How to Make a Document Look Professional In 15 Steps
Taylor Pettis August 25th, 2020 Updated December 21st, 2022
We’ve all had the experience of having a promising conversation with a potential supplier or vendor, only to be turned off when they send over a document that’s sloppily designed, confusingly formatted, or just plain unprofessional looking. That’s a surefire way to make a bad first impression, and in the business world you often don’t get a chance to make a second one.
Following a well-considered strategy for creating professional-grade documents is an essential part of the way your organization communicates with your valued clients and vendors. Let’s run through some in-depth tips for strengthening your professional document design.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. USE EXTENDED TYPE
To make your documents and reports look professional, you have to pay special attention to details. The extended type is a simple concept and one that can make a huge difference. An example of an extended type for a header would be “E X T E N D E D T Y P E.” Not only is this more eye-catching, but it also makes important information stand out on the page.
If you use Word for document creation, you can use the Crtl + D command or click the small arrow at the bottom right-hand corner of the Font panel in the command ribbon. Once the menu is open, choose the amount of space (points) you want to add.
2. LINE AND PARAGRAPH SPACING
Trying out different line spacing and paragraph spacing is another fast and easy way to make sure your document is easy to read and attractive.
For example, if you compare the line spacing of 1 pt. compared to 1.2 pt. you will see a clear difference. Just that .2 difference in size makes a huge impact when it comes to text readability.
With paragraph spacing, you are changing the space over or under the paragraph. Line spacing refers to the amount of space in between your lines of text.
3. USE CONTRACTING FONTS AND SIZES
Have you ever heard of the “two font rule”? With this, you will pull yourself away from the desire to use only default fonts. Continually using these defaults for professional documents may give the impression you are lazy, boring, or apathetic by association.
Instead, use two fonts that look different from each other. Try to find options from different families.
One option is to use a sans serif font (these have the “feet” at the top and bottom of the letters) for your headings and use a serif font (the letters without any feet) for your body text. Also, make the heading larger and bold. This creates a nice visual effect and a professional document.
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4. CHOOSE A FONT THAT FITS THE CONTEXT
It isn’t always enough to choose a couple of contrasting fonts and stick with those for all of your documents. Context matters, and different documents are intended for different purposes.
A more formal business communication might call for a more “professional-looking” font, often a serif font like Times New Roman or Georgia. A document meant to convey energy and excitement, such as an announcement of a new product or service launch, might be better served by a more dynamic-looking, sans serif font such as Arial or Verdana.
By choosing a font that matches your message, you emphasize the attention to detail and consideration of your audience. It may seem minor, but your clients will take notice.
5. KEEP FONT SIZES AND COLORS STANDARD
A common mistake made by non-professional designers is tinkering with fonts in order to save space or attract attention. It’s not an unreasonable idea on its face, but in practice it is almost always wiser to stick to standard, familiar font sizes and colors.
Most business documents keep fonts in the 10- to 12-point range. Going smaller than that makes your document look cramped and difficult to read. (If you’re shrinking fonts in order to fit more copy on a page, it’s probably your copy that needs to be trimmed down, not your font.) Going larger than 12-point makes your document look sloppy and unprofessional.
It’s also a bad idea to try to emphasize certain words or phrases by changing the size or color of your copy. Those changes look jarring and, again, unprofessional. Stick to bold or italic when you need a word or phrase to really hit home.
6. KEEP PAGE SIZES AND MARGINS STANDARD
On a similar note, toying with the size of your page or the width of your margins in order to fit more copy or images on a page is seldom a good idea.
For one thing, anyone who wants to print out your communication will struggle with a document that doesn’t match a standard format.
Even if your communication is electronic-only, most displays are intended to view documents in a standard, 8½” x 11″ format with a 1″ margin. Straying too far from that standard can make your documents frustrating for recipients to deal with.
7. REMEMBER THAT LESS IS MORE
Do you want to know a quick and easy way to ensure your documents look professional? Keep things simple. Also, consider using the hidden features provided by programs like Microsoft Word.
When creating a document, the main focus should be the content. Document formatting guidelines exist to help make the content created easier to read and understand.
While you may be tempted to use eye-catching elements in the document, these are only going to be a distraction.
Try to maximize whitespace and keep your wording tight. Stick to minimal and simple rules for the entire document.
8. ALIGN ALL PARAGRAPHS TO THE LEFT
It can be tempting to use justified alignment because that is what you see in the newspapers, novels, and even textbooks. However, it is the wrong option for professional documents.
If you don’t create a sense of formality with your document, it may become unreadable.
The best option is to choose left alignment for text. This creates jaggedness on the right side of your paragraphs but keeps the letter-spacing as intended by the typeface you are using.
This ensures a higher level of legibility. If you don’t do this, you may find you have typographic rivers.
9. INDENT THE FIRST LINES OF YOUR PARAGRAPHS
The only exception to this rule of indenting your paragraphs is if it comes directly after a section heading. In this situation, you can leave it un-indented because the context nearby makes it clear that this is a stand-alone paragraph.
A good rule of thumb is to make the indent size the same as your font size. Be sure you use the paragraph styling features in Word to handle your indents instead of the Tab key (which is standard practice for some).
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10. ADD IMAGES BETWEEN YOUR PARAGRAPHS
Sometimes, you can add images inside a paragraph and let the text move around it. However, generally, this may impact the readability of the text. This is especially the case for data-driven reports.
A better option, especially for tables, charts, and graphs, is to put images in between the paragraphs and ensure they remain center aligned.
This ensures your images don’t vie for attention over the nearby text. It also helps the captions you add to stand out and be noticed.
11. FOLLOW ACCESSIBILITY GUIDELINES
Always remember that your business communications should be accessible to everyone in your intended audience. That means getting your team fully versed in the latest standards for online accessibility for readers of all abilities.
All electronic communications should be readable by e-readers and other assistive devices, written in plain language, and navigable without the use of a mouse. Color contrasts should take readers with color blindness into consideration. Any electronic images should include alternative text for viewers with low vision.
There are many other aspects to building accessible documents. It pays to research accessibility best practices and requirements in order ensure that your documents are usable by everyone.
12. CHOOSE A TEMPLATE AND STICK TO IT
Whether you’re following a pre-set template in your word processing software or one decided on by your design team, there are usually predetermined formats for document creation that take much of the decision-making off of your plate.
The important thing to remember when following a template is to do exactly that. Maintaining consistency creates a more effective reading experience for your audience. Making changes to a set template — changing font size, line spacing, header tags, etc. — is likely to create a cluttered or confusing look.
13. INCORPORATE HEADINGS, BULLETS, AND LISTS
Not many things deter a potential reader more quickly than opening a document and realizing they’ll have to wade through a solid wall of text. Making regular use of heading tags, bullet points, and numbered lists serves several purposes for making documents more readable.
Not only do those elements help to break up text and draw the reader’s eye, they also give a document more search engine optimization value, a useful feature for online documents. Making proper use of header tags also improves the accessibility of your documents by making them more compatible with e-reader technology.
14. USE SECTION BREAKS
Larger documents such as white papers and extensive reports need to be broken up in order to be readable and digestible for your audience. Making use of periodic section breaks makes documents more visually appealing and easier to read.
Depending on the kind of document, that can include page breaks, chapter breaks, column breaks, or whatever kind of section break makes the most visual sense in context.
15. CONSIDER DOCUMENT AUTOMATION
Once you have created a professional document that meets your needs and the needs of your organization, consider investing in document automation. With this, you can quickly and easily recreate all the formatting and settings you have used.
Also, with automation, you can create a single document and then use it for multiple purposes. This is going to help you, and everyone in your organization saves time, which can lead to higher levels of productivity.
How to Make Professional Documents for Enterprise with an Automated System
Enterprise organizations have a specific set of document creation needs. Creating a high volume of documents on a regular basis requires a reliable, easy-to-use system that can ensure that each document looks and reads exactly as expected, every time. Trying to handle that volume using a manual system of document creation takes up a huge amount of time, creates a high risk of human error, and requires constant adjustments and tweaking.
An automated document generation system is a necessity for any enterprise business. By eliminating human touch points, creating a centralized document management experience, and facilitating both batch and on-demand document generation, an automated software solution ensures that your organization creates professional, meaningful documents that can be distributed smoothly and efficiently. Automating your document creating allows you to:
Create templates that you can reuse
Building a new template every time you need to send out a new batch of documents costs your business a lot of time and money. An automated system makes it easy to create reusable templates that can be easily personalized and adjusted to meet your clients’ needs.
Assemble the perfect professional document based on template
Having a range of reusable templates available gives you the flexibility to choose the ideal document for each situation. Different suppliers and customers have different needs and approaches to business, and an automated document generation system makes it easier to tailor communications to each one.
Create responsive smart documents
Smart documents help to give your customers visibility into their real-time account data and get self-service answers to their questions without needing help from a call center. That also makes it easier for your team to consolidate large data sets and make sure that all of the right information is reaching the right customers.
Add documents to workflows and get them to the right audience
Automated document management makes it easier to incorporate your entire document creation process into your workflow, from the initial design to the final delivery. Making document creation an organic part of the workflow makes it simple to define participants and configure elements to match the specific needs of each customer.
Create Newsletters Legal Contracts Smart Invoices Labels Customer Dashboards Statements Bills Receipts Letters Business Reports Marketing Docs Proposals Legal Agreements Invoices POs Tax Documents Rundown of Insurance Coverage Explanation of Benefits Portfolio Statements Checking Account Statements Hospital Discharge Statements Prescriptions
MHC understands just how many documents flow through your organization and to your customers every minute of every day. Your needs are legion, and unique. From newsletters to bills to legal documents, our document automation software boasts the flexibility to create and pivot based on what documents your company needs to function and succeed. Here are only some of the documents you can create with EngageCX:
- Legal Contracts
- Smart Invoices
- Customer Dashboards
- Business Reports
- Marketing Docs
- Legal Agreements
- Tax Documents
- Rundown of Insurance Coverage
- Explanation of Benefits
- Portfolio Statements
- Account Statements
- Hospital Discharge Statements
Ready to learn more about the many ways document automation can help to ensure that your business is creating professional documents that communicate what they need to? Check out MHC’s document automation page to get more details and schedule a free demonstration of our industry-leading document automation software.