More of What Readers Want

Successful nonfiction writing depends upon the quality of your content, your accurate understanding of your readers, and the presentation of your work.

Once your readers have started reading, the last thing you want them to do is stop reading before they come to the end.

In my earlier blog, I made some comments about the importance of the visual aspects of your document.
Anything that even begins to look as though it will be ‘too hard’ to read will quickly be discarded.
Breaking up the text (using headings, lists, bullet points, indents) leads to comfortable chunks that will encourage your readers to continue on.

So what other visual help can you give your reader?

  • Use colour (if appropriate), bolditalic or SMALL CAPS to draw attention to the points you want to highlight. But please confine the use of all capitals to headings if you really like using them. I once received a two-page letter in all caps… needless to say, it went into the ‘read it later when I’ve got the patience to work through it’  basket.
  • Keep the breaks between paragraphs, points in a list, before and after tables or graphs, and headings consistent. It helps to create a rhythm and avoids jarring your readers’ sense of balance.
  • Choose your typeface wisely. It’s been suggested by some experts that using a typeface with serifs enhances the reading process. Serifs are those little ‘legs’ at the bottom of letters, and are supposed to give your eye a straight line to scan and keep you on track. Times New Roman is my favourite serif typeface, while Arial is a frequently used sans-serif typeface (without serifs).
  • Consider what font size to use. Take time to think about your readers and what font size will be most comfortable, especially taking into account any background colours you might be using. This is particularly important when your document is to be printed… readers won’t be able to enlarge the page as can be done on screen.
  • Complex information is often best presented as a table, graph, photo or illustration. It will take less time than wading through text that’s trying to explain the information. Again, it will help break up the text into more readable chunks.
  • Consider using an appendix, footnotes or endnotes if you need to provide supporting or further material, rather than expecting your readers to work through it all.

We’ll continue this conversation as I give you other hints to keep your readers interested in your writing.

What have you found useful to keep your readers engaged and responsive?

In the meantime, contact me to find out how I can help you be confident that your writing is clear, engaging and sharp.

editing, proofreading for nonfiction writing
Sharp writing.

5 thoughts on “More of What Readers Want

  1. The fonts you mention are two of my favourites, as well as Verdana. It’s been suggested one shouldn’t use mire than tw different fonts in a document, at most three. What do you think about interchanging fonts in the one document?

    1. Hi Catherine, lovely to hear from you.

      For business and technical documents, I advocate keeping it simple. Generally, the most I recommend is one for the headings, another for the body text, and (very occasionally) another in tables or graphs.

      I feel there are enough variations available with font size, bold and italics to keep the reader’s focus. While many say they don’t notice changes in typefaces, I think our brain registers and begins to feel too uncomfortable with the lack of consistency. Part of a successful non-fiction work is consistency, and therefore predictability.

      In marketing materials and fiction, there’s room for variation and experimentation. Anyway, that’s my opinion 🙂

  2. A question, provocative or otherwise, encourages engagement with the reader. Some questions are better than others however, it is one way to either engage or at least get the reader thinking about the content in their own context.

    Another great post with useful tips! Thanks, Desolie!

    1. Yes, Sally, that’s something I’ve learnt recently – it works particularly well for social media. I know I’ve been challenged about many topics because of that one, pointed question.

      So keep the questions comingm Sally.

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