Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Tutorial: How to Emphasis Text, stylishly




One of the BIGGEST mistakes I see job seekers make within their resume when they don't have very good word-processing skills is that they mimic the 'old days' of using a  ...

Remember these clunky things?
In order to make certain words stand out from the rest, the old typewriters only allowed you to:

* Type in ALL CAPITALS, or
* Underline the text


These days, word processors give us a whole expanded range of wonderful choices in how we can emphasise text that we want or need to stand out. And used in moderation can enhance the look, style and tone of your resume.

But, before I move on to all these wonderful new ways of emphasising text, let's have a brief look at...

WHY YOU SHOULD AVOID ALL CAPITALS
When we read, our brains interpret the SHAPE of the word. This allows us to read faster and with greater ease. For example, the word 'cat' in lowercase has a completely different shape to its form than the words 'dog' and 'bat'.  It is the rectangular-based SHAPE of each word which our brain has learned to identify, and this shape makes it that we don't have to concentrate on each letter in sequence to piece together the word for our brain to recognise.

A simple, fun exercise: take a piece of paper and a pencil (or draw on a whiteboard) and write the words cat, dog and bat with sufficient space between each. Then, with a pen (or whiteboard eraser) remove the letters inside the shape you have just created.  Then, ask someone else to help you work out what the word is - most times, because there are only three letters which makes it not too difficult a task as what a longer word might, the person will be able to work out what the missing letter are to correctly guess the missing words.  You will hear for the word 'cat' that "It could be... eat... oat..." etc.  But, once they work out 'dog' and 'bat', they'll immediately work out that the other word is not 'eat' or 'oat' and will correctly then attribute it as 'cat'.

BUT BACK TO WHY YOU SHOULD AVOID ALL CAPITALS. WHEN WE SET OUT TEXT IN ALL CAPITALS, WE CHANGE THE SHAPE OF THE TEXT, AND OUR BRAIN HAS TO WORK HARD TO WORK OUT EACH WORD 'LETTER BY LETTER'. WHEN YOU READ, YOU CAN'T JUST SKIM OVER THE TEXT LIKE YOU CAN WITH LOWER CASE TEXT, SO READING BECOMES HARD WORK, AND IF TOO MUCH OF THE TEXT IS WRITTEN IN ALL CAPITALS, MOST PEOPLE WILL GIVE UP. AND THOSE FAMILIAR WITH SOCIAL NETWORKING ETIQUETTE WILL WONDER WHY YOU ARE SHOUTING AT THEM WHEN YOU SHOULD BE TALKING NORMALLY.

WHY YOU SHOULD AVOID UNDERLINING TEXT
When you underline text you are also making it difficult for your readers, because there is a line running beneath the shapes, slightly altering how you interpret the shapes. As a reader, you don't fully get a handle on the down strokes; and when you underline large blocks of text, like this, it actually takes away the emphasis of what you are trying to say.  So golden rule when creating any sort of document is to limit how often you use any emphasising elements, okay.

Phew, I don't know about you, but I'm glad that is over!

I hated typing the above two paragraphs because 1. I did feel like I was shouting at you all during the first paragraph in all capitals, 2. typing in all capitals made it difficult for me to see if I had made any spelling, grammar or punctuation errors as I went, and 3. I'm not sure I adequately emphasised my main point within paragraph two.

New ways to Emphasise text
Thankfully, the power of word-processors gives us creative, easier ways to emphasise text to create a more sophisticated and even exciting look.  For jobseekers, just how you emphasise your key details within your resume can make all the difference between coming across to employers in a good or bad way.

So, what new ways can we emphasise?

I've already used two of my favourites - bolding and italicising text.

According to Robin Williams the female Typographer, not Robin Williams the male actor of 'Mrs Doubtfire' etc fame, use italics instead of underlining to emphasise in a subtle way; and when you need a slightly stronger form of emphasis perhaps use a combination of bold and italics to make bolded italics.

Bolding text makes key words stand out to those that skim-read a document or webpage, where as italics can make the text look like it is trying to hide from normal view.  So, the key to good usage of bold and italicised text is knowing what you want to achieve.

Within a resume, you want sections headings to stand out from the rest of your resume text.  Why? So it guides the reader's eyes down the page, so they can see that all required elements are present - you're first employer tick if you aren't missing anything wanted / expected.

But there are still other ways with which you can emphasise your text:
* use a different typeface (that strongly contrasts to the rest of the text)
* use a different font size.  For example, you could make your text bigger or smaller
* use a different coloured font or
* use change the background (often white in a document) - like a photo negative.  Sorry, I can't think of the technical term for doing this right now - reverse something or other. If you choose to do this, then don't just pick any old colour - warm colours like reds and oranges are strongest and very little goes a long long way (and can easily be overdone), whereas cool colours, like blues and greens recede so you can use more of it without overwhelming the page.

But like everything else in life, using emphasis comes with rules...!

Your aim is to create reader interest, and to do so subtly, so:
* Never use more than two emphasis together at once i.e. bold and italic but not also colour or font change.
* When you pick your main emphasis, use it consistently throughout the rest of the document
* Be subtle with your usage, don't sledgehammer your reader with it
* Be choosy about what you emphasise

Oh, and if the words themselves already suggest that they should be emphasised, then stick with using the correct punctuation to do this for you (i.e. use an exclamation mark!)

Remember
ALL CAPS and prolonged underlined text make the text difficult to read, so wow recruiters with your deliberate and careful usage in emphasising text and you will stand out in a good way.


If in doubt, leave it out!

Want to know more? Check out this great article "How Typography Affects Readers" by Ankit Oberoi over at AdPushup.com

Have I broken any emphasising rule within this article? (The answer is 'yes' but I did this deliberately). Have I missed any ways to emphasise?
Leave me a comment on Facebook or use the Contact Form on this site!

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