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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.