5 Tips to Lay Out Your Documents Like a Professional

From time to time I pick up a call from someone needing help to make their letters and documents look professional. Often all it takes are a few small “tricks” we as designers have learned and you can too.

In this short overview, I’ve touched on the Top Five Tips to desk-top publishing your pages. Keep an eye out for future articles in this series, using basic design principles right from your computer.

Know your software – Though professional products like Adobe InDesign are worth the price and time to learn them – most of us have Microsoft Word at our fingertips. For basic desktop publishing, Word has all the features you’ll need right there beside the defaults you’ve become accustomed to.

  1. One space after a period – Say goodbye to two spaces! They’re leftovers from the days of typewriters and when used with computer fonts leave unsightly gaps on your page. Stop the gaps – and the change will be visible immediately!
  2. Type size – You’ve probably noticed that your type was set to a default size of 12 when you bought your software. For better legibility and a more professional look, drop to 11 points if you’re using Times New Roman and 10 for Arial. After a week, you’ll wonder how you ever used 12!
  3. Paragraph spacing – Are you still hitting the Enter key twice between paragraphs? Ouch! Nothing says non-designer like a huge double-line space between paragraphs. Starting in Word 2007, the default paragraph spacing is 10pt.  If you have upgraded, resist going back to the old defaults, and if you are using an older Word, set your paragraph spacing to 10pt.
  4. Line spacing – Now that your font size is a nice trim 11, open up that space between the lines! Your computer automatically determines the space. For quite some time this was “single space” or generally 20% of the font point size, but wider spacing opens up your page and makes reading easier. Again, starting in Word 2007 the default line spacing is 1.15, so no need to change this. If you aren’t using 1.15 line spacing, try it and surprise yourself!
  5. Justified type – This is where proper desktop publishing software and a skilled eye is needed so you don’t get huge gaps or jammed-in words on your beautifully laid-out page. Stick with a ragged-right edge!

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