Format Make Your Message Inviting


  1. Choose Fonts
  2. Write Headings
  3. Use White Space
  4. Insert Graphics
  5. Example Bank: Standard Document Formats

Link & Learn

Some paragraphs throughout the course will be marked as examples, activities, required reading, or optional tips

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picture of two hands holding a letter

Grab Attention

Well-formatted messages are more attractive and accessible to your readers, inviting them to engage. The very act of formatting also helps you clarify in your own mind what you want to say.

When you

  • select fonts
  • write headings
  • use white space
  • insert graphics

you make decisions about your message priorities, and you guide your audience—and yourself—toward clearer structure.

Your audience will scan your message before deciding whether to read it. That’s just human nature. So what do you want them to notice first?

Well-formatted messages are more attractive and accessible to your readers, inviting them to engage. The very act of formatting also helps you clarify in your own mind what you want to say.

When you

you make decisions about your message priorities, and you guide your audience—and yourself—toward clearer structure.

Your audience will scan your message before deciding whether to read it. That’s just human nature. So what do you want them to notice first?

Section OneChoose Fonts

Some people are typography geeks because, frankly, fonts are fun. They’re a form of art that quickly conveys a tremendous amount of information. Fonts are a voice in which your writing speaks.

When formatting a document, choose your fonts deliberately so that your message is supported by the look and feel of the fonts you choose.

This section covers some basics you should know about fonts and typography.

Fonts are the voice in which your writing speaks. They can say the following: I am traditional. I am sleek and modern. I am goofy. I am powerful. I am shouting (in all-caps). I am artsy. I don't need to be noticed.
Fonts are the voice in which your writing speaks. They can say the following: I am traditional. I am sleek and modern. I am goofy. I am powerful. I am shouting (in all-caps). I am artsy. I don't need to be noticed.

Typography Basics

picture showing the difference between serif and sans serif fonts, as explained in the text

Serif Vs. Sans Serif

Fonts are generally classed as either “serif” or “sans serif.” Serifs are the widened feet at the end of font strokes. Sans serifs don’t have those widened ends.


picture showing different stroke thicknesses

Typography Anatomy

picture showing anatomy of typography. Typical lower-case letters have a standard x-height, which is the distance between the baseline and the median. Some letters, like p and h, have descenders or ascenders.


Kerning is the space between letters. The best kerning is achieved when spacing looks even. Kerning is most often adjusted with large headings or titles. Body copy is rarely kerned.

picture showing bad kerning with uneven spaces between letters and good kerning with even spaces between letters

How to Choose Fonts

Readers scan for titles and headings first, so those elements need to stand out.

Generally, choose two different fonts: one for title/headings, and one for body text. A rule of thumb is to choose a serif font for one and a sans serif font for the other. Some reliable pairings are shown in the accompanying box.

Go to to experiment with a range of free Google fonts in tandem. Remember, if you are sharing a copy of your document in editable form, your recipient’s device may not display unusual fonts. If you save and share your work in PDF, your fonts will be consistent.

Choose fonts that

  • Convey the right impression for your document
  • Look good on multiple screen sizes
  • Are large and dark enough for your audience to read easily
  • Are deliberate, distinct, and bold

Remember, the population is aging. Choose a font size that will be easily readable by your audience.

Safe-Bet Font Pairings

Helvetica and Garamond, Century Gothic and Century, Arial and Georgia, Avenir and Bell MT, Baskerville and Helvetica Neue, Bebas neue and Helvetica Light

Fonts for Headings

Choose fonts for 3-4 levels of text: headings, subheadings, body text & annotations.

Example 1 has Geramond for headings, Helvetica in all caps for subheadings, and Helvetica for body text. Example 2 has Bebas neue for headings, Bebas neue for subheadings, Helvetica Light for body text, and Geramond in italics for annotations.

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Section TwoWrite Headings

picture of a paper highlighting the headings

Our brains are attuned to information hierarchy. “What should I pay attention to first? What can I ignore until later?” Give your reader some help by using headings in messages longer than three or four paragraphs.

Because you’ve spent time planning and organizing your document, writing headings won’t be hard.

The stylized document to the right shows a title and headings that coordinate in color and size. Make sure your headings are also parallel grammatically and that they indicate useful content. For instance: “Why buy from us?” is a clearer heading than simply “Why?”

Be Consistent

Be sure to write and format headings consistently throughout your document, and make sure same-level headings are grammatically parallel.

Save yourself some time by learning and using “styles formatting” tools for titles, headings, and body text. When you apply styles to your headings, you can easily generate an outline or change the style or color of all your headings with one click. Here’s how it’s done in Google Docs: Working with Heading Styles. (Word, Pages, and other text editors have similar capabilities.)

Write Grammaticallly Parallel Headings

Place Emphasis

When you need to emphasize part of your text, do it properly. Back when everyone wrote on typewriters, the only tools for emphasis were capitalization and underlining, but all-caps now looks like SHOUTING, and underlining interrupts the descending strokes of letters. Instead, use size, italics, grayscale, bolding, or colors to make your point.

Place Emphasis Skillfully

Format Email

In an email, use bolded paragraph headings for scanability. Doing this helps you stay organized, and readers love it.


3 Goals for Our Team Meeting

Hi, Hannah. Jackie asked us to emphasize three goals to the team at our meeting tomorrow:

Update Cards Daily
We all need to update our assignment cards on Trello each day by 5 p.m. Jackie would like to be able to do a company-wide review of project status in the evenings.

Make Seamless Hand-offs
A few projects were accidentally dropped during the staff change last year, so we need to make sure each project sheet is up to date before handing it off to someone else.

Harvest Customer Feedback
Treat customer complaints as valuable feedback. Be sure to record the complaint and the resolution in the appropriate log. If you see trends, bring them to Jackie’s attention.

See you at 2:30.


What Font Voice Is Your Email Speaking In?

For daily emails, make sure you’re happy with the default font. Some designers claim that Verdana (san serif) or Georgia (serif) are better choices than Gmail’s default, Arial.

While you’re at it, try creating a professional signature block that includes your contact information.


Activity 7.2

Change your default font in Gmail by going to “settings.” Choose a font that represents your voice well.

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Section ThreeUse White Space

White space is, of course, just space. But like silence, it is remarkably powerful. A page full of black text with small margins feels daunting and unappealing to a reader, as The Onion so astutely reported: Nation Shudders at Large Block of Uninterrupted Text. Don’t make that mistake. Build plenty of white space into your document to enhance readability, direct attention, and lighten the feel of the page.

The next sections demonstrate some practical formatting tips for using space well.

visual simplicity invites your reader's attention

Left-Align or Justify

Text can be aligned four ways: on the left, the center, the right, or spread evenly between two margins. Although “justified” text (aligned between both edges of a column) can look sharp at a distance, odd spacing between words can occur. These distracting, jagged white spaces in your paragraph are called rivers. Left-justified, ragged-right text is easiest to read, and lets you decide how to use your extra white space, instead of sprinkling it throughout your paragraph. Narrow columns however, can be justified well if you find and hyphenate words that are causing rivers, or use smart text display software like InDesign.

Left-justified text should be used most often. Right-justified can be used for short text units. Only use full justification if you use design software or insert hyphens when needed.

Keep Lines Short

Keeping your lines short makes reading faster and easier. Instead of long lines, use generous margins to keep lines shorter. Another great solution is to use columns, which shortens the lines still further. A good rule of thumb is to keep each line of text no longer than 52–70 characters wide so the eye captures each line quickly.

Avoid Narrow Margins

Margins give the eye a rest. Don’t skimp. One wider margin (up to two inches) on mirrored sides of the page can be a good spot for illustrations or pull quotes.

Columns and Margins

picture of page with two columns and wide margins

Columns make lines short.
Use wide margins for visual relief.

Use 1.15 Line Spacing as your Default

You’re probably familiar with “single spaced” and “double spaced.” (You in high school: “Does my five-page essay have to be single spaced or double spaced?”) But the optimal vertical distance between lines for most documents is not 1, but about 1.15 (this spacing is called leading). This little bit of extra space gives the document a lighter look.

Single spacing is acceptable, but do not double space your text for any business document unless your boss is a retired high school English teacher. It looks unfinished, undesigned, and unprofessional.

Don’t indent. Indenting the first line of each paragraph by five spaces is another typewriter holdover. Instead, leave an extra line between paragraphs and make all paragraphs begin flush with the left margin.

Write Short Paragraphs

Paragraph breaks are the breath of reading. Don’t force your reader to go on for too long without a refreshing break. Paragraph length can be a formatting as well as a content decision. When writing text in columns, use very short paragraphs.


To keep your paragraphs shorter, use links liberally.

Choose Your Line Spacing


Leading is the amount of vertical space between lines of text. You probably know it as spacing.


Leading is the amount of vertical space between lines of text. You probably know it as spacing.


Leading is the amount of vertical space between lines of text. You probably know it as spacing.

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Section FourInsert Graphics

example graph showing that new MCOM textbook increases life satisfaction

Sometimes the best way to communicate information is with graphics, not words.

If you are having trouble figuring out which kind of graphic will best display data, try using Andrew Abela’s handy tool Which Chart? Then download one of Juice Labs Chart Chooser free templates. We’ll cover the details of visualizing data and designing graphics in Chapter 11, but these resources can get you started.

Choosing a Graphic

To communicate about sequence, try a timeline or flowchart. For people, try a photo or org chart. For location, try a map, diagram, or floorplan. For data, try a table or chart. For a trend, try a line chart or bubble chart. For a topic, try an infographic. For an action or concept, try an icon.

Infographic resource: Canva. Database of icons: The Noun Project.

Anchor Your Graphics

Don’t just sprinkle graphics throughout your document; anchor, position, and interpret them.



Anchor graphics to the text by writing a clear reference in the body of your document. Give readers a context for what they are about to see and a reason to care about it.



Next, position graphics strategically so that the reader’s eye can quickly identify and locate the information you want to convey. When you insert a graphic, make sure you label it clearly and cite its source (citations are usually written in a small font at the bottom right).



Finally, know that inserting a graphic is not enough. You must interpret the meaning of your graphic for your readers. Help them see how your graphic adds to your argument. Move them from “What?” through “So What?” to “Now What?”

The following example demonstrates how to do all three:

Men’s Hair Length Is Growing


The most significant data comes from the measured length of men’s hair from the crown to the tips. Figure 1 shows those measures and an obvious trend toward longer hair.


The findings show that in the year 2012, hair length at Berkeley was five times the hair length at BYU. Years 2013 and 2014 saw an increase in that difference, reaching a maximum for the five years of more than 10 times the length of hair at BYU. Years 2015 and 2016 show the difference decreasing only slightly to a little more than six times the BYU hair length, with length at both universities remaining unchanged.

Not only do the findings support the premise that hair length of males at Berkeley is significantly longer, the findings also show a consistent difference; that is, for the five years of the study, hair length of men at Berkeley was always longer than that of men at BYU. Despite these differences, the data shows a key similarity in the growing trend of longer hair, relatively speaking.

Figure 1

A graph comparing men's hair length at BYU with men's hair length at Berkeley betweem 2012 and 2016. The hair length at Berkeley stays consistently much longer than at BYU. The hair length at both colleges increases during the five-year interval, though much more at Berkeley than at BYU.

Source:, May 2017

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ExampleExample BankStandard Document Formats

Business relies heavily on email, but printed business letters and reports are still used. In fact, as more communication becomes digital, the power and durability of a printed document makes it stand out.

Click through the following links to see examples of standard formatting and get some design ideas.


link to a report example


link to a business proposal example

White Papers

link to a white paper example

Traditional Letters

link to a traditional letter example

Need to type a memo? Standard Memo Format

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In Conclusion

Formatting a great-looking document takes time and practice, but the pay off is increased reader access . . . and increased credibility.

The next time you write a paper or create a handout, practice choosing fonts, writing headings, using white space, and inserting graphics.

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Bold citations are referenced in the chapter text.


Abela, A. “Chart Suggestions—A Thought-Starter.” The Extreme Presentation Method, September 6, 2006. Accessed February 2017.

Gaertner-Johnston, Lynn. “Write Better Executive Summaries.” Business Writing Blog, May 29, 2013. Accessed February 2017.

Kapterev, Alexei. “Which typeface should I use?” LinkedIn SlideShare, February 8, 2016. Accessed February 2017.

Nation Shudders At Large Block Of Uninterrupted Text.” The Onion, March 9, 2010. Accessed February 2017.

Poole, Alex. “Which Are More Legible: Serif or Sans Serif Typefaces?” Alex Poole Blog, February 17, 2008. Accessed Februrary 2017.

Strizver, Ilene. “Pull Quotes.” Accessed February 2017.


Catmull, Ed. Creativity, Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. New York: Random House, 2014.

Hagen, Rebecca, and Kim Golombisky. White Space is Not Your Enemy: A Beginner’s Guide to Communicating Visually through Graphic, Web, & Multimedia Design. Burlington: Focal Press, 2013.

Kosslyn, Stephen M. Graph Design for the Eye and Mind. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Tufte, Edward R. Envisioning Information. Graphics Press, 1990.


Butterick’s Practical Typography. “Home.” Accessed February 2017.

Canva. “Choosing the Right Font.” Accessed February 2017.

Canva. “Infographics.” Accessed February 2017.

Corporate Ipsum. “Home.” Accessed February 2017.

Google Support. “Add a title, heading, or table of contents in a document.” Accessed October 2017.

JuiceBox. “Chart Chooser.” Accessed February 2017.

The Noun Project. “Home.” Accessed February 2017.

Purdue Online Writing Lab. “Introduction to Grant Writing.” February 2017.

Purdue Online Writing Lab. “White Paper: Purpose and Audience.” February 2017.

Purdue Online Writing Lab. “Writing the Basic Business Letter.” February 2017.

Typeconnection. “Home.” Accessed February 2017.


Brown University Computer Education. “Google Docs: Working with Heading Styles,” YouTube, published February 9, 2012. Accessed October 2017.