Write in Visually Appealing Style/PEN/NPR
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WRITING USER-FRIENDLY DOCUMENTS


Write in a visually appealing style

We want our documents to help readers get information, comply with requirements, and apply for benefits with the minimum possible burden. Visually appealing documents are far easier to understand than more traditional styles.

Traditional government documents are often dense and confusing. Replace blocks of text with headings, tables, and more white space. You will help your reader by making the main points readily apparent and grouping related items together. Use a clear and uncrowded presentation and your readers will be more likely to understand what you want to convey. In turn, your readers will be more likely to do what you want them to do in their dealings with your agency.


How can you make your documents visually appealing?

With visual layout, you draw your readers' attention to information they need to know. Even though various government requirements, such as the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) format, constrain government writers in a number of ways, you can still take significant steps to make your documents visually appealing to the reader.


Use lots of informative headings

Headings attract your readers' attention to important information. They help readers find their way through a document and locate important points.

Pack each heading with lots of information. How often have you seen several different sections entitled "applications" or "appeals" in one set of regulations? Applications for what? Appeals of what? If you say "Applications for underground mining permits on public land" the reader knows exactly what you are talking about, and knows the difference between that section and another section entitled "Applications for a temporary use permit to transport cattle across public land."

On the other hand, headings should not be so long that they overwhelm the material in the section itself. (For more about informative headings, see "Use Lots of Informative Headings," page 20)


Write short sections

Short sections break up the material into easily understood segments and allow you to introduce a little white space. Short sections look easier to read and understand. Long sections can appear difficult and forbidding, even before someone tries to read them. (For more about section length, see "Divide Your Material Into Short Sections," page 21.)


Include only one issue in each designated paragraph

Limiting each paragraph to one issue gives the document a clean appearance and contributes to the impression that it is easy to read and understand. By presenting only one issue in each designated paragraph, you can use informative headings that reflect the entire issue covered by the paragraph. (For more about keeping paragraphs to one issue, see "Limit Each Paragraph to One Topic," page 22.)


Use vertical lists

Vertical lists highlight a series of requirements or other information in a visually clear way. Use vertical lists to help your reader focus on important material. Vertical lists--

  • Highlight levels of importance

  • Help the reader understand the order in which things happen

  • Make it easy for the reader to identify all necessary steps in a process

  • Add blank space for easy reading

(For more about vertical lists, see "Use Lots of Lists," page 23.


Use tested emphasis techniques to highlight important points

At the present time, the emphasis technique we discuss in this section apply only to letters. Emphasis techniques are useful to draw the readers attention to a line or two. You should use techniques like bold and italics which have been tested on readers; they draw the reader's attention to the area and are easy to read. You shouldn't use ALL CAPS which are much harder to read.

For more about the most effective and least effective techniques, see--

"Emphasis Techniques In Your Letters"


In Conclusion  ...

If you follow the suggestions we've outlined in this section, you'll make a major contribution to the success of your agency's documents. By writing clearly and in a visually appealing style, you'll help your readers understand and comply with your programs. Well-written documents will do a lot to improve reader satisfaction and earn praise for your agency.

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