White Space – Make Something from Nothing

It Works Like Magic
When writing procedures, an ample use of white space can transform a cluttered confusing mess into a beautiful set of instructions. By increasing the readability (reading ease) of your procedures, you reduce confusion which helps your readers be more productive. The simple step of adding nothing (empty space) can magically create something (greater productivity).

Procedures - Confusion vs. Productivity
White Space is Not Wasted Space
White space is like a pause in conversation – it gives your eyes a place to rest. As in conversation, it’s good to take a breath now and then. White space makes the page inviting and pleasurable to the eye so readers don’t become overwhelmed. As a result, your instructions will be easier to understand, remember, and apply.

Consider the following examples:

Before
Here’s how to use keyboard shortcuts to copy and paste text within or between documents (Windows computers). First, position your cursor at the beginning of the text that you want to copy. Next, highlight a block of text by holding down the Shift key while pressing the Down and/or Right Arrow keys. You can then copy the highlighted text to the Windows clipboard by holding down the Control key while pressing the letter C (there will be no indication that anything happened). Next, position your cursor where you would like to copy the text. Finally, paste the copied text by holding down the Control key while pressing the letter V.After
Here’s how to use keyboard shortcuts to copy and paste text within or between documents (Windows computers):

  1. Position your cursor at the beginning of the text that you want to copy
  2. Highlight a block of text by holding down the Shift key while pressing the Down and/or Right Arrow keys
  3. Copy the highlighted text to the Windows clipboard by holding down the Control key while pressing the letter C (there will be no indication that anything happened)
  4. Position your cursor where you want to copy the text
  5. Paste the copied text by holding down the Control key while pressing the letter V

Notice how ordering this procedure under a forecasting sentence adds white space to the left margin and gives your eyes a welcome rest after each step. Though commonly used, a procedure in paragraph format is hard to follow. Which would you rather read?

Make it Easy for Your Readers
Remembering that we read from left to right and top to bottom, you can help your readers by adding white space in both directions. Ample side margins and indents make it easier to read left to right, while spacing between lines and paragraphs creates a comfortable flow from top to bottom. Don’t feel constrained by standard margin and paragraph settings. Procedures need more white space—often much more.

It’s All About Balance
The key to the effective use of white space is balance. Too little white space makes a page look busy and uninviting. Add too much and your page will appear desolate with questionable value.

When in doubt, add more white space and then step back to view the page as a whole. If it looks clean and inviting, you may just have made something from nothing.

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