Formatting for clarity Typography tips

No matter how clean and clear your writing style, if the typography is messy and cramped it will be difficult for a migrant audience to understand your message.

These days, many of us do our own basic design work rather than sending it to an expert. So it is worth knowing a few important design tips:

  • Use a clean, sans-serif typeface for shorter documents and on-screen reading, such as Calibri, Verdana, Arial or Gill Sans
  • Use a serif typeface for longer printed texts like newspapers and books, such as Palatino, Garamond, Times New Roman or Century Schoolbook
  • Use a clear point size (10–12pt)
  • Make line lengths shorter – they are easier to read (45–90 characters)
  • Avoid writing in capital letters – it distorts a reader’s mental picture of a word
  • Avoid underlining – it cuts off the downstrokes of j, p, q and y.

White space

Keep a good amount of space around text and in margins. Also put white space around images, graphics and lines or columns of type. This reduces visual noise by separating information. Your migrant audience can find solid blocks of text intimidating.


Optimal line spacing is between 120% and 145% of point size, so 10pt text should have a line spacing of between 12 and 14.5pt.

Clear images

Using pictures and diagrams to illustrate important points will help to make your information clearer to your audience.

They also break up the text and can provide readers with information in a way that may be more familiar or accessible.

Make sure your chosen image has no chance of giving the wrong impression or offending your migrant audience. Have a number of colleagues check the image and its cultural appropriateness before publishing it.

Informative headings

New readers of English can tire easily with lots of text on a page. Headings break up text to make it easier to read. They can also add meaning to each new section. Headings can be effective when posed as questions or as short, direct and active sentences.

Put some white space around them to increase their visibility. Headings should provide full context while still being short.

Legible lists

Including checklists and bullet points can help improve the clarity of your information. But too many lists can be tedious to read.

If you plan to use lists, it is important that you use short, simple and complete sentences.

Only use lists for information that would benefit from being presented in this way; for example, a series of steps, a checklist or a list of things to remember.


  • Find out how to contact local settlement support services
  • Find out if I will need my own transport or whether there are local 
transport services I can use
  • Find out where to buy food 

  • Look for second hand stores locally if I need to buy furniture

  • Get the right clothes for the climate I am working in
  • Find out where to buy a mobile phone or SIM card.

Definite dates

Write these out in full, rather than day/month/year (20/01/16). Some countries order the days and months differently. The clearest way to write a date is ‘Monday, 20 January 2016’.

Friendly web formatting

People read differently on a screen from how they read on paper. They tend to scan a web page in an F shape, reading horizontally a couple of times, then down the left-hand side.

When you write for a new to New Zealand audience on the web it is even more important that your first two paragraphs contain your most important information. Start each subheading or paragraph with key words that your audience will notice when scanning down the left side.

Avoid lengthy pages as most people will not read to the bottom. If you have a lot of information, use hyperlinks to help readers jump to the sections they are interested in.