13.06 Layout and design

Readers, especially members of the public, are more likely to read and use documents that are designed with plain language principles in mind. You can make your document more appealing visually and easier to read by removing obstacles to communication in various ways:

Choose appropriate type. Serif typefaces (such as Times Roman and Palatino), which have small lines at the ends of the letter strokes, are easier to read because they direct the reader’s eye from letter to letter. Serif faces are therefore recommended for text, while sans-serif typefaces, such as Helvetica, provide contrast when used in headings.

The size of the type should generally be at least 10 points. Twelve-point type or larger may be required for readers with visual impairments.

Use open space. Provide extra white space around headings, lists, boxes and other visual elements to draw attention to the information in them.

Leave one extra line space between paragraphs if you are using the block format (see 10.02 Block style). If using the indent style (see 10.03 Indent style), do not leave an extra line space, except in correspondence.

Break information down into lists, introduced by bullets or numbers. This opens up the document and guides your readers.

Words in lower case have distinctive shapes that are easy to recognize. Entire lines of capitalized text are difficult to read because the letters are all the same size. Similarly, left-justified text, with a ragged right edge, is more readable. In text with a justified right margin, the spacing between letters and words can be irregular and difficult to control, and the eye becomes tired from having to adjust constantly.

Create contrast. Use headings, subheadings and visual elements to produce contrast and lead your readers through the document. Colour and varied styles and sizes of type can also help create contrast. However, excessive use of lines, colours and visuals may distract readers’ attention from your message.