19 Ironclad Rules for Readable Communications
David Ogilvy on Readability:
1. Avoid gray walls of type.
2. A display subhead of two or three lines between your headline and your body copy will heighten the reader’s appetite for the feast to come.
3. After two or three inches of copy, insert your first mini-headline, and thereafter pepper mini-headlines throughout. They keep the reader marching forward. Make some of them interrogative, to excite curiosity in the next run of copy.
4. An ingenious sequence of boldly displayed boldface mini-headlines can deliver the substance of your entire pitch to glancers who are too lazy to wade through the text.
5. Type smaller than 9-point is difficult for most people to read.
6. Break up the monotony of long copy by setting key paragraphs in boldface or italic.
7. Insert illustrations from time to time.
8. Help the reader into your paragraphs with arrowheads, bullets, asterisks and marginal marks.
9. Never set your copy in reverse (white type on a black background) and never set it over a gray or colored tint. The old school of art directors believed that these devices forced people to read the copy; we now know that they make reading physically impossible.
10. If you use leading between paragraphs, you increase readership by an average of 12 percent.
11. If you have a lot of unrelated facts to recite, don’t try to relate them with cumbersome connectives; simply number them, as I am doing here.
Denny Hatch Picks Up Where David Ogilvy Leaves Off
12. How Long Should a Sentence Be?
—Clipping from a Virginia Newspaper from subscriber Scott Huch, who taped it on his desk lamp 30 years ago. Below is the text:
“Tests have shown that a sentence of eight words is very easy to read; of 11 words, easy; of 14 words, fairly easy; of 17 words, standard; of 21 words, fairly difficult; of 25 words, difficult; of 29 or more words, very difficult; so this sentence with 54 words, counting numbers, is ranked impossible.”
13. I instinctively count the words of every long sentence I write. Any sentence longer than 29 words is either trimmed or split up.
14. For body copy in print communications, use a serif font.
15. Digital body copy should be sans serif.
16. “Ideal width of a line on paper: Anything from 45 to 75 characters is widely-regarded as a satisfactory length of line for a single-column page set in a serifed text face in a text size. The 66-character line (counting both letters and spaces) is widely regarded as ideal.” —Robert Bringhurst, Elements of Typographic Style
17. “To determine line length for optimum readability, a good guideline is between nine and 12 words for unjustified text. Fewer words may cause the sentence structure to break up, and may also result in too many hyphenations. Both of these reduce readability. Conversely, a line with more than 12 words can become tedious to read. Additionally, a reader can easily get lost when going from the end of one long line to the beginning of the next, and may inadvertently reread the same line, or miss a line or two.” —Ilene Strizver, founder, The Type Studio
18. Online Readability: “Line widths should be 50 to 75 characters including spaces.” —Christian Holst, Baymard Institute
19. The 50 most frequently looked-up words by readers of The New York Times (1/1/2010 through 5/26/2010)(Alphabetically, not by number of look-ups)
Note: If you use any of these, chances are good your reader may leave you to look it up. The thread is interrupted and maybe you’ve lost a reader.
alacrity — antediluvian — apoplectic — apostates — atavistic — austerity — baldenfreude — canard — chimera — comity — crèches — cynosure — démarche — desultory — egregious — epistemic — ersatz — feckless — hegemony — hubris — incendiary — inchoate — Internecine — jejune — Kristallnacht — laconic — Manichean — mirabile dictu — nascent — obduracy — obstreperous — omertà — opprobrium — overhaul — peripatetic — polemicist — prescient — profligacy — profligate — provenance — putative — redoubtable — renminbi — sanguine — sclerotic — solipsistic — soporific — sui generis — ubiquitous — verisimilitude
Takeaways to Consider:
- Many academics, scientists, lawyers, P.R. Practitioners, database gurus, millennials and — above all — the Roberts Supreme Court are incapable of writing terse, to-the-point, readable prose.
- This column is for them.
Denny Hatch is marketing consultant, copywriter and designer. The author of four novels and 7 business books, his newest is Write Everything Right!
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Denny can be reached at:
email@example.com • www.dennyhatch.com