A Readability Checklist for Writers, Designers and Approving Managers
Because improved readability leads to more reader engagement, which, in return, generates more response (aka opens, clicks, calls, shares, retweets, leads, orders and dollars), we're doing a follow-up to our recent article on encouraging cross-channel reader engagement.
We're a Midwestern writer and East Coast designer whose livelihoods depend on increasing response. We know from experience readability and engagement have every bit as much to do with how words are presented as the message the words themselves convey. And yes, we know for a fact: readability does lead to engagement.
The following do's and don'ts checklist provides tips for increasing readability from both a writer's and a designer's perspective. Feel free to share and let us know what you think. (We love response!)
Your Readability Checklist
• Too Close: Probably the most common design problem affecting readability is running text or graphics too close to the edge of a page, gutter or another column. Doing this makes the "page" (digital or print) feel crowded — too close for comfortable reading.
Generally, you want to leave at least 1/2" to 5/8" between the edge of your text or graphics and the edge of the page and gutters. For neighboring columns you also need to give comfortable breathing space that depends on the layout. White space provides a comfort zone for the reader's eye.
• Too Long: When a line of text goes beyond 40-60 characters or 9-12 words, the eye has difficulty tracking from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. Readers look at words in groups of 3-4, which is why a shorter line length contributes to greater readability.
Studies show people will make 3-4 pauses while reading a line before getting tired and, frankly, giving up. (Hmmm ... do you think this may be why attorneys write using a longer line length?)
Patrick Fultz is the President/CCO of DM Creative Group, a creative marketing firm producing work across all media. He’s an art-side creative, marketing strategist, designer and lover of all things type. His credentials include a degree from Parsons School of Design with 15 years of teaching at his alma mater, over 40 industry creative awards, and he previously served as President of the John Caples International Awards. Always an innovator, Fultz was credited with creating the first 4-color variable data direct mail piece ever produced. He continues to look for innovative ways to tap the powerful synergy of direct mail, the web, digital and social media.