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First impressions do matter when it comes to presenting information

11-11-2021|Anthony Gougeon

As the funding partner of choice, we understand that keeping business moving requires not only the right funding at the right time, but also the right support. That’s why we regularly share tips from our teams in articles, webinars and on social media. Today, Legal Counsel Alice Kirk explores the dos and don’ts of formatting written documents and why it’s not just about what it says, it’s also about how it looks.

You might be surprised that as a lawyer, I’m suggesting that whilst the content should be accurate and even informative, the key to making any document great, lies in the presentation of the information! Rewind over 10 years ago when I first qualified as a solicitor, I was given a formatting masterclass from one of the partners.  Up until then, my focus had been on the content first, followed by the formatting, perhaps as an afterthought.  The partner made me see that one very much compliments the other and since that day, for want of a better expression, I’m a bit of a dog with a bone on this topic!

“Get the formatting right and you’re halfway there”

That’s what my partner at the time said to me, adding that the contents had to of course be correct but if I did not present it properly and in a way which was easy to read and understand, then I might as well not bother.  Content and formatting go hand and hand.

To illustrate my point, here is an extract from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:

“Walking to school in the mornings, Charlie could see great slabs of chocolate piled up high in the shop windows, and he would stop and stare and press his nose against the glass, his mouth watering like mad. Many times a day, he would see other children taking bars of creamy chocolate out of their pockets and munching them greedily, and that, of course, was pure torture.”

This extract is easy to read, same font, well presented… Now, below is the same extract, but looks very different:

“Walking to school in the MORNINGS, Charlie could see great

SLABS of chocolate piled up high in the shop windows, and he would stop and stare and press his nose against the glass, his Mouth Watering Like Mad. Many times a day, he would see other children taking bars of creamy chocolate out of their POCKETS and munching

them greedily, and that, of course, was pure torture.”

Who would produce such a document I hear you ask with all the different fonts and the paragraphs all in the wrong place?  This example is a little extreme perhaps and a publisher probably wouldn’t publish a book looking like this, but I have seen many a document where the font isn’t the same throughout, the numbering decides to jump from 10 to (c) and there has been a bit of random highlighting thrown in there too, just for good measure.

So why is getting the formatting right so important?

Three of the key reasons, in my view, for getting formatting spot on are that

  • it shows your attention to detail and that you have taken some time to consider how to present the information to your audience
  • your reader is more likely to read the contents of the letter or contract you are sending through rather than being distracted by the poor formatting
  • people are more likely to take you seriously.

It doesn’t matter whether you are drafting a contract between two multinational companies, a letter demanding repayment of monies, an email or preparing a presentation with pie charts and text, the rules are the same.  You (and by that I mean everyone) should always consider the formatting and how you present information and I mean exactly that, the font, justified or not, paragraphs on the page, spacing.  Look at your document as a whole; does it “look” good?  Is the main message you wanted to convey clear and not lost in the middle of a paragraph?

Sharing a few Tips!

I’m no formatting or IT expert, however I have set out below a few handy points to use:

  1. Check for any company house styles. Perhaps a template is available for what you are drafting;
  2. Use the tools at your disposal – for example, Word is a great tool and has several formatting tools available – the format painter is very useful – have a go but be consistent once you have chosen a style!
  3. Be careful when you are copying and pasting text. I choose the “Keep text only” option most of the time which means only the text is pasted, not the formatting.  If you don’t, then you risk importing other formatting into your document which can really mess up (technical IT term!) your document;
  4. Look at the document in “print view” (word) or in “slide show view” (PowerPoint). You will soon pick out anything that “sticks out”;
  5. While this isn’t strictly formatting, it does follow on … do a spell check – it’s so easy to do and will pick up any obvious spelling but also grammatical errors.

If you have any more formatting tips, feel free to share them with us on LinkedIn! In the meantime, it’s back to work and chocolate daydreaming for me!

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