Business Writing Essentials
Style

Presentation

What is the best way to present text on a page or screen? There is no single answer. It's subjective.

Study documents at work. Which ones are easy to read? Which ones aren't? In the difference, you will discover your own guidelines for presenting text that is easy to read.

Here are three easy steps that can change dense blocks of text into clearly-presented content: loosen, layer, and list.

Loosen

People expect dense text in a novel, something they read when they have plenty of time. At work, few people have the luxury of time. Information should be presented in logical chunks, in physically-separated blocks. When you can, break up long paragraphs into shorter ones, and put extra vertical space between them.

Layer

A document with layered content allows busy people to read only parts of it but still get the gist of it. A typical way to do this is with narrative headings in bold font.

List

Busy readers at work are much more likely to read through a group of similar items if they are reformatted from paragraph form into a list.

Also, vertical spaces, bold font, and horizontal indents can all be used to quickly convey "where we are" in the hierarchy of the layered content. Busy readers will thank you!

Give it a try: Imagine you work as a benefits administrator in a Human Resources department. You must alert all employees to changes in benefits, and you must explain to them how to change their benefits if they want to do so. You wrote a rough draft:

The yearly Open Enrollment for benefits is coming up soon. Please note that new options are available in your benefits. For example, you can opt out of the medical plan if you are already covered by a spouse's plan. Also, you can choose from a wider variety of life insurance payouts. Even the dental plan is changing: employees can now get dental surgery coverage for their family.
    Now is your chance to change your benefits. We recommend that you first find out about new options available to you by reading our website. After that you can get a copy of form HR505, fill it out in its entirety, sign it, date it, and send it to me. You must submit the form during Open Enrollment, the first five working days of October.

Now loosen, layer, and list to improve readability:


New options are available in your benefits, which you can change during Open Enrollment.

What are the new benefits?

Important new benefits include the following:

    • You can select from a wider variety of life insurance payouts.

    • You can extend dental surgery coverage to your spouse and children.

    • You can opt out of the medical plan if you are already covered by your spouse's medical plan.

How do I change my benefits?

We recommend you do the following:

    1. Learn more about your options by reading the internal HR website.

    2. Fill out all sections of form HR505, then sign and date it.

    3. Submit the form during Open Enrollment, which is during the first five working days of October.


Choices about presentation are subjective. They can also be cultural. What might be appropriate in a design firm may not be appropriate in a government agency. This course isn't the final authority: your coworkers are, especially if some of them maintain a writing style manual for the organization.

Psychologists conclude that reading is a dynamic process in which readers actively organize the material in a way that makes sense to them. And if you present them with dense text, they will eventually give up trying to understand what it is you have to say. Some writers assume that if certain readers didn't get it, those readers were lazy. Try not to fall into that trap; it's the trap of the lazy writer. This paragraph was rather long; perhaps you got bored and began to lose interest.

Lesson: Presentation
Module: Style
Course: Business Writing Essentials