How to rescue a document that looks too boring to read

IMG_0408It’s 9am, the brilliant ten page document needs to be printed by 11am and it still looks so stodgy nobody can bear to read it. What should you do?

Editing takes time and it’s never advisable to rush it. Working in detail at haste will introduce errors.

But if you’re realistic about what’s achievable in a short time you can improve the overall “feel” of a document.

Tips for rescuing a boring looking document

  1. Check titles and subheadings. Do they clearly signpost the content of the sections they head up? Signposts help readers to skip uninteresting sections and head straight for the brilliance.
  2. Check paragraph length. Don’t be afraid to cut a very lengthy paragraph in two. Nothing looks more tedious than a solid wall of text.
  3. Introduce “pull out” quotes. Use your aesthetic judgement to place a text box in an attractive place to break up the monotony of a solid wall of text. Copy and paste an interesting quote from a brilliant part of the document into the text box. (Pull outs are often in a larger font size, in bold or in italic.)
  4. Add relevant photographs with captions. Inserting pictures makes a page look more attractive. Don’t forget to check copyright permissions and whether the document will be printed in colour.
  5. Add bullet points. If there is time, check for short paragraphs that could be rewritten as lists. See the example below.

Before “Dangers to the North Sea include overfishing, noise pollution, oil spills, plastic waste, warming waters, acidification, sewage, drag net trawling and hunting.”

After (Note that the items have been reorganised so that similar dangers are next to one another)

“Dangers to the North Sea

  • Overfishing
  • Hunting
  • Drag net trawling
  • Plastic waste
  • Oil spills
  • Sewage
  • Noise pollution
  • Acidification
  • Warming waters”

Sadly, sometimes you can’t do anything to freshen up a dull looking document. There may not be time or the author may outrank you.

Do not despair. Tomorrow is another day and a new chance to try again. If the document’s message is truly brilliant there will be opportunities to share it again in other formats.


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I am an editor and continuity checker. Email me to find out more.

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