On Martin Luther King Day, I listened as my pastor read excerpts from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I realized that I had read, and heard, excerpts but never then entire document. I looked it up.
I succeeded in reading two paragraphs. I just could not force myself to read one word more.
I suspect that a large part of the problem is that the document was single-spaced on the computer screen. Yes, there were paragraph breaks but that was the only white space for screen after screen. The actual document is 23 pages long.
This emphasized for me the importance of white space. If you aren’t familiar with the term, white space is where there is no print on the page. It is where the white of the paper shows through. In design terms, there is white space between characters, lines and paragraphs.
When there isn’t enough, a document tends to look like a dictionary page. It is dense and intimidating. It is tiring to read.
White space gives your reader a break. It makes individual words easier to read. It keeps the reader from being overwhelmed. It makes the text more inviting.
If you don’t understand how this happens, take a look at the image above. Myoung Ho Lee is a South Korean photographer who captures images of trees. To show them to their best advantage, he raises a backdrop of white canvas behind his subject.
The canvas marks the tree off from its environment. It makes it more clearly visible. It emphasizes this one tree which becomes the viewers focus.
We also use white space when we write. How we break up paragraphs can make it easier for our readers to spot the central idea. To follow from one point to the next. To emphasize a point, whether it is a sentence or a phrase, we can isolate it by using returns to place it
on a line by itself.
White space is not something that only poets contemplate. When in doubt, leave a bit of space. Give your reader a spot of room
to become aware.