Use headings

Just using short paragraphs isn't good enough. You also need to show your organization—visually—to your readers. A good way to do that is with headings. Think of headings as "labels" for the parts of your document.

For example, the memo we just worked with has short paragraphs, but it doesn't have labels for the various parts. Let's improve it one more step by adding those "labels":

Title

Heading

Heading

Tip_

Make your headings actually communicate with your reader (such as "When will the new computers arrive?" instead of "computers"). And feel free to have more than one paragraph below a heading.

As you can see, headings are an important key to good business writing. They can also help you as a supervisor of writers. Suppose, for example, you're managing a large writing project. If you ask your people to use headings when they write, you know what you'll get? Not just headings, but organization, too. It's hard for people to use headings without being organized.

Headings are the "little thing that does the big thing": a technique of layout that forces good organization. At the very least, headings require people to arrange their document into blocks of information instead of scattering ideas throughout. Headings also often keep people from using a chronological organization, which, because it often buries the main point, usually isn't appropriate.

Use bullets and other indented lists

Headings are terrific—and so are indented lists. As you can tell, I seldom write more than a page or so without using them somewhere. Just as headings show organization for the blocks of information in a document, lists often show organization within paragraphs.

A quick example: the value of lists

Business writing often has lists in it somewhere, and organized writers use lists particularly often. A list is all right as part of the text of a paragraph, but it's usually more effective if it's indented.

For example, read this sentence:

Three satellites are in geosynchronous orbit at 23,000 miles over the equator: Satellite I is at 55 degrees west longitude, Satellite II is at 70 degrees west longitude, and Satellite III is at 140 degrees west longitude.

Next, see how much better the layout is when we indent the list:

Three satellites are in geosynchronous orbit at 23,000 miles over the equator:

• Satellite I is at 55 degrees west longitude.

• Satellite II is at 70 degrees west longitude,

• Satellite III is at 140 degrees west longitude.

Indenting with bullets helps untangle that technical information.

A second example: bullets or numbers?

Here's another example—a set of instructions—that could benefit from indented lists:

To set up this laptop computer, you must take the following steps. Push the dual latches mounted on top of the computer outward to release the top/monitor assembly. Move the top/monitor assembly to an oblique angle with the unit's base. Push the release switch on Disk Drive A away from you to release the drive.

This paragraph is well organized, but it doesn't look it. The problem is ineffective layout. So let's take a first step to improve the layout by using bullets—notice the difference already:

To set up this laptop computer, you must take the following steps:

• Push the dual latches mounted on top of the computer outward to release the top/monitor assembly.

• Move the top/monitor assembly to an oblique angle with the unit's base.

• Push the release switch on Disk Drive A away from you to release the drive.

The paragraph now isolates each step visually. Notice that all bulleted items begin the same way grammatically (in this case, with verbs). That's good. The grammatical term for that is "parallelism."

Even though the layout is much better for that paragraph (visually revealing the good organization that was already there), there's still a better way: a numbered list.

I suggest numbered lists when you're giving steps; otherwise, use bulleted lists (to give a unified look to the pages of your document). So my final solution would be a numbered list, like this:

To set up this laptop computer, you must take the following steps:

1. Push the dual latches mounted on top of the computer outward to release the top/monitor assembly.

2. Move the top/monitor assembly to an oblique angle with the unit's base.

3. Push the release switch on Disk Drive A away from you to release the drive.

Do you see the advantage of good layout? It helps readers see a document's organization: the headings label the blocks of information; the indented lists isolate the facts, steps, arguments.

Even more important, good layout helps produce good organization. Writers who are aware of the techniques of good layout think about it as they write, not afterward. And as they write, they naturally form their ideas into blocks of information, and they isolate many of their facts, steps, and arguments into lists.

You'll learn more about layout in these chapters:

• Chapter 11, "Typefaces"

Now let's turn to the final chapter in this section. It puts everything together in a model.

CHAPTER 5

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