Frequently Asked Questions
Mind Your Spacing – Out In The World and In Your Documents
Does the text on your document need some social distancing? A little more whitespace?
Whitespace, or negative space, is essential to the readability of documents and affects the accuracy of software that adds tagging for accessibility by screen readers. Dr. Fontz discusses the importance of whitespace for readability and accessibility.
As I have been working from home, maintaining social distancing, and being mindful of the space around me, I have been working with a client whose document designers have not always been mindful of the whitespaces around the text in their documents. Whitespace, or negative space, is important to the readability of documents, and also affects the accuracy of software that adds tagging for accessibility by screen readers.
Whitespace is used to let the reader know what groups of text belong together. Providing extra spacing between lines makes it easier for users with cognitive disabilities to track to the next line and know when a paragraph has ended.
Whitespace, in the form of extra line spacing between paragraphs, allow the reader to know which lines belong with one paragraph, and which are the beginning of a new concept. It is much more useful than just indenting at the beginning of a paragraph. Using appropriate whitespace in your documents increases readability and comprehension by as much a 20%. The W3.org WCAG guidelines recommend lines spacing (leading) of 1.5 within a paragraph and at least 1.5 times that space between paragraphs.
This level of spacing not only makes it easier for the readers to understand, but it also helps automated accessibility tagging software be able to recognize and tag paragraphs and headings.
Whitespace is also critical for reading tables that do not use graphical lines for separation. For columns to be recognized, there needs to be a clear channel of whitespace between the columns from the top to the bottom of the table. Allowing text from one column to run all the way up to or even into the next column make the tables harder to read and harder to tag for accessibility.
When designing for accessibility, you should avoid using any subheadings within a table that span across multiple columns. Screen readers read the column header before reading the contents of each table cell. If the text in the first column extends into the second column, the header of the second column will be read out loud before the last few words.
Whitespace between table rows is also important, especially if each line of text is not a separate row of the table. If a transaction description uses multiple lines, but the numeric value(s) are on a single line, it is sometimes difficult to determine which text belongs together, especially when some columns may be empty.
Margins are also a key element of document design—good whitespace margins around a block of text force the eye to focus on the text. The text should not be allowed to bleed into any graphical elements on the page, as that reduces readability.
Mind your spacing on your documents and in your life. Everyone, please stay safe.
Printers are essential workers!