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Polished Presentations

By Judy Vorfeld

Do you spend money on a prod­uct if the pre­sen­ta­tion looks unpro­fes­sional? Case in point: As my hus­band and I approached a small fam­ily restau­rant, I spot­ted two hand-scrawled signs in the win­dow: Help Wanted. Cook Wanted.

Warning sig­nals went off, but hunger pre­vailed. Once inside, we dis­cov­ered that every­thing oper­ated at the pace of a tur­tle. Food: ade­quate. When it came time to get our bill, we waited. And waited. Finally, we left our tip on the table and walked to the cash reg­is­ter. We weren’t upset. The owner/manager had our sym­pa­thy (but they lost us as customers).

Whether in the brick-and-mortar or brick-and-click world, peo­ple appre­ci­ate pol­ished pre­sen­ta­tions, because this gen­er­ally means they’ll find a good prod­uct and/or ser­vice. Let’s define “pol­ish” and some of its com­po­nents. The sug­ges­tions below aren’t for glam­our or glitz, but for read­abil­ity.

Most of us use serif fonts (like Times Roman & Times New Roman) for text. This type of font is designed so the reader’s eye moves smoothly from let­ter to let­ter. The lit­tle squig­gles (ser­ifs) that are part of the let­ters are part of that process.

Traditionally, sans serif fonts (no squig­gles) are often used for head­ings, account­ing, data entry, etc. They also com­ple­ment serif fonts.

Today’s home and office (ink jet & laser) print­ers usu­ally oper­ate at a min­i­mum of 300dpi (dots per inch). At 300dpi and higher, both types of fonts are readable.

In the past, Web design­ers offered the best read­abil­ity by using sans serif fonts such as Arial, Helvetica, and Verdana. This is chang­ing. Most users will not replace their cur­rent mon­i­tors sim­ply because bet­ter res­o­lu­tion is avail­able. Designers may be the biggest excep­tion. And who doesn’t love the wider, big­ger screens?

Browsers usu­ally default to Times Roman (Macs), and Times New Roman (PCs). I used Arial and Helvetica for the body text of this arti­cle. It may be worth­while to use a sans serif font through­out the site, but it also takes time to add the required codes. NOTE: Some browsers ignore cer­tain font commands/coding in tables if they are placed only at the begin­ning and end of an unordered <UL> or ordered <OL> list. You may need to code for each bul­leted or num­bered item within each table cell or they may default to Times Roman or Times New Roman. It’s a judg­ment call. This is usu­ally just for HTML. Most of today’s web­sites use Content Management Systems (CMS).

The text on a user’s screen is almost always con­trolled by the fonts the user has on his/her sys­tem. That’s why most design­ers using HTML give a min­i­mum of two choices when writ­ing the font face com­mand. Some users, for var­i­ous rea­sons, con­trol the spe­cific font and size their browser uses. Size is another, more dif­fi­cult issue. You may learn that you can’t please all the peo­ple all the time!! Read more about both of these issues and see exam­ples in the Web Style Guide. Tip: Regardless of the font size, peo­ple using Windows can press the Ctrl key and the plus key together and increase the size.

For many years, authors under­lined text as a way to instruct type­set­ters to ital­i­cize words. Desktop pub­lish­ing made under­lin­ing pop­u­lar as a way to pro­vide empha­sis. It’s often used that way today, but is no longer accept­able in many typo­graph­i­cal cir­cles. Primary rea­son: under­lin­ing inter­feres with descen­ders, those thin­gies on let­ters that drop below the line: p, q, j, etc. It goes back to read­abil­ity. Tip: Underlining sub­tly sab­o­tages the reader’s abil­ity to read with ease. One good way to pro­vide empha­sis: use bold. Carefully.


See pre­vi­ous sec­tion. Also, today most hyper­links on Web sites are under­lined, and peo­ple have come to expect this as the norm. So why not avoid under­lin­ing text you want empha­sized and go for the bold. Or color.

Bolding can be over­done, but when used cau­tiously, it is worth­while. It’s per­haps best used in headings.

Experts say that peo­ple scan text on the Web more than when read­ing text printed on paper. Therefore, thought­ful use of bold­ing in text is good. Where too much bold­ing might look inap­pro­pri­ate in a busi­ness let­ter, it might be fine on the Web. Again, use your judg­ment. Make it easy for the reader to catch your impor­tant points.

Italicizing works beau­ti­fully on paper with ink-jet and laser printer res­o­lu­tions at 300 dpi or higher.

Don’t, if you can avoid it. Use spar­ingly. With the low res­o­lu­tion avail­able on the Web, most ital­i­ciz­ing is dif­fi­cult to read.

The Internet Brothers and many other sources give tips to make your pre­sen­ta­tions more attrac­tive. One com­mon mis­take is that of plac­ing text inside a box too close to the bor­ders. Like Microsoft Publisher. Most Desktop pub­lish­ing soft­ware makes a pro­vi­sion for you to move your text away from the bor­ders. Use it; you won’t regret it.

In page lay­out, says Wikipedia, illus­tra­tion and sculp­ture, white space is often referred to as neg­a­tive space. It is that por­tion of a page left unmarked: the space between graph­ics, mar­gins, gut­ters, space between columns, space between lines of type or fig­ures and objects drawn or depicted. The term arises from graphic design prac­tice, where print­ing processes gen­er­ally use white paper.

White space should not be con­sid­ered merely “blank” space — it is an impor­tant ele­ment of design which enables the objects in it to exist at all, the bal­ance between pos­i­tive (or non-white) and the use of neg­a­tive spaces is key to aes­thetic com­po­si­tion. (Wikipedia)

Tip: white space isn’t always “white.” Remember, white space means the empty part of the page.

Be an artist. Try con­dens­ing words into mean­ing­ful phrases and head­ings. Use bul­lets, num­ber­ing, inden­ta­tion, etc. to give both vari­ety and empha­sis. Exception: if you are pre­sent­ing infor­ma­tion pri­mar­ily to be printed by the user, ignore the rules for white space. At this point, deliv­er­ing infor­ma­tion takes pri­or­ity over design. Paper is a pre­cious com­mod­ity through­out the world. Unashamedly use the entire screen for your impor­tant information.

If you’re cre­at­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion that needs some vital­ity, try using a dif­fer­ent head­ing font. If your body text is in a serif font like Times New Roman, use a sans serif font like Arial or Helvetica for the head­ing. Some experts sug­gest you avoid too many head­ings in all upper case, refer­ring to the prin­ci­ple that too many caps seem to shout. And, unless the phrases are brief, they may be more dif­fi­cult to read than a com­bi­na­tion of upper and lower case. Again, use your best judgment.

Because you have so many more choices: size, color, etc., you can, if you choose, sim­ply make the head­ing font larger. But if you really want to spiff up a site (and have the time to cre­ate the extra cod­ing required), make all your head­ings in a con­trast­ing font or even use a graphic image.

I chose Georgia for this document’s head­ings. If you have Georgia installed on your sys­tem, you will see it. Otherwise, you will prob­a­bly see Times Roman or Times New Roman; I didn’t leave any options in my font tags.

On paper, on the Web, every­where: good gram­mar, spelling, punc­tu­a­tion, usage, etc., makes one a bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tor. If you have trou­ble with good American gram­mar, and can’t afford to pay some­one to edit your work, go to my Writing Help Section for ideas and resources.

Know your audi­ence, and design your document(s) for that audience.

  • Stand back from the page(s) and see if there is balance.
  • Are the mar­gins wide enough so the page does not appear over­crowded? If it’s a paper doc­u­ment, did you num­ber each page?
  • Did you use your spellchecker?
  • Did you read the entire doc­u­ment out loud, look­ing for errors?
  • Have you checked for wid­ows and orphans?
  • Mistakes tend to clus­ter, so if you find one or two close by, search for more. Check the begin­ning of para­graphs, sec­tions, and pages.
  • If you’ve done quite a bit of revi­sion, and have tables and charts through­out your doc­u­ment, make sure that every time you say “see Table No. xxxx below,” the right table is, in fact, imme­di­ately below.
  • Check quo­ta­tion marks, brack­ets, and paren­the­ses to ensure they are always in pairs.
  • Whenever you have a ques­tion on gram­mar and style and can’t find an answer, email me. I have some great ref­er­ences in my office.


“When it comes to design and typog­ra­phy,” says Chuck Green, “there are very few truths but many reli­gions.” Amen to that.


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