What should the document look like?

What should the document look like?

I’ve seen most every possible combination of document styles, from fully formatted documents with headers, footers and a very particular style of headings, lists, bullets, numbering, lettering, Roman numeral numbering and then some.  I’ve even seen documents with no strict format at all. And some that have no format, they are simply line after line of text.
What do I recommend?
Certainly not an unformatted approach; that might work well for the ee cummings’ of the world but in the work place it needs to be formatted somehow.
I like numbers with tabs and indents: There are many to choose from and a variety of ways to use them.
  1. Line one
    • Line 2
    • Line 3
 
  1. Next topic
    • Line 2
    • Line 3
      • Some more lines here related to the line above
You get the basic idea. Every business is different and each should have the style sheet that works best for both the document author and the document reader. Probably the most important part of this is that there should be consistency throughout the documents.  Don’t write half the SOPs with number format and the rest with Roman Numerals.  Strive for the same spacing throughout the document.
Headers and Footers: Headers allow you to state the document title and any document numbering scheme you like and have them appear on each page.  Many people put the page number in the header.  Company logos have a way of finding their way into the header.  This is a nice touch and can bring a polished look to the document. Select whatever works best for your documents.  A popular header for business involves a table with sections merged to form blocks and the divisions can be moved around.
Header development can be complex and neither header nor footer need be the same throughout a document. Headers and Footers should not overwhelm a document.  A good header is around 4 – 6 lines long.  6 lines is typically an inch when you use 12 pt. fonts.  This usually allows a logo that is clear and plenty of room for the other information. Footers should be around 2 or 3 lines long and type can often be smaller on the footer than the rest of the document.
Footers are a good place to put warnings (document not valid when printed unless signed) (For reference only) etc. I prefer the page number in the footer rather than the header.
Fonts and sizes: Don’t go crazy, just because Word has a million different fonts doesn’t mean you should use them all. Remember that the documents should be consistent.  If you start out with Arial 12 don’t change to Times New Roman in the middle of the document for no reason.  There are reasons to alter the type style in the document but they are usually reserved for something like quoted text or tables from another source. Quotes are usually in smaller text or italics.
Commands are an exception to that rule.  When you have a note, caution or warning, make it stand out.  I like to use a larger size, bold and left justify the command beyond the standard indent.  If it’s critical I use color for warnings and cautions.
Bullets: Bullets are another way of dividing up your document.  Some writers like to use bullets when they indent beyond a certain point.  Bullets are also good when you have something that needs a sequence.  If it has to happen in a certain order then bullets are a good way to indicate that. If you are using bullets be careful. Over use of bullets can confuse a reader and lead to skipping of steps, exactly the opposite of the desired result. Shoot for 3 to 5 and if you need more then use different bullets to signify different steps
Page layout: Documents should be portrait unless there is a compelling reason to deviate; bi-folded check lists could be a compelling reason to use landscape.
Forms can be either portrait or landscape depending on how they will be used.  If your form is included in a document then try and stay consistent with the layout. It is frustrating to read a document that requires turning it 90 degrees to check a box and initial in the space provided.  TIP: if your document includes a results form put the form on one page (if possible) and attach it to the end of the document, preferably facing the back not the front.  Now the user only has to turn the document over to enter the information rather than flipping pages or having the data scattered throughout the document.
Margins: Word generally defaults to a 1 inch margin all the way around.  Smaller margins allow you to get more on the page, but they also crowd the document so be careful. I remember a very well defined form that was trashed because the left margin was less than the 3-hole punch, obscuring the title of several entries.
White Space: The thing that ultimately makes your document readable is white space.  Leave that double line between paragraphs, wide margins, space around an illustration, drawing or picture.
When you think you’re finished, print it out single sided, then hold 2 pages together against a light.  This is the easiest way to see if the margins shifted or tabs varied. Repeat for each page.
When you’re all done and you have your document all set save it, now take the same document and delete all the text leaving only the header, footer and whatever indents and numbering in place. Now you have a stylesheet for your next document.  Save that as a different document for your next one!
Keep writing.