For companies, effective reading should be a fundamental employee skill. It only makes economic sense. Yet, it is overlooked and neglected.
At work, we need to read effectively, i.e., our reading must produce the desired result. It must help us directly, like when we read an email that requests something from us and we reply accurately and precisely. Or, it must help us indirectly, like when we have to refer to different sources to write a report.
Here’s what effective readers do when they read:
They gather information:
- The who, what, when, where and how
- What is fact and what is opinion
- Determine the meaning of a new word based on context
They quickly grasp what is stated:
- What is the single idea of the piece?
- How is the author supporting his thoughts?
- How are sentences and paragraphs organised for impact on the reader?
They understand what is not stated:
- Is the author being rude, angry, hopeful, indifferent, or critical?
- What conclusions does the author want the reader to draw?
Schools do their best to introduce the skill to us – they call it reading comprehension. Once we leave school, it needs to be taken to the next level in college and beyond. Unless we read for pleasure or study literature, that doesn’t happen.
We join the work force and encounter this situation: we send someone an email requesting information and what we receive is incomplete, inaccurate, or not what we asked for. We then spend time and effort to follow up with further emails or calls to get what we want. The reason this happens? The reader or the writer or both are not effective readers.
Here’s what effective readers become:
- Result-oriented writers – they write with the reader in mind
- Efficient and more productive workers – they save their company’s time and money
- Better communicators and consequently, better leaders
Companies should train their employees to be effective readers. Not only does it have a cascading effect on written and spoken communication, it also improves efficiency and morale within an organisation, and impacts the company’s bottom line. Effective readers make economic sense.
We are all writers now and we are writing on screens. We create email, tweets, blogs, business correspondence, reports, etc. As a writer, you should know that visual perception and graphic design plays an important part in keeping your reader engaged. Graphic designers know the significance of Gestalt principles in their work. To a writer, the most relevant aspect of graphic design is this:
“When human beings see a group of objects, we perceive their entirety before we see the individual objects … and even when the parts are entirely separate entities, we’ll look to group them as some whole.” (read more here)
This means your readers look at and process blocks of text in front of them even before they start to read. They are looking for patterns. If they can’t establish a visual logic and connectivity in what they are looking at, they may lose interest in your piece of writing. Or worse – they may read it and not understand the point you are trying to make.
So how can you pay attention to the graphic design aspect to keep your reader engaged? Here’s a checklist of design principles and how they apply to written text:
Balance: The visual weight of objects within your written piece
- Is there a balance between the text space, white space, and images?
- Have you divided the text using sub-headings or section headings?
- Are your paragraphs too large (imagine your reader scrolling on a cell phone)?
- Is your spacing between paragraphs uniform?
Proximity: How items are grouped and spaced
- Are your one-line paragraphs looking like disjointed thoughts. Connect them to make paragraphs or use bullets.
- Are images placed close to the text they are connected to?
- For a list or a set of instructions, can you use bullet points instead of a paragraph?
Alignment: Keep objects in line with one another
- Are your bullets and tabs properly aligned throughout your document?
- Are your images uniformly aligned throughout your document?
- In a table is all the text left aligned, right aligned, or centred? Are the numbers and decimal points aligned?
Repetition: Tie the design together by creating a rhythm throughout your document
- Are your paragraphs of the same size?
- Do your sub-headings or section headings match in terms of typeface (Arial, Times Roman, etc), style (bold, italics, etc.), and size (10, 12, 18, etc.)
- Do all your images have captions?
Contrast: Create distinction by drawing attention to differences
- Can one single idea or a key takeaway of your piece be represented in a quote, a box, or a sidebar?
- Are you using different fonts, font sizes, or styles to show a distinction between your headings and text?
White Space: Use blank space in and around your text to create elegance and help the reader focus
- Do you have margins around your text and images?
- Should you change your line-spacing?
- Ask yourself: “If the reader scrolls will he/she see enough white space?”
Keep it Simple: Less is more
- Does anything in your piece distract the reader – too much colour, too may gifs?
- Can you use fewer words to explain an idea?
- Will a picture, a graphic, or a table work better than a paragraph of text?
Writers write to share, to inspire, to coerce, and to connect. It is crucial that their readers are paying attention. Graphic design goes a long way in making that happen.