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Highlighting for Your Reader

Yesterday I taught Writing Tune-Up for Peak Performance at one of my favorite organizations in Bellevue, Washington. In the class, one of the topics we covered is the use of visual cues to make information stand out.

By visual cues, I am referring to headings, bold type, indenting, bullet points, numbered lists, and other formatting.

We looked at an example that was written as one big paragraph. Because nothing was highlighted in the paragraph, it took us long seconds to find basic information. Then we looked at another example with descriptive headings in bold type, lots of white space, and a numbered list. In this version, we could find information quickly.

Cathy, a manager in the class, had a good name for the formatted version. She called it “highlighting for the reader.” Cathy compared the well-formatted version to a page marked with a yellow highlighter. Just like a text with information highlighted in yellow, documents that are formatted well allow readers to find information fast the first time, second time, and any time they read them.

Thanks, Cathy! From now on, I will remember your yellow highlighting whenever I use formatting to make information stand out.

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.