If people can’t easily read and skim your bullet points, why bother writing anything at all?
Ever look at a bunch of bullet points, or a paragraph and the words seem like they just kind of blend together? This is usually due to improper formatting that causes your brain to be unable to separate lines of text and sentences from one another. In other words, we see the dreaded “wall of text”. The key to legibility when styling bullet points lies almost entirely in line spacing. How bullet points appear on a slide are determined by five major elements:
- Text-box width – The width of the text-box that the bullet points (or other text) resides in.
- Margin – Distance from the edge of the text box to the bullet point.
- Indent – Distance from the bullet point to the text.
- Paragraph spacing – Distance from one paragraph to the next.
- Line height (line spacing) – Distance in between one line in a paragraph to the next line in the same paragraph.
For a few examples of these concepts coming to life and how small changes can make a big difference, have a look through these slides:
The width of the text-box (as seen in purple in the above presentation), controls the line width of a paragraph. In other words, the number of characters in a line. Too many characters, and the line becomes too long and too challenging to read. Too short, and your eyes and brain get confused as your rhythm is constantly broken up by jumping from line to line too quickly. Reports about ideal line-width have varied from what I’ve read, some say 50-70 characters, some say no more than 90 characters. By playing with the text-box width, and affecting the line width you should be able to find a happy medium. Of note, all of our templates take this principle into consideration during design.
Margin & Indent
Seen in blue and pink striped boxes in the example presentation, margin and indent distances are controlled by highlighting a line or block of text and then using these icons in the ruler at the top of the slide editing window: The first triangle controls margin, and the lower part of the second triangle controls indent. Too much margin on a given line (or too little) and the lines blur together, making differentiation between 1st tier (major) and 2nd tier (secondary or supporting) lines in a bullet point block.
Paragraph spacing & Line Spacing
Labeled in orange and green in the presentation, paragraph spacing and line spacing is controlled by highlighting a paragraph or line and selecting Format > Paragraph in the menu. Within this menu, under Spacing Before and Spacing After describe exactly what they sound like – spacing above a paragraph and below a paragraph. 1st tier or major bullet point lines I prefer to have at least a 6 pt spacing before, and 0 pt after, while 2nd tier or supporting bullet lines underneath a major bullet point I prefer a 0 pt spacing before and 6 pt spacing after. This allows for a small amount of space between tier 1 and tier 2, while tier two paragraphs are appropriately spaced, and distance between major blocks of bullet points is larger so skimming is easier. An example of this spacing is seen on slide 10 of the above presentation.
Line spacing is by default set at Single and 0, however, by selecting Multiple and entering in 0.9 or 0.8 etc, you can reduce the amount of space between lines in a paragraph (conversely 1.1 or 1.5 will increase this spacing). Too far apart and your eyes have to travel too far down to the next line when reading, too close and they become too cramped and lines blur together. Typically, a spacing of 1.1 to 0.8 is the sweet spot.
A final note on tiers
A general rule that I always stick to is never going deeper than two tiers when using bullet points. Here’s an example of what I mean by tiers:
- Tier 1
- Tier 2
Anything beyond tier 2 becomes too much information. More often than not, sticking to just two tiers is enough. Over hundreds of the presentations I’ve done in the last few years, I’ve never required more than two tiers so it’s definitely doable.
Interested in learning more about typography design? PracticalTypography.com is an excellent resource to quickly understand the basics and get well on your way to making more beautiful and legible presentations.