As a copyeditor, I work on a wide variety of articles every week, some so well written my jaw drops in awe.
Occasionally one that needs a little more work.
Sometimes it’s the words the words they choose. Sometimes it’s that the author, who may be a genius at a specialty I’ve never even heard of, just doesn’t know enough about grammar and usage.
But sometimes it’s the way the article looks — the physical layout and setup. It’s the first impression that I get, and if it looks like an 8-year-old wrote it …
Luckily there are a few things that can help almost anyone have their writing look like something that’s worth reading. And they’re all mechanical, so they’re easy for most of us to implement.
Be consistent with your sentence spacing. The standard, which has been mostly accepted over the last 20 + years, is one space between sentences. I know that a lot of writers still use two, and I did for a long time. I finally gave in. But here’s the thing: It’s either one or two spaces between them. Never three or four or five.
Use either one period at the end of a sentence or three (if you’re using the ellipsis mark), not two or four or five.
Be careful about breaking words into syllables at the end of a line. Too many hyphens trailing down the right side looks awful, especially if you’re only leaving two or three letters before the hyphen. In those cases, put the whole word on the next line.
Limit your use of italics, which look fussy when it’s all a reader sees. Italics are fine under a picture or as a way to highlight a word, especially on social media platforms that may not have many formatting options. But please exercise restraint.
Break your paragraphs! Huge blocks of text — more than about 8 or 9 lines — are very hard to read; they look intimidating and it’s too easy to get lost in the middle of them. The simplest way is to put one blank line between them. It makes each paragraph stand out, and it gives your readers a moment to rest.
Leave your right margin ragged (as my article is here). Stay away from justifying your right margin unless you think you must. (And if that’s the case, call me. I’ll talk you out of it.) Justifying it means the spacing between words may not be the same line to line; all the words have to fit within a prescribed area, and sometimes — in the worst cases — there may be just one or two words on the line with huge spaces between them.
This is another example of “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” The yellow highlights on the justified block show the excess space that is created with too few letters to fill the space.
And surprisingly, justified text is very hard for those who are dyslexic, due to what is called a “river effect,” that of flowing water through the text. Click here for more.