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The Power Of White Space

One of the common mistakes I see from IT workers (and I know I have done this as well) is a lack of using white space appropriately.  I am not sure what the origin of this weakness is.  However, it is one that by its very nature is obvious in written communication.  We can write legibly in 4 point font using modern tools.  On the other hand, we can easily bump that up to 12 point font and add a few blank lines in a matter of seconds.

Just as more words do not make our message more clear, more words per square inch do not make our point.  This fact should not be a surprise when we think about it.  We include white space in our speech through pauses, and even the most frenetic musical scores have rests among the notes.  It may help to think of white space in your communication as a pause for effect.  Effectively spacing out your points gives the reader a chance to consider them at least a little before being presented with the next stream of information.

It is easier to use white space today than ever.  A click here or there can turn your sentences into bullet points or a series of paragraphs.  There are even excellent visual cues to help a reader including horizontal rules and outlining sections of text.  All of these methods help create and emphasize white space in your messages.  Thus, making it easier for your reader to grasp the points intended.  If you doubt this, remove all the white space you can on your latest email and compare it to a version where you add a blank line after every sentence.  For example, this paragraph would become something like the below layout.


It is easier to use white space today than ever.

A click here or there can turn your sentences into bullet points or a series of paragraphs.

There are even excellent visual cues to help a reader including horizontal rules and outlining sections of text.

All of these methods help create and emphasize white space in your messages.

Thus, making it easier for your reader to grasp the points intended.

If you doubt this, remove all the white space you can on your latest email and compare it to a version where you add a blank line after every sentence.

For example, this paragraph would become something like the below layout.

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Which of those is easier to read?  More importantly, which is easier to scan for the main points?  Make use of white space to

drive

home

your

point.

Noise vs. Content

Related to the idea of white space is its enemy, noise.  The level of noise has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few decades.  The Internet has made it easy for nearly everyone to contribute to any discussion, but that is not what I want to focus on at this time.  The Internet has also made it easier than ever to fill space in any message with true, researched facts.  The question you should ask is whether those facts contribute to your point.

Product reviews are full of these sort of noise.  In particular, the ones that are just a thinly disguised advertisement.  Even building in some white space is not enough to balance the noise in some of these instances.  When your messages are hard to distinguish from these hard selling advertisements you have failed.  Any point you want to make will most likely be ignored or even seen in a negative light due to the noise around it.

An example of noise as opposed to content may help.  Let’s say you are trying to convince management to pay for training on a new application.  The goal is to get them to see the value in that training.  That means a fact or two that shows a return on investment or past performance of those that went through the training is content.  These facts point to your goal.  On the other hand, adding ten bullet points of factual statements that all point to return on investment based on past attendees of the training is overkill.  Therefore, every one of those bullet points is effectively noise.

Press “1” For Help

I think we can all relate to long phone messages and voice response menus as an example of noise.  We have all run into a situation where we make a phone call to get a task done and are greeted by an automated system.  In some cases, the system starts out by telling you how to reach the physical offices, office hours, and the latest company news before getting to the menu options.  That is all noise.  You want to hear the menu options.  Every second spent starting when you dial the phone until you hear the option you desire is wasted.  Thus, any information provided until you get what you want is just noise.

Unfortunately, there is often a balance to strike between providing information and going too far.  When you next try to write convincingly, keep this in mind.  That may make all of the difference.

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Rob Broadhead

Rob is a founder of, and frequent contributor to, Develpreneur. This includes the Building Better Developers podcast. He is also a longtime student of technology as a developer, designer, and manager of software solutions. Rob is a founder and principle of RB Consulting and has managed to author a book about his family experiences.In his free time, he stays busy raising five children (although a few have grown into adults). When he has a chance to breathe, he is on the ice playing hockey to relax.

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