Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Typography Basics Part Two: Format and structure

Typography can make or break a piece of copy.

As a copywriter who has been fortunate to work with a number of talented designers over the years, I've picked up some useful typography tips.

In this second part of this two-part guide I'll show you how to lay your copy out in the best way for easy reading. If you missed Part One, you can read it here.

Creating the format and structure.

Once you have decided on your fonts, you need to know how to format your copy. 

Good formatting creates content that reads easily and helps the reader to navigate the piece.

1. Create a visual hierarchy.

Your visual hierarchy will be instrumental in guiding the reader through your page.

The hierarchy might go something like this:

  1. Main heading
  2. Article author/date
  3. Introduction
  4. Subheadings
  5. Minor headings
  6. Body copy

Your copy might not have all these components, but for each component it does have, you need to decide the:
  • Font
  • Font point size
  • Font colour 
  • Font characteristics (regular/bold/italic/bold italic)

Here is an example using two font families — one serif and one sans-serif:

Main heading: Arial Black, caps
Author/Date: Arial Narrow, bold
Introduction: Book Antiqua, bold italic
Subheadings: Arial Black
Minor headings: Arial, bold
Body copy: Book Antiqua

When you have made these decisions, stick to them and be consistent. The only thing you  might need to change is your font colour, if your background colour changes.

If your project is a web page, you may be able to set all these styles in advance, using a Cascading Style Sheet (CSS).

2. Use space effectively.

There are several spacers you need to think about:

Margins — setting margins stops your copy getting too close to the edges of your medium. Here a margin would have constrained the FISH & CHIPS copy inside the blue box.

Line spacing — there should be enough space between each line so that your uppers (b, d, f, h, k, l) and downers (g, j, p, q, y) are not touching. This font has extended uppers and downers, so needs a greater line space.

Word spacing — refers to the space between each word and may be an issue if you're using justified alignment 
  • If you have too much space, turn on word wrap 
  • If you have too little space, look at your settings
  • If neither of these suggestions work, consider switching to left alignment 
In this example the word spacing in third line from the bottom is wide compared to the rest.

Character spacing — also known as kerning — means that characters are properly spaced 
    • Too much space and it will look like a word space
    • Too little space and your characters will crash into each other
In this much-shared example, the extra space between the E and R creates a word space where there shouldn't be one.

Paragraph spacing — split your copy into manageable paragraphs and use a space to show the start of each new paragraph
    • If your project is a web page, keep your paragraphs short and leave a line space between each paragraph 
    • If your project is in print, start each new paragraph with a slight indent — I suggest 5mm

3. Pay attention to your line breaks.

Good line breaks help people to read and understand your copy.

This example perfectly illustrates why they are so important.

The correct line breaks should be:




Ideally, you should break your line:
  • At the end of a statement
  • At a natural pause point

4. Use a natural layout.

We naturally read down the page and from left to right, so keep this in mind when you're designing your layout.

The headline shows where they eye should go first, then subheadings and minor headings guide the reader down the page.

Note how the use of colours and positioning of the text in this example cause us to read it in the wrong order.

About the author.

Jenny Lucas is a freelance copywriter, content writer and copy editor based in Leicestershire, UK.

To find out more about Jenny, her work and the services she offers, visit her website

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Typography Basics Part One: Choosing your fonts

Typography can make or break a piece of copy.

As a copywriter who has been fortunate to work with a number of talented designers over the years, I've picked up some useful typography tips.

In this two-part guide I'll guide you through how to choose the right fonts for your project and how to lay them out in the best way.

How to choose the fonts for your project.

The font you choose says a lot about you, how well you understand the project and how much you value your readers.

Essentially, there are three font styles you should be aware of:
  1. Serif, which has a small line detail at the end of each stroke
    Times New Roman, Georgia, Courier
  2. Sans-serif, which is cleaner and doesn't have the lines
    Arial, Helvetica, Verdana
  3. Fancy, which includes quirky, novelty and artistic fonts
    e.g. Jazz, Curlz, Brush Script and Papyrus
Serif and sans-serif fonts are ideal for most projects and can be used for headings, sub headings and body copy (body copy means the bulk of your copy).

Fancy fonts should be reserved for titles and headings on graphics-led projects such as posters, flyers and party invites.

1. Choose fonts that complement each other and don't use too many different fonts together.

You don't need to demonstrate all the fonts on your computer — most projects only require one or two fonts at most.

If you're using two fonts, consider one serif and one sans serif, so they're noticeably different — but not too different. For example, you shouldn't pair a short, wide font with a tall, thin one.

Two fancy fonts will clash. If one of your fonts has a lot of personality, balance it with something plain.

Two bold fonts will be vying for attention. If one font is bold and heavy, balance it with something lighter and cleaner.

Getting the balance right can take a little practice. For inspiration, look at magazines and other publications.

If you need to put something together quickly, there are many articles online with suggestions of good font pairings to use. To find them, just type complementary fonts into Google.

2. Choose fonts that are appropriate for the brand and the project.

Choosing the right font adds credibility and builds trust — it shows your reader you're taking the project seriously and that you know and understand what you're doing.

This font is fun and cartoon-like, making it a good choice for a children's playgroup.
This font may look quirky, but it's called Kidnap and is designed to look like a ransom note. This makes it highly inappropriate for branding a playgroup.

If you're writing a serious report, don't use a quirky font — stick to something plain, classic and standard.

Many people take issue with Comic Sans, so this is often best avoided too.

This report cover uses Impact, which is bold, clean and serious. If you use this for the headings, you could pair it with a standard serif font, such as Times.

This cover uses Comic Sans, which you should always avoid if you want to be taken seriously.

Some fonts may be suited to your project in other ways. For example, if they were designed with a particular genre or purpose in mind or have a historical or cultural significance. 

A good resource for checking the history and culture behind your fonts is Microsoft's online font library.

3. Choose versatile fonts for your body copy.

When you're choosing the fonts for your body copy (the bulk of your copy) look for something with all the variants — regularitalicbold and bold italic. This will enable you to stress and highlight points so you can fully express yourself.

If you're writing in another language, or your copy is to be translated into another language, you may need special characters. Make sure your font has all the characters and letter variations you you need. 

Note that some fonts only have capital letters. WRITING ALL IN CAPS MAKES YOU SOUND SHOUTY AND ANGRY, so check your body copy font has both proper CAPS and lower case letters.

4. Make sure your copy is legible.

Choose a font that is easy to read — it doesn't have to be plain, but it should be clear. Most importantly, it should be clear at the size it will be displayed.

Pay attention to the background you're using. Make sure there is a good contrast and it doesn't camouflage or detract from your copy.

A simple stroke or drop shadow can help to make your copy stand out from the background, but avoid adding text effects for the sake of it.

I hope you have found this article helpful. In Part Two you can learn how to format and structure your copy.

About the author.

Jenny Lucas is a freelance copywriter, content writer and copy editor based in Leicestershire, UK.

To find out more about Jenny, her work and the services she offers, visit her website

Friday, 31 August 2018

What health and safety taught me about selling things people need, but don't necessarily want

Not every purchase is wanted.

There are some things people have to buy — not necessarily because they want them, but because they need them.

I'm talking about things like insurance, medical prescriptions, pensions and legal cover. Things people often begrudge paying for, but could be in trouble without.

As it happens, I have some experience in communicating the benefits of things people need — and of communicating the consequences for people who don't do what's best for them.

I used to be a health and safety copywriter.

In 2005 I took a job as an in-house copywriter for a company that produced innovative and original workplace health and safety posters. The posters were designed to 'sell' the benefits of health and safety to employees and encourage them to follow the safe practice.

But a claims culture was unfolding.

In 2005 the UK was starting to develop a claims culture, where "accidents" could be exploited by solicitors, cheats and chancers as a way of making some easy money.

With a rising threat of damaging claims, health and safety soon became the definitive excuse for banning or cancelling anything with the slightest hint of danger.

“Health and safety” was becoming a clich├ęd excuse.

Balloons were banned from children's parties, village parades were cancelled, bath mats were removed from hotel bathrooms and conkers were confiscated from school playgrounds. In every case, because of “health and safety”.

It became the motto of council jobsworths and overzealous organisers — and people were starting to get sick of hearing it.

Workplace health and safety was suffering.

In the workplace, too, health and safety was losing some of its potency. There were grave concerns that vital safety precautions were being equated with this stifling wave of over-cautiousness.

Our challenge was to change that and to reverse this mentality.

5 Techniques I've learned for selling things people need, but don't necessarily want.

1. Understand your market
You need to know who they are and what motivates them: why they need what you're proposing and why they don't want it. The resistance part is important.

If they're not using your product or service, what are they doing instead? And why are they doing what they're doing?

In the case of health and safety there were several pain points that stopped workers doing what they were supposed to do. For example:

  • Workers felt machine guards got in the way and make the job more difficult, so they decided to remove them
  • Following safety protocol took more time and this made the workers feel less productive, so they decided to ignore it in favour of getting more done
  • Protective workwear could be hot and cumbersome to wear, so workers would remove it or decide not to wear it

2. Develop a winning concept
You can be creative here and think of a different way to express your proposition. It could be something shocking, surprising or unexpected, but it needs to relate to your proposition and get your audience's attention.

Your concept should give proper context and reason, so think about:
  • What the consequences might be if they don't take up your offer
  • How those consequences could impact their: 
    • health and wellbeing
    • finances and assets
    • quality of life
    • loved ones
We produced a 'Spot the Difference' poster showing a person's hand and piece of wood. The message was that, while the difference may be obvious to you, a machine can't tell them apart and is just as likely to cut your finger as it is to cut the wood.

3. Back it up
Baseless statements don't cut it any more, people need reasons and evidence.

For example: "You need to do A, because if you don't, B will happen."

I used this statistic from the HSE to educate workers on the serious risks of slips and falls:

"95% of major slips result in broken bones."

4. Get where they can see you
Understand that the audience you're trying communicate with is probably looking the other way, is possibly in denial and may even be actively trying to avoid you.

If you want to be seen make use of targeted advertising and put it in the places where you know your audience demographic hangs out.

We put our posters in workplace cloakrooms, corridors and canteens, where all the employees would see them.

5. Make an impression
An online advert has a two-second window to grab your audience's attention, so don't let them scroll past it: 
  • Have a clear concept that works for your product and your brand
  • Make it stand out by using good design and bold colours
  • Use an eye-catching image that is relevant to your concept and proposition 
  • Create a killer headline that will stop them in their tracks

About the author.

Jenny Lucas is a professional copywriter with 12 years' experience of writing effective health and safety campaigns that have helped to reduce life-changing accidents and save lives.

To find out more about her and how her words can help your business, please visit her website.