Looks Matter

Form ever follows function.

—Louis Sullivan (1856–1924), American architect considered the “father of the skyscraper”

Beauty is only skin-deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.

—Dorothy Parker (1893–1967), American writer

Looks matter in quantation, just as they do in many avenues of life. First impressions are important, and when it comes to numbers, the first impressions you make as a presenter come from how you lay out your information on the page. How the page looks can tell your audience whether you're professional or unprofessional, well-prepared or sloppy, familiar with your audience or completely out-to-lunch.

Moreover, how you lay out the information on the page can be an important part of the content of your report. By using “white space” intelligently, you can tell your audience how they should group your information in their minds, what's important and what's not important, and where you want them to focus first. Also, visual clues (like font styles, point sizes, and color and shading) can help you highlight important data points, distinguish calculated values from user inputs, contrast raw information from key indicators, and highlight actual results from future or pro forma results.

If anything, all of this matters more with numbers than with words. People typically read written documents in a standard pattern—left to right, then top to bottom, one paragraph after another, and then on to the next page. Within the document, each paragraph starts ...

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