It’s disconcerting when I see any form of printed communication with obvious disregard of format and style, and it bugs me even more to see this in business materials. The message could be brilliant and well-crafted, but if the overall presentation of the material is sloppy, that message could be weakened – and opportunity lost.
I am particular about using proper formatting and style for any written form of communication, whether a business plan, award submission, letter, grant application, social media post and so on. Perhaps I had an advantage because when I was in high school, typing and business classes were required (and yes, I’m dating myself) and this was basic information that we learned.
Some things to consider about proper style and format of your materials are:
- What are the margins set at? What is the line spacing and can the reader easily see when a new paragraph or section starts?
- Is font usage consistent throughout the piece? Is the font style too fussy and hard to read? Is it too large or too small? Use a crisp and clean font, generally 11 or 12 size, for basic correspondence and marketing materials. Bear in mind that when emailing a document, if the recipient doesn’t have the same font, another font will be substituted and that could also affect the layout and appearance – so don’t get fancy!
- Are your considering your audience? If your materials are geared to older adults, it’s especially important to use a crisp, easy-to-see font. I like Arial and Calibri in an 11 or 12 font size.
- Is there empty white space that could be used – or similarly, is more white space needed so your content is not all jumbled together?
- Is it overkill to both bold and underline text? Yes! I can’t think of a professional circumstance when this would be appropriate and yet it does happen.
- Are you using punctuation properly? Use your spell and grammar check when you are done writing.
- Do you know that generally numbers one through nine are written out, and that it’s also appropriate to write out numbers that are no more than two words; e.g., twenty-two? However, be consistent. Don’t write thirty-three in one sentence and then 34 in another within the same document.
- In fact, specific formatting and style is often required of submitted materials, such as an application narrative for graduate school, technical papers, and more – and ignoring style and formatting criteria can lower the overall score of the written piece.
In closing, don’t lose points or potential clients through printed materials that are not well formatted. If you need another set of eyes to review an important document before it is sent out, use it.