When designing and developing written communication, remember the importance of selecting an easy to read font size, good spacing and a clear font type. This will make your written communication easier to read by all members of the public.
Key guidance in the design of documents includes:
Use a minimum of 12-point font size for comfortable reading generally. A person’s speed of reading increases as the size of text is increased.
Different fonts look bigger than others – the size of the ‘x’ is usually the best guide. If the size of the ‘x’ is small in the font you have chosen (such as Times New Roman), it is better to use a 14-point font.
Use a clear and easy to read font that people are familiar with and recognise easily. It is best to use clear, easy to read sans serif fonts like Verdana or Helvetica. Font style and font size will make written communication easier to read for members of the public.
Comparisons between easy and more difficult to read fonts are illustrated below:
Where possible, make your services usable by a wider audience by offering written communication in alternative formats, such as large print (14-point font or more), Braille or ‘easy to read’.
‘Easy to read’ is designed to be easier to both read and understand. It is of specific benefit for people with intellectual difficulties and may benefit younger readers and people with very low literacy levels. Typically, ‘easy to read’ content is supported by images and graphics that help explain the text.
Find out more about ‘ Information for all, ‘Information for all, European standards for making information easy to read and understand’.
People often scan through documents, brochures and letters, so it is useful to emphasise important information, headings or paragraphs of text.
The general guidance in emphasising important information is to:
People recognise the shape of familiar words, rather than reading each individual letter. Setting a word in CAPITAL LETTERS, italics or underlining distorts the shape of the word, which makes it more difficult to read, particularly for people with visual difficulties.
To show the importance of a word or parts of your text, use a bolder type weight or bigger sized text .
However, bold text should be used for emphasis rather than being used consistently in the main body of the text.
Text at an angle or following a curved line can be more difficult to read. People should not have to rotate your document to read it.
Avoid splitting a word between the end of one line and the beginning of another as it disrupts the flow of the text. When using Microsoft Word, and similar programmes, this can be controlled by turning off the hyphenate function.
Some organisations may develop their own templates with embedded accessible formatting for documents such as letters, reports and lists which can also be used to produce documents which will be published online.
For reports or documents that provide a lot of information, provide a structure for your document using:
To create a table of contents that’s easy to keep up-to-date in Microsoft Word or similar programmes, first apply heading styles – Heading 1 and Heading 2, for example – to the text that you want to include in the table of contents. Word finds those headings, uses them to build the table of contents, and can update the table of contents anytime you change the heading text, sequence, or level.
Accessible formatting prepares a document for online use. Learn more in Section 3: How to make accessible documents
Use a consistent layout for each section to make information easier to find for the user. Use recurring features; such as positioning headings, logos and page numbers in the same place in each section. This acts as a navigational aid for users. Use:
Avoid justified text as it can lead to large spaces of text between words. This can make sentences more difficult to read, particularly if a person uses text-to-speech software.
It is important that you do not overload readers with information. Therefore, it is recommended that each paragraph is limited to one idea.
The following considerations are recommended for paragraph formatting:
An image should either support the main body of text or be accompanied by a text caption explaining its significance. Images are particularly useful for readers who have literacy, numeracy or learning difficulties or where English is not their first language.
Some key guidance when using images includes:
Good use of white space instead of a cluttered page makes your text much easier to read.
Ensure your paragraphs have enough space between them. This measurement is controlled by the “Spacing - After” option in the “Paragraph” feature in Microsoft Word. 12-point spacing between paragraphs is generally a good choice.
Ensure that lines of text within a paragraph also have sufficient spacing. This measurement is controlled by the “Line spacing” option in the “Paragraph” feature in Microsoft Word. Single line spacing between one line and the next should be the minimum in the body of your text.
However, avoid line spacing of one and a half lines or more, as it is harder to read successive lines as a coherent text when they are too far apart.
The space between one line and the next is referred to as the leading. Generally, the leading should be at least 1.5 to 2 times the space between words on a line.
This is not the same as increasing the leading to 1.5 times the point size. This translates into something like 14-point set on 17 point leading, which is equivalent to the space of 2mm between each word and a spacing of 3.75mm between each line. Another example is 12-point set on 15 point leading.
If you are using columns make sure the space between the columns (the gutter) clearly separates them. Where the gutter is too narrow between columns, a person with visual difficulties may read straight across from one column to the adjacent one.
For text wrapped around an image, you should place the image on the right side of the page rather than the left. By placing the image at the right side of the page, it does not disrupt the flow of the text when the person is reading.
All images either should support the main body of text, or should be accompanied by a text caption explaining its significance.
For all documents, from letters and statements to brochures and reports, it is important that you consider the colours used, specifically, the colour of the text and the background. The selected colours affects how easy it is to read the information being communicated.
Key guidance on colour contrast is as follows:
The National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) provides a design approach for written communication in ‘Make It Clear’