One of the most annoying things about writing documents, at least for me, is making them look pretty. I am not a gifted visual artist, so when I go to make a poster or write a resume, I really struggle with how to make the information both readable and attractive. I can write the copy and feel fairly good about it, but then when I go to arrange the information on the page, well, I can spend hours bogged down in things like tabs and spaces (especially when using Word and it’s nutty auto-formatting).

I have one strong resource, though, that helps me with the visual aspect of documents: the CRAP principle, originally created by graphic designer Robin Williams. CRAP is an acronym that stands for four concepts – Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity. By heeding these four concepts, I can usually craft a visually pleasing document.

Contrast – This concept stresses that when you want a reader to see the difference between two things – graphs vs text, for example – you need to build contrast in. Thus, you want to have strong contrast between the background of a document and the text (no yellow print on white paper, folks), and you want strong contrast between the graphical elements – like images – and the text itself.

Repetition – When elements of a document are similar, you want to repeat the formatting for those elements to show that similarity. Thus, the headings of a document should be the same for each level of heading – i.e. main headings are all in bold, 14-point font and sub-headings are all underlined and in 12-point font. This repetition allows the reader to skim and see various levels and connections between parts of a document.

Alignment – The text should be visually aligned so that readers can move through them easily. For example, elements in a bulleted list should all align as should the major components of text. Think of all those sidebars in magazines or textbooks; don’t they frustrate you because you don’t know when to read them? That’s an issue of alignment.

Proximity – This concept says that things that are related to one another should be in relative proximity to each other. This is why magazines and textbooks use sidebars, despite the fact that they aren’t aligned; the sidebars create proximity between the information in that box of text and create space between the main article and related but not crucial information. So if you want to show a relationship between things, put them close together on your page.

Perhaps an example of these principles is in order here. Think of your resume (and if you don’t have one, write one and use these principles as you do). On a resume, you should use contrast to set apart the header (with your name and contact information) from the rest of the text; you could make that section much bigger in font to set it apart.

Then, repetition comes into play throughout the document where you want to be sure that the levels of headings are repetitive in their formatting – i.e. Work Experience and Education are in 14-Point bold font, and then each job or school is in 11-Point bold with the content itself in plain, 11-Point font. You can also use repetition by modifying your header (take out your contact information and replace it with “Resume-pg#) and placing it at the top of each page of your resume (and yes, sometimes a good resume needs to be more than one page).

Alignment is crucial in a resume because you want the reader to see the connection between the various items you list. Thus, all your jobs should be similarly aligned as should the dates (I recommend dates be aligned on the right-hand side of your text so that they make a column of chronology that’s easy to read). All of your bullets about each job’s responsibilities should be aligned as should every element of the resume. You want a reader to be able to use the vertical alignment to see a column of information.

Finally, proximity is developed in a resume primarily by the use of white space. You put extra space between each section and a blank line between each entry.

CRAP, to be carefully distinguished from BS, is really important when you write. It helps the reader take in your content more easily and creates a document that is both visually appealing and rhetorically clear. So write (with) more CRAP.

Andi’s Resume – Click here to see my CRAP resume that uses these principles.