Breathing for the Eyes: How to Improve Your Writing using White Space

Creative use of white space to present information about fonts.
Creative use of white space to present information about fonts. | Source

© 2011 by Aurelio Locsin.

Text that is dense and tightly packed suffocates the eyes like an avalanche. It is difficult to browse for quick readers and hard to follow for those wanting a more in-depth experience. If you momentarily look away from the page for some eye relief, it is difficult to return to the exact word or line you left. Adding white space to your layout avoids these problems by allowing the eyes to breathe.

White space refers to the blank lines and empty spaces that surround your text. You can arbitrarily employ this technique by pressing the spacebar to add blank characters or tapping the Enter key to insert blank lines. However, you can also use white space more organically in the following ways.

Break up long paragraphs.

Paragraphs with too many lines look like unbreakable walls of characters rather than comprehensible text. Rather than break through such barriers, readers are more likely to skip over such text and miss any important ideas you’ve buried there. Make your efforts more readable by splitting long paragraphs into lengths of five-to-seven lines each.

Items of equal importance in the following list of bullet shapes:

  • Bullets
  • Dashes
  • Asterisks

List of award medal types showing most to least imporant:

  1. Gold
  2. Silver
  3. Bronze

Use numbered and bulleted lists.

When you present three or more ideas together, break them up into lists at one item per line. This allows readers to quickly calculate the number of items, and to find each item immediately. Use bulleted lists to enumerate items of equal importance and numbered lists to show item importance or steps that must be performed in order. Examples are on the right.

Show how items are related through tables.

Tables are a graphical way to show relationships in rows and columns that may disappear if explained through text. You can make it easy to distinguish the information in tables by differentiating labels from information, perhaps by using bold characters. For example, consider how much text would be needed to explain the information shown by this table and the bold text designates the titles of rows and columns.

(click column header to sort results)
   
China  
India  
U.S.A.  
Population
1.3 billion
1.2 billion
312 thousand
Area in square miles
9.6 million
3.2 million
3.7 million
Gross Domestic Product in U.S. dollars
6.9 trillion
1.8 trillion
15 trillion
50th Wedding Anniversary
50th Wedding Anniversary | Source

Add graphic elements.

Graphic elements such as photos, video and diagrams count as white space because they give the eyes a break from words and characters. They also use a discrete and compact area to communicate ideas that may require several paragraphs of text. If necessary, you can clarify the graphic element with a short caption. Note, for example, the picture on the right.

  • What description does it evoke in your head?
  • How much text would it require to explain that instant evocation of ideas?
  • Does the caption improve or hinder your understanding of the picture?

You can find copyright-free pictures through the Advanced Search feature of Flickr.com under the Creative Commons section. As for videos, nearly all those at YouTube allow re-posting at any online site, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

Request

If you have any additional ideas for using white space to improve readability, please put them in the Comment field below. Thanks.

More by this Author


Comments 28 comments

JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 4 years ago from Deep South, USA

Excellent advice for making one's writing more readable. I would also like to add that black or other dark-colored backgrounds with white or light print are never easy to read. They're not quite as bad online as in print, but any published writing can be improved by keeping the text black on a white background. If you want to add color, save it for graphics and/or illustrations. Otherwise, a lot of us with older eyes just won't make the effort to read something that requires so much effort to see.

Thanks for an interesting Hub. Voted UP, Useful and Interesting.

Jaye


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

I absolutely agree JayeWisdom. First thing we learn with online writing is that black text on white background is the most readable combination. Thanks for stopping by.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

Another great hub full of useful information. Would add should be in the same font. Thanks for the advice.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

Thanks teaches12345. But could you clarify what you mean "be in the same font."


DIMIR profile image

DIMIR 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, United States

This is great and news-style themed too. The first rule is always to shorten paragraphs and keep the reader. great hub!


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

Excellent advice. Journalism is great training for online writing.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Thnak you, thank you, thank you. I have been saying these things to individuals to encourage them to improve the visual appearance of their Hubs. You have laid it all out beautifully.


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

Really good tips to keep in mind. I try to remember to give equal white space at the beginning and end of all capsules that come after the opening. Stillearning and now I'm going to pay more attention to what other hubbers are doing with their white spaces. Thanks!


Beth Pipe profile image

Beth Pipe 4 years ago from Cumbria, UK

Great advice. Most of us have a strong preference for images and graphics - and long passages of text are certainly a turn off for most people. Long passages of text remind me too much of boring books at school! Great hub!


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

White space is a really easy thing to implement to improve readability. Thanks for stopping by.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

Great advice for a newbie such as myself; it's something I never thought about...thank you!


iamaudraleigh 4 years ago

I have ADD and wear glasses for vision issues. Your hub will help me for both! Voted up!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA

You bring out so many good points about the importance of white space and how to use it. White space, or negative space, is just as important in the layout of our Hubs as it is in any art. In writing for the web, we must be able to produce pleasing layouts if we want our writing read. Thanks for the great pointers!


Ruchira profile image

Ruchira 4 years ago from United States

Yes, I agree with the above, Alocsin :)

Being a Technical writer, this is the first few things they taught me in class :)

the above is very important for any writer and I am gonna share it :)


Curiad profile image

Curiad 4 years ago from Lake Charles, LA.

Great tips alocsin! These are all very useful especially for new writers, but then those of us that have been writing need to remember too !

Great Job, Voted Up!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

Terrific job in outlining the best approach for presenting hubs that people will actually want to read.

I see many beginners who write LONG text capsules that seem to go on forever with no breaks. Once one learns these easy tricks, people are likely to stay on the page and actually finish reading a hub.

Thanks! Up and useful and sharing this so that others can learn and start utilizing your tips for a more pleasing hub.


Pamela N Red profile image

Pamela N Red 4 years ago from Oklahoma

Great tips. I wish more people would take your advice. I often skip over articles that seem to be one long paragraph.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

When I see hubs that are text walls, Peggy W, I click "Next."


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

Most often I do the same unless it truly caught my attention and keeps it while I am reading...but that is rare. Your tips are worth following.


iamaudraleigh 4 years ago

People are writing good stuff tonight! This is quite helpful to me! Great piece to reference! Voted up and shared!


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

Great ideas alocsin, yes I know what you mean about the block text stuff, too much writing in one space is hard to read, voted up! cheers nell


mary615 profile image

mary615 4 years ago from Florida

Thanks so much for another informative Hub! I agree. I see many Hubs that are just one long page, and that does get boring and hard to read. I'm getting very aggravated with Time magazine right now. Their texts are so hard to read because of the color. I'll take black and white anytime.

I voted this UP, and will share.


Docmo profile image

Docmo 4 years ago from UK

Truly sensible information, clearly presented, well organised and follows the same lessons this hub is trying to teach. A masterclass in the thinking behind layouts and formatting, alocsin. well done indeed. I would also add the use of dividers, and illustrations that have a lot of white in them. this creates white space within illustrations ( kinda like the line drawings) and I have experimented with them and found them aesthetically pleasing and attracts more readership ( like my winnie the pooh hubs)


Brett.Tesol profile image

Brett.Tesol 4 years ago from Somewhere in Asia

Great tips Alocsin,

I tested this out on some hubs a while back. It work really well, to the point I edited all my old hubs, adding 2 lines of blank space between paragraphs and splitting up those large mounds of text.

Sharing this helpful reminder to consider your audience! up and useful.


moonlake profile image

moonlake 4 years ago from America

Good information. Enjoyed your hub. Very interesting. Voted up


rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

Very useful hub Aurelio. Indeed some writings look like a never ending wall. Breaking one's writing into readable paragraphs with correct use of titles and white space leads one to a so much more comfortable reading experience.

Voted up and useful. Shared it too.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

Bullseye! If we can all remember. I know when I see text that goes on and on I have a tendency to skip it. Nell Rose had a hub about the triangle people read through...looking for the most important things at the beginning of the hub and narrowing down, that with the addition of the white space makes for a more readable hub.

You always steer us in the right direction!

Voted up, useful, interesting and shared.


zsobig profile image

zsobig 4 years ago from United Kingdom

Very-very useful informations, people tend to forget they help not only themselves, but other fellow hubbers too if they make their hubs more reader friendly, so people can just sometimes skip to the points they are interested in.

Voted up!

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working