Monday, November 9, 2009


Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
    My colleagues and I have been writing learner reports this week. We follow convoluted procedures to ensure no parts are missed. The process is to provide effective feedback.

I reminded myself of the complexity of it all by sneaking a look at instructions that were circulating the office. The directions were clear, linear and easy to follow.

But I had a busy confusion going on in my head as I read them.
I was looking at a block of text that filled a page.

Balance of objectives

In the days when printed instruction was it, squeezing as much text and other information as possible onto a page met some objectives. There is merit in only one page of instruction. Selecting a smaller font-size was a trick I’d seen for ‘getting it all onto one page’.

But at that time, the Science and Art of developing easy-to-follow learner instruction was well known by experienced educators. They knew that ease-of-reading and learner-interest didn’t necessarily follow when information was packed so tightly into a page that you couldn’t put your finger down on bit of white space.


White space became a prerequisite for a ‘good looking’ page of instruction. Born out of the look and colour of a blank sheet of plain A4, the ‘white space’ practice was carried, almost to extremes, by some writers and designers who actually shunned text – minimalists who’d trim even a brief, well written instruction.

Margins were widened, headers and footers were deepened.
Text quantity was limited per page.

Tricks and impressions

One trick often used, when no more text culling could be performed on an important block of text, was to emulate the impression of white space by selecting a very pale font colour.

    In this way, otherwise unwanted text could be merged into the background. Of course, it defeated the purpose of providing instruction, for it was almost impossible to read.

No, I’m not knocking white space. It works well when used properly.
It lends itself to good web design and elearning resource design. The look and form of a blog post page can even be improved by applying it.

Techniques I’ve found that reduce the busy look of a page of text are:

  • short paragraphs most readers find spaces between small blocks of text easier on the eye

  • double space around blocked text or images an image can be aesthetically framed by a border of text-free space; the effect is more pleasing and restful on the eye

  • brief subheadings these create chunks of text-free space by default.

You may have other techniques for improving the look of a page.

Why not share some of them here?

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later


V Yonkers said...

I try to have someone else go over any instructions I write. While it all makes sense in my head, it doesn't always mean that others will follow.

I also use numbers, indents, and bolding to make it easier for key words to jump out for the skimmer.

I also think examples help. I usually put examples into a different font so it is obvious that it is different information.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Virginia!

Yes it's always good to get another opinion about the look of a page.

You mention numbers and indents, presumably bullets would fall into this set as well? All good for breaking up blocks of text and providing the eye-relief. Anything to make inroads to a thick black block of text.

It's all good!

Catchya later