White Space Rests the Eye
Now think about your eyes. Your eyes are held in place by three sets of small muscles. These muscles enable you to roll your eyes when someone makes a bad joke. More importantly for today’s life, they enable your eyes to stick to a straight line of text, holding your gaze in place as you decipher line after line. Muscles within your eyes enable you to focus as you read. Sticking to those lines of text requires eye muscle effort.
And if you keep demanding that your eye muscles stay focused, line after line after line, they do just what your arms do in an airport: They give up. You automatically look up from the page, lose your place, blink a few times, and then look down again, searching for where you left off. After a while, your eyes get tired and your concentration wanders.
When you write, keep your readers’ eye muscles in mind. Give the reader a natural spot at which to look up from the page, blink, and then look down again. By including plenty of white space, you avoid the dense, cluttered look of material that we classify as “hard to read” and provide the open, airy look associated with “easy to read”. Documents that have adequate white space are easy to read because the reader can easily find his or her place again after looking up from the page.
White space is especially important in email and other computer-based documents, because reading electronic text places special burdens on the eyes. People read 25% more slowly when reading from a computer screen. This is because the task is much more difficult. You perceive electronic text as being static, but in reality it is composed of a bevy of pixels dancing a fast jig. Moreover, computer screens lack the sharp definition and clarity of the printed page. Your eyes and your brain are collaborating to make the text appear to hold still; the process takes effort and time.
As a reader, you can alleviate some of your online reading strain by getting special computer glasses or changing various elements of your environment. As a writer, one thing you can do is to demand less from the eyes by not asking them to read large blocks of text.
Review your emails and blog posts. If you have a very long paragraph, break it up, even if it means breaking text within the same topic. Remember: There is no point getting every bit of information into one paragraph if your reader will not be able to read it.
The next time you write, remember that feeling of dragging luggage through the airport. Don't make your readers drag their eyes through vast blocks of text. Use plenty of white space. Your readers will be glad.
©2013 Elizabeth Danziger All rights reserved
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