Instructional Writing: 6 Formatting Tips to Improve Readability

November 22, 2022 Surya Nair

Formatting can keep your content well organized and reader-friendly. You can use headings, lists, spacing, font styles, and graphics to improve the effectiveness of your content. Here are six tips on how to use formatting to improve your instructions:

  1. Titles are a window into your content

A meaningful title provides the reader with a quick preview of what is to come. The text and format are both important for a title to be effective. Use heading styles to appropriately format the document title, chapter titles, section titles, and subtitles within a section. The use of numbered headings can be limited to chapter titles and major section headings, and other levels of headings can be set using varying font sizes and colors.

  1. Lists are a technical writer’s friend

Bulleted Lists

Long narratives can crowd a page and can make it boring or overwhelming for the reader to follow. Bulleted lists are a good way to break up the content to make it visually appealing. Use bulleted lists to emphasize important ideas or to set apart a list of items that require specific attention. In a bulleted list, items need not be in any particular order. Make sure to use parallel phrasing for the sentences in a list.

Numbered Lists

Order is necessary in instructional writing. The correct sequence of steps in your instructions are required for a reader to follow and perform a task. In such instances, use numbered lists (ordered lists) to list items in a chronological order.

  1. Spacing matters

Appropriate use of white space gives the page a good balance. Space between lines, between paragraphs, between items in a list, or before and after graphics and tables should be set appropriately to make the content stand out against the background.

  1. Font styles draw attention

Font styles such as italics, bold, and underline can be used to highlight key words in a sentence. For example, italics can be used for special terms, field names, or filenames, and bold can be used for command names, user input, button names, etc. Bold and underline styles can also be used for headings.

  1. Visuals can work wonders

Graphics can not only save you many words, but more importantly, can improve clarity for the reader. So, provide samples and graphics wherever required to enhance understanding.

  1. Tables add value

Tables are an efficient way to organize related information. You can use single cell tables or text boxes to highlight hints and notes. 

The sample screenshots provided below (from the ASCENT guide AutoCAD 2023: Fundamentals) illustrate the use of these six tips. Each number marked on the screenshot corresponds to a tip number from the list above.


Graphical user interface

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