right away, I think the wordpress notifications were being filtered out as spam.
    Anyhoo, yeah for sure! I’ll get something going and hand it over when I’m done. Hmmm, what shall it be?

  8. Christie March 17, 2012 at 10:09 pm #

    Reblogged this on PR Hot Air and commented:
    This is one of my most referenced style-guides. I’m sure I’ve used Copeland’s search engine more than anyone could believe looking for it. If you are wondering, “lists” is my main search criteria.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Amy C. Amy Do.

Amy fall down.

Son of the Morning Light

Just another guy with a camera

LE WOOD SHOP ANEKA DEKO

BOUTIQUE DE DÉCORATION ET DE MOBILIER EN BOIS ET MATÉRIAUX RECYCLÉS

the Blacklight Arrow

David Blacker's Blog

TV Amanda

Blogging about all things tv, advertising & marketing

Ballentine Media Inc.

Vancouver Small and New Business Branding, Design and Social Media Strategy

BriWrites

BriWrites: Brian Hartz's Blog

Financial & General Copywriter

Barry Hill, MBA (Ivey)

%d bloggers like this: