Public Affairs Ireland | Training and Development | Conferences

A report that people don’t read is a wasteful use of resources – and of missed opportunities. So how can you create reports that capture the attention of your target readers?

First impressions count. An effective layout can help to make reports more accessible and enhance an organisation’s reputation. The appearance of a report can also influence how readers approach it, how much they read and how they use the content afterwards.

Tip 1 – Use white space

One of the most effective ways of encouraging your intended audience to read a report is to avoid cramming in information. Each page or screen should have plenty of white space – so it can ‘breathe’. This involves using lots of sub-headings to separate short sections, unjustified text and short paragraphs (an average of 6 lines is a good guideline). Don’t underline text and try to use 1.5 line spacing if possible (or at least 1.15).

Tip 2 – Use visuals

Visual images can help to attract readers’ attention and stop them simply scanning a report. Try to add charts, tables, graphics, photos, infographics, sub-headings, bullet-point lists, panels and colour to your pages. Reports that display information in different ways are particularly effective if you’re trying to reach an audience of both experts and non-experts. Another benefit is that many visuals add white space to a page.

Summary – How your report can capture readers’ attention

  1. Ensure pages have white space
  2. Use sub-headings to break information into ‘bite-sized’ chunks
  3. Keep paragraphs short
  4. Avoid overlong sentences
  5. Prefer unjustified text
  6. Avoid single line spacing
  7. Use visuals to add interest and white space


By Sarah Marriott

Sarah Marriott is a highly experienced trainer and former journalist who specialises in delivering Writing Skills courses for the public and private sectors. Sarah has worked as a feature writer and sub-editor at The Irish Times. She has also been involved in training Irish Times editorial staff. She is a former lecturer on the MA in Journalism at Dublin Institute of Technology and is author of Common Errors in Written English.

On Thursday 13 June, Sarah Marriott will lead a seminar on Report Writing. For more information, or to book, click here