Subject – Promotional Copy Writing
Written – 28 Jul 2014
Updated – September 2018
Copyright – Al Best
Layout, Style & Readability
It’s crucial that not only should your piece be easy to read it should also look easy to read. Here are a few simple rules:
Don’t use too many fonts on a page as it makes things look untidy and unprofessional. For visual clarity two or maybe three are all you need. You can create emphasis and variation by using a mix of font sizes and occasional bold text.
Decorative fonts are great for creating logos or adding impact to a headline such as this:
but please don’t use them for the body of your text. Below is an extreme example but it makes the point.
Serif & Sans Serif
Serifed typefaces are considered to be more legible than sans serif and many people will tell you that you should always use a serif type for the body of your writing and sans serif to emphasis the headlines. This may have been the case but things evolve and I no longer agree with this rather outdated idea. We have become very used to seeing sans serif used for body text and studies have shown that we have adapted to it. If you want to be traditional then follow the rule otherwise use what you feel looks best.
Early italics were introduced to cut down on the amount of space taken up by the type and later were used in place of underlining for emphasis.
Italics look good with certain fonts but don’t overdo it. Current thinking is that the use of italics can reduce readability by up to 50% and that’s something to avoid.
If you have a lot of text, don’t put it all into one big block. This gives the appearance of something that is going to be not only time consuming to read but also hard to read.
It looks daunting to the reader and quite often people will look at it and think, I haven’t got time for that now. Psychology labels this the ‘perceived cognitive cost’.
You get over this by breaking up your text into short well-spaced paragraphs. Small chunks of text are more inviting and your audience is much more likely to read what you have written. They look at the first small chunk and think, “I’ll just read this bit – it will be quick.”
Having read that first chunk, your AIDA style of writing should have them interested and they think, “I’ll just read this next small paragraph”. And so on …
For the same reason don’t allow your lines of text to be too long. If you are writing something to be read on a computer screen make sure the lines do not stretch from one side of the monitor to the other.
If you think about it, newspapers control line length by using columns. It makes things much easier to read. Imagine if the lines of text extended across the full width of a broadsheet page. It would become very hard to read without losing your place every time your eyes scanned from the end of one line to the start of the next.
I’m not suggesting you should use columns on your web site because this would mean scrolling up and down to get from the end of one column to the start of the next. But you should try to keep your line length in check.
Upper & Lower Case
Don’t use all upper case letters, it makes things hard to read and if you are writing for the Internet, web etiquette decrees it to be shouting. Take a look at this example:
I REMEMBER HIM AS IF IT WERE YESTERDAY, AS HE CAME PLODDING TO THE INN DOOR, HIS SEA-CHEST FOLLOWING BEHIND HIM IN A HAND-BARROW—A TALL, STRONG, HEAVY, NUT-BROWN MAN, HIS TARRY PIGTAIL FALLING OVER THE SHOULDER OF HIS SOILED BLUE COAT, HIS HANDS RAGGED AND SCARRED, WITH BLACK, BROKEN NAILS, AND THE SABRE CUT ACROSS ONE CHEEK, A DIRTY, LIVID WHITE. I REMEMBER HIM LOOKING ROUND THE COVER AND WHISTLING TO HIMSELF AS HE DID SO, AND THEN BREAKING OUT IN THAT OLD SEA-SONG THAT HE SANG SO OFTEN AFTERWARDS:
This takes more space than mixed case lettering and it has a higher perceived cognitive cost. More to the point, it just doesn’t look right. Here’s the same extract in mixed case:
I remember him as if it were yesterday, as he came plodding to the inn door, his sea-chest following behind him in a hand-barrow—a tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man, his tarry pigtail falling over the shoulder of his soiled blue coat, his hands ragged and scarred, with black, broken nails, and the sabre cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid white. I remember him looking round the cover and whistling to himself as he did so, and then breaking out in that old sea-song that he sang so often afterwards:
There’s an even more compelling reason to avoid using all caps. ‘TAKE A PHRASE LIKE THIS.’ If you trace a line around that sentence, following the tops of the letters dropping down at the final ‘s’ and then following the base of the letters you would draw a rectangle. No matter what words are there you get a rectangle.
Now use the same phrase in mixed case: ‘Take a phrase like this.’ If you follow the outline this time you will see that the ascenders and descenders of the text cause an irregular shape to be drawn. Each word and phrase makes a shape. It is this shape that the brain recognises and this makes for better readability.
Getting the reader to continue to the end
If your writing runs to a number of pages you can break a sentence across two pages so the reader has to turn the page to finish reading it.
To tantalise the reader; end chapters or sections with a taster of what’s to come in the next section. I can do that here by mentioning: colour also has an important role to play as you’ll see in the next section.
Don’t overdo it! Too many colours can cause distractions and again make reading harder.
Be wary of overlaying text onto coloured backgrounds. How many times have you picked up a brochure and found certain pieces of text hard to read because of the background colour?
Some suggest using around three colours, your main colour, a complimentary colour and a contrasting colour. There are colour scheme design websites which will help with this.
Remember that some people are colour-blind. Years ago I made the mistake of building a webpage with red text on a green background and that created problem for people with red-green colour blindness. Red-green is a very common and according to Wikipedia it affects 5% of males.
Back to Pictures
“A picture’s worth a thousand words” OK perhaps it can be but are they the right words? Make sure the picture is relevant to the theme of your writing and matches up with the words you’ve written.
Don’t be tempted to cram too many images on to one page, doing so makes the page look cluttered.
A photograph works best when it shows an activity taking place that is related to the text it is supporting. If the piece relates to a troupe of showgirls with the objective of getting work in cabaret floor shows then an action shot of the girls on stage, in their feathers, would be perfect. For a dance band you could use an action shot of the band at work and use a shot of a full dance floor to emphasise that particular beneficial outcome.
This article is copyright of Al Best @ folkrootslist.co.uk
You are more than welcome to use extracts from it it as long you include a link back and credit Al Best and Folk Roots List https://www.folkrootslist.co.uk/