I don’t know about you, but have you ever read a text and really loved what it was saying, but something just felt . . . off? You couldn’t really put your finger on it, but it just seemed a little bit difficult to read even though the words and sentences were simple enough. Sound familiar?
Well, the problem was most likely something to do with its formatting. In my experience this is something that often just gets missed when we create texts. You may not realise it, but appropriate formatting is absolutely crucial in getting your messaging across to your students and clients in a way that actually makes sense to them.
What is formatting and what does it include?
When we talk about a text’s formatting, we just mean the way it’s organised or presented to our audience. We can think of formatting as three things:
- A text’s medium
- A text’s physical properties
- Other supplementary aids
The medium just means the way we express our meaning. This could be a letter, SMS, email, podcast, video, infographic, physical sign, or insert a million other mediums. If it’s something you can consume as content, then it’s a medium!
The physical properties just means the actual attributes of the text. This could be its physical size if it’s a poster, a certain amount of minutes if it’s a video, a certain file size if it’s a podcast, or a certain file type if it’s a digital document.
Lastly, the highly technical “other supplementary aids” just means the extra parts of a text that aren’t the words. These parts help to support the text get its meaning across or achieve its intended outcome. Depending on the text type, this could be headings, lists, tables, photos, pictures, graphics, music, silence, or hyperlinks. Even blank space is a formatting tool we can use!
What function does formatting have?
As writers, speakers, creators, and educators, formatting our texts helps us immensely. It makes the creation process so much easier. Why? There’s two reasons:
- We get an opportunity to plan our texts.
- We get to decide how our audience consumes our information.
When we stop and think about a text’s formatting first, we get a chance to plan our texts before diving into creation mode. This helps us to organise our ideas into some logical sense, which makes our text flow better. This also gives our audience a better experience because our ideas naturally flow on from each other, so our audience doesn’t feel like they’re jumping all over the place getting motion sickness from it all!
Considering our text’s formatting also gives us the opportunity to decide how we want our audience to consume or interact with our text. This is a really great bonus we get when we think about our formatting before actually writing the text, but it’s something that is often overlooked.
I’m a massive believer in stepping out of your comfort zone, shaking things up a bit, and continuing to be innovative with the way we deliver information. When we stop to think about the medium, properties, and supplementary aids for our texts, we get an opportunity to say “hang on, we’ve always done it like this, but is that actually working or is there a better way to do this?”.
Why is appropriate formatting necessary?
Appropriate formatting is SO important in every text we create. We don’t realise how important this is, so we often skip it or don’t even give it a second thought. It doesn’t matter whether your text is written in the plainest of plain English. If it’s not in a format that resonates with your audience or is appropriate for them, then all that hard work has just gone out the window.
There are 4 main reasons why appropriate formatting is necessary. When your formatting is appropriate, your audience:
- Can understand your content
- Is engaged with your content
- Can interact with your text in the way you want or need them to
- Wants to interact with you and your school or business more
Having appropriate formatting is a win-win situation for everyone! It really just makes life easier and makes sure that all the hard work you’ve done in writing, creating, or recording your text doesn’t go to waste. Could you imagine spending hours upon hours creating an amazing document, video, or worksheet for your students only to have them not be able to use it?
Appropriate formatting is often the missing piece when it comes to creating texts that your clients and students actually use, so don’t forget about it.
How do I format my texts effectively?
There are three things you need to do so you can format your texts well. You need to:
- Identify your audience and their needs
- Identify and plan which formatting strategies are most appropriate for your audience
- Format your text and actually do the work
The first and definitely the most important thing you need to do is to identify your audience and their needs. Your audience will have different needs according to who they are, so it’s important to really understand them. You might consider their language level, previous education, background knowledge about a specific topic, and their age to name a few. If your students are non-native English speakers with low English literacy skills, then you wouldn’t use the same formatting if you were creating a text for native English speakers who are university-educated. Really get to know your audience before planning or creating your text.
The next step is to identify and plan which formatting strategies you can use to help address your audience’s needs. Some questions to answer are:
- What medium would best suit my audience? (E.g. a letter, poster, SMS, video, audio, or power point presentation)
- Are there any other properties I need to consider so I can meet my audience’s needs and address any barriers? (E.g. font size, file size, physical paper size, or not using specific colours)
- What other aids can I use to help get my meaning across and make my text easy to consume? (E.g. graphics, physical items, hyperlinks, or blank space)
And finally, you need to actually format the text according to your plan. Try to put as much effort into this as possible. If you decided to use graphics, don’t just pick the first graphic you find. Try to really find one that suits your audience and their needs rather than just picking the first one so you can tick a box. Now, obviously you’ve created a plan for a reason, but don’t be afraid to change it as you go. Sometimes you may realise that what you thought would work in your head just doesn’t work in reality. And that’s completely okay. We’re not going for perfection here. (Fun fact . . . perfection doesn’t exist ? — it’s just an illusion we buy into! I know, crazy right? ?)
This week’s challenge
This week’s challenge is to really think about your text’s formatting and what you can do to make it easier to consume for your students and clients. Follow the three steps above to help you format your texts better.
Remember to be creative, and don’t be afraid to push the boundaries in the way you communicate. Has something always been a written document? Maybe a video or audio recording might work better for your audience. Remember that just because something’s always been done a certain way, it doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it.
Be creative and innovative in the way you format your texts and you’ll be well on your way to making content that resonates with your audience and is easy for them to understand.