Here's looking at you, text

I saw this advert on Twitter earlier, with someone noting it contained an 'orphan'.

Advert with orphan
Can you spot it?

stared at the advert for a while before I worked out (with a little help from the big G) what an orphan was and indeed where it was on the advert. Having done a little research I’m not sure that this is technically an orphan. But nevertheless once I'd spotted the lone word ‘soak’ on the third line, I couldn’t help but think the paragraph would read better without that unnatural break in the sentence.

It bothers me that it doesn't quite look right, and could so easily have been corrected!

It’s not just me, is it?

Why text should look good on the page

I am a great believer in making a page of text look good, whether it's a process document, an assignment, or a piece of copy being sent to a client for review. Just because it won’t be displayed in a glossy magazine, or on a 10 ft. billboard, doesn't mean your copy shouldn't stand up off the page and shout 'look at me!'

We are a shallow society, a lot of our first impressions are based on looks, and that extends to our choice of reading materials. If writing looks visually appealing, your customer is more likely to read it, and let's face it that is half the battle.

If a passage of text appears in front of me I will decide within a few seconds whether it looks like it might be interesting. Yes the headline is key, but so, too, is whether it is set out clearly so the subject can be digested easily, or whether it just looks like plain old hard graft. 

If it's the latter I'm afraid it's the dustbin (real or virtual).

Are you just as fickle?

Have a look at these examples:

Obviously they're gobbledygook, but given the choice, which would you be more likely to pick up and read?

Yes images would go a long way to help, but there are loads of other ways you can make text easier on the eye. 

9 tips for polishing a page of text

1. Break up long passages of text with subheadings

Well thought out subheadings:

  • Allow the reader to scan quickly down the page
  • Guide your reader through the content, setting out the story clearly and moving them on from one part to the next
  • Provide brilliant SEO (search engine optimization) opportunities. By including keywords in subheadings you can tell search engines what your content is all about and help them index it

Which leads us nicely on to:

2. Bullet points and numbering

As you can see in the example above, bullet points are a great way to split up information into bite-sized chunks or lists. These break up the text and create variety for the reader.

3. Fonts should be readable, not just pretty

Well, maybe a bit pretty…

When choosing a font your first thought should be what it will be used for.

If you are writing for print, a serif font like Times New Roman or Georgia creates distinctive lettering on the page, which makes it easy to read. Serifs are little extra lines / strokes attached to the end of the letters or symbols. If your text is to appear on a website choose a sans (or without) serif font such as Arial or Calibri.

Fonts such as Verdana and Tahoma have been designed to work well in either medium.

Don’t forget to always check how the font you have chosen looks in real life. If you are creating printed materials, print it off and take a look!

Sounds obvious doesn’t it?!

With a little care, you can experiment with mixing fonts (you could use a different one for subheadings maybe?). I love this blog from Canva, showing how fonts can be mixed to best effect. 

4. Don’t make your reader search for their specs…

…Or they might not bother!

Make sure the font size you choose is large enough to be easily read. Remember that some fonts are bigger than others so you can’t assume that a size 11 font, for example, will always be OK.

Print it off, have a look and if in doubt get a second opinion – preferably someone in your target audience. Or at least not a teenager with 20/20 vision!

5. Emphasise key points

Anyone familiar with word processing packages will know that there are tons of ways you can make parts of your text stand out.

You could use bold, italics, underlining, CAPS or colours.

These are all great ways to highlight key points and add a little interest. Don’t go overboard though – things can get very messy, very quickly!

6. Make space

Line spacing options
Like font size, this is a really easy way to up the ‘accessibility’ of your text, or how easy it is to read. Increasing your line spacing just slightly means there is more white space around your words and makes it look generally more pleasant!

Think of the difference between a house squished in the middle of a new housing estate, and one surrounded by rolling hills and you’ll get the idea.

7. Tidy up your text – beware the ‘rags’

Text alignment buttons
Most word processing packages and blogging software will have the option to align text to the left, the right, centre or justify.

Again this increases the white space around the text and gives it a little interest.

It’s worth noting that left-aligned text is the easiest to read because of the way your eye passes over the lines. However, you must remember to check the ‘rags’ – that’s the shapes made by the right-hand ends of the lines. They should not be too jagged and distracting. To tidy them up it is worth experimenting with margin or column width, and/or changing the odd word here or there.

Similarly, justifying text can create some really ugly gaps in sentences as it spaces the words out to fit. If you use this you will need to be prepared to go through in a similar way and alter some words to tidy the lines up a little.

8. Use headers and footers to display key information 

If you are creating a document to send to a client or tutor, headers and footers are great. They allow you to move information like titles, reference numbers and client information off the page, creating more space for your writing to shine.

Tip: In older versions of Word you will find ‘Header & Footer’ under the ‘View’ menu on your toolbar, but in newer versions it has been moved to the ‘Insert’ menu.

Don’t forget to include page numbers in your footers, and maybe even your contact details, for a professional touch.

9. Widows & Orphans

In the introduction to this blog I briefly mentioned orphans. Orphans and widows are sad little bits of text that get separated from their paragraphs.

The Chicago Manual of Style (quoted on Wikipedia) gives the following definitions:

There is a paragraph option in many word processing packages to control orphans and widows if you’re that way inclined. But it’s fairly easy just to keep them in mind, and make some adjustments if you spot any.

Make first impressions count

Your text may be the most brilliantly crafted piece ever written, evoking emotion in the audience and building relentlessly towards an awe-inspiring climax. But if a mere glance at the page sends your reader running for the hills, they'll never know, will they?

So next time you've finished a piece of writing, before you send it out for review or publication, print it off and hold it at arms length, or sit back from the screen and look at the page. What does it look like as a whole? Is it pleasing to the eye? Go through the list above and consider each element.

If there is anything that doesn't look right, it is well worth taking a moment to give it a little spit and polish. 
It certainly won't hurt your credibility and professionalism, and might even make you stand out from the crowd.

In a good way, not an orphan kind of way!


Are there any techniques you swear by for making sure your text always shines? I'd love to hear them below.

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