Working with Large Amounts of Text

One of the biggest challenges L&D content developers face is that, while text is often the easiest way for them to transmit information to learners — in terms of production time and cost — it's often one of the least effective ways for learners to receive and retain information.

  • People are often intimidated by large amounts of dense text and will begin disengaging before even starting to read
  • Studies show that reading habits and reading comprehension are worse in digital environments, with readers having a tendency to scan rather than read each word

Mitigating Bad Habits with Better Design

Thankfully, there are ways to promote better reading habits through design, particularly through the use of spacing and structure.

1. Use more empty space

A.k.a. "white space" and "negative space."

  • Use more space between paragraphs
    • Before/after paragraph spacing in content editing programs (MS Office, Google Docs)
    • Margin-bottom in HTML
  • Use paragraph breaks more frequently
  • Use more space between lines of text
    • a.k.a. line spacing (MS Office, Google Docs), line-height (HTML) or leading (typography)

Empty space will make text seem less dense and intimidating, and it serves to emphasize text through visual contrast. Well-spaced text is also more accessible, being easier for individuals with cognitive disabilities/impairments to process.

2. Use more segmentation, a.k.a. "chunking"

  • Spread text out more amongst multiple pages or slides
  • Use sections and/or compartments within pages or slides to further segment text

By spreading text out more, you reduce the amount of text that your audience will encounter at any given time and/or you make the amount of text your audience encounters at any given time feel more compartmentalized and manageable; both outcomes serve to reduce intimidation and disengagement. Segmenting text within pages/slides also serves to introduce more empty space.

3. Use structure and style

  • Headings
    • Reduce intimidation by providing a sense of what to expect
    • Assist in finding specific information
    • Naturally add more empty space between sections
  • Lists
    • Emphasize individual points
    • Naturally add more empty space
  • Sidebars, boxes, accordions and other compartments (enclosed sections)
    • Reduce intimidation by compartmentalizing information and making it seem more manageable
    • Emphasize particular content
    • Naturally add more empty space
  • Bold (text style)
    • Emphasize individual points or terms
    • Once the eye is drawn to bold text, it will naturally seek out surrounding text to help provide context
  • Graphics
    • Naturally add more space that isn't text
    • Often serve additional purposes