Whitespace is your friend

201511-6955137D24As a scientist or engineer, you’re probably used to packing as much data as possible into a given format. You might pack words into emails or Word documents. You might pack data into an Excel worksheet. You might pack charts or tables on a PowerPoint slide.

You aren’t as sensitive as most people to the density of information. You’re adept at picking apart a PowerPoint slide to find the most interesting bits of data. You’re comfortable combing through text, looking for the phrase you need.

In graduate school, it seemed like I was sitting in seminar after seminar. You only have an hour. You’ve done a lot of research. You want to show it all, to try to get credit, so to speak, for all the things you’ve thought about.

Only after joining industry, and transitioning away from technology, did I learn the power of whitespace. As you make your own career transition, you’ll need to learn the same thing. It’s counterintuitive, but the more whitespace you leave, the more your audience retains.

I’ll cover this topic in more detail in the future. For now, though, know that whitespace helps you in at least two important ways:

  1. It forces you to eliminate unessential stuff.
  2. It increases comprehension by making your material easy to skim.

The reality is most people skim most of what they “read”. Sure, if you’re engaged, you read. But if you’re looking things over, out of a sense of obligation, you skim.

Knowing how much skimming goes on, you should create output that is easy to skim. Then, if the first glance was enough to capture the attention of your reader, you will have supporting material available.

Don’t make your readers, or audience, work to find the takeaway. Put it on a silver platter, which you do by surrounding it in whitespace. Once you become skilled with whitespace, you can think of ways to translate the initial engagement into a deeper, more substantive dive (if necessary).

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