Within today’s blog post, we look at the ‘use of space’ in MS Word. If you are a creative person and presented a white page, it can mean a number of things. It can be endless possibilities or it could lead to a mind block as to what you should put on the page.

What is space? This can be described very differently depending on whom you ask. Some readers may describe space as the following:

  • The overall page
  • How the text is placed on the page
  • Where text and images are placed in relation to each other
  • The universe

We’re not interested in the type of document being created, i.e., memo, letter, report, etc., the use of space applies to every document.

Below is an example of bad layout. This isn’t great as it is very crammed and reading can be a chore in this instance.

Example of bad use of space - MS Word
Example of bad use of space – MS Word

Imagine reading endless columns of blocked text. Besides eye strain, our concentration levels waiver. Block text reduces reading speed. Space in a document aides the audience when reading. It helps with document structure and divides text in to manageable chunks.

Space (or white space) in MS Word can refer to the space around text, the margins, line spacing (leading), word spacing (kerning), text alignment, indents, etc. 

Space is any unused section of the page or document.

How is space created?

Whilst the space around text, margins, line spacing, word spacing, text alignment, indents, etc., can be set, sometimes document creators use the space bar to indent text (as can be seen below) or use additional returns to move text down to a new page. These are not good practices.

Pilcrow function showing how text has been 'indented' - MS Word
Pilcrow function showing how text has been ‘indented’ – MS Word

Whilst there are ‘ways’ of moving text to the next page, using the space bar or return key to add space is a waste of time and it leads to inconsistent formatting of the document. Screen reader users are also affected which results in sub-optimal audience experiences.

Learn to place and space text correctly and save yourself time and effort.

Space is really about how the text looks on the page. From the DigiKnow blog post on Accessibility, text in MS Word should:

  • Use a sans-serif font
  • Avoid ‘fancy’ fonts
  • Minimum size 12
  • Line spacing should be 1.5
  • Left aligned text
  • Consider contrast and use of colour with care
Why Sans-Serif Fonts?
MS Word Home Tab - Fonts
MS Word Home Tab – Fonts

Sans-serif fonts are easier to read and can be scanned quickly, these fonts break the text up regularly.

For people living with dyslexia, good sans-serif fonts to use include Helvetica, Courier and Verdana, whilst Arial reduces reading ability within this group. Also, text in UPPERCASE should be avoided as this is harder to read.

No individual font will be appropriate for every audience.

Why avoid fancy fonts?

Fancy fonts are harder to read generally. The human brain works harder to recognise the characters and then to construct the meaning of the words.

Simple and plain looking text speeds up this activity in our brains.

Why minimum size 12?
 MS Word Home Tab - Font Size
MS Word Home Tab – Font Size

Size 12 is the minimum standard for reading text. The majority of sighted users reading text can manage size 12. Size 14 is also acceptable.

Do check organisational brand guidelines when creating content.

Larger fonts not only uses more space and pages but text over a certain size is also hard to read.

Why 1.5 line spacing?
  MS Word Home Tab - Line Spacing
MS Word Home Tab – Line Spacing

Line spacing impacts readability. If text is tightly packed together, it’s harder to read. Audience members living with cognitive disability and/or visual impairment might well have difficulty reading tightly packed lines of text.

For accessibility purposes, it’s best to increase line spacing so lines of text are less tightly packed and easier to read.

Lines of text can be too far spaced also, this can appear disjointed. Line spacing of 1.5 (minimum) or 2 is good practice.

Why left aligned text?
   MS Word Home Tab - Alignment
MS Word Home Tab – Alignment

If text is justified, it opens gaps between words which are described as ‘text rivers’ or a ‘rivers of white’. These spaces can make the text harder to read.

People living with dyslexia, if presented with justified text, may lose their place whilst reading. Left-aligned text provides an uneven right ‘ragged’ edge, and word spacing uniform, which helps readers track text.

Left alignment improves a documents readability.

Contrast and use of colour

Avoid patterned backgrounds, single coloured backgrounds are less distracting and consistent, making reading easier.

For people living with colour-blindness, avoid the use of red and green text and/or imagery.

Do think about how text contrasts against the background. Text should be darker and backgrounds lighter.

White backgrounds, especially on computer screens or projectors, can appear really bright and glaring. It is better to use off-white or pastel tones.

When printing on paper, reading from matte paper is easier. Paper should be sufficiently thick so text doesn’t show through from the other side of the page.

Putting text on separate pages

Sometimes when documents are created, creators may need text to be on the next page, i.e., a new section. An example of bad practice is using the return key to move/push text to the next page.

One reason this is bad practice, users of screen readers and Text to Speech assistive technologies have each “return” read aloud. Not only is this annoying, but it uses up valuable time getting the information to the audience.

If text is required on a separate page, it’s best to use page breaks. This lets audiences using screen readers to jump to the next page without listening to return, return, return. It saves time too.

    MS Word Insert Tab - Page Break
MS Word Insert Tab – Page Break

Whilst mentioning the returns, don’t use extraneous punctuation, i.e., multiple exclamations and/or questions marks, triple dots, etc. Not only does it look rude in text, again, each character is read aloud for audiences using screen readers and Text to Speech.

Formatting Text

Text formatting can be an issue. Simply making something bold or italic and/or resizing it may not emphasize the weight of the word, phrase or heading.

It is be better to apply styles, these were previously covered in the Accessibility blog earlier in January.

MS Word Home Tab - Styles
MS Word Home Tab – Styles
Better use of space - MS Word
Better use of space – MS Word

Lastly, having shown a bad example of block text earlier, we took the same text and changed it (above). This is now across two A4 pages instead of squashed on a single page.

Contrast has been addressed which benefits audience members living with dyxlexia and/or colour vision deficiencies.

Styles have been used. Text is left-aligned. Font, size and colour are sans-serif, size 12 with body text in black, headings in blue and bold. Columns have been removed. Formatting text benefits many audience members reading ability.

Albeit, the text is now across several pages, layout and readability is much improved.

Tomorrow, DigiKnow looks at Floating Objects/Text Boxes and how their use can be more accessible to a wider audience.


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