How to Design an Effective Handout

An effective handout captivates your reader.
An effective handout captivates your reader. (Image: Hemera Technologies/ Images)

A handout is a great way to spread the word about almost anything, from advertising an upcoming concert or warning people about rising crime in their neighborhood. gives several definitions of a handout, ranging from a single leaflet given out free of charge to a multipage document containing detailed information for people invited to a meeting or speech. Creative marketers use handouts to persuade potential customers, whether they use lengthy documents packed with sales statistics to impress a client or simple coupons to hand out during festivals.

Draw a preliminary design of your handout. This will help you determine how much information you can fit, the number and size of any pictures and how it might look on a page. Perform this step with paper and pencil.

Determine the quantity of information needed for maximum effect. Avoid boring your readers with excessive and meaningless words. A word, phrase or sentence is not effective if you can remove it without significantly changing the meaning of your handout. Reduce printing costs and reader boredom by publishing only the most vital information. Make every word and every page count, and your clients will appreciate the quick read.

Type every word -- including any titles, subtitles or picture captions -- into a word processing program. Read all text aloud to be certain it makes sense and that sentences flow smoothly. Ask team members or coworkers to edit and review the text. Perform a spell check and a check on grammar. Save this file and run any subsequent changes through a spell and grammar check before flowing the text into your publishing/design program. If you distribute a handout riddled with misspellings and grammatical errors, you will not look like an authority on the subject and your handout will not be effective.

Choose legible fonts, such as Arial and Times New Roman, for text containing information important to your reader. Consider the largest font possible to make reading easier, but don't go over 11 or 12 pt for large blocks of text (also known as the "body" text). Restrict use of ornate fonts to only those places you wish to catch the readers’ attention, like the front of the document.

Use white space, or empty areas on the page, wisely. Mary Bucholtz from University of California, Santa Barbara, states you should never double space text in a handout. Do not cram all the pertinent information onto one page. Instead, use multiple pages when necessary for smooth information flow. And use tables to organize information.

Highlight the most important aspects of your handout by using reverse text. A reverse text box usually has a black background with white lettering but you may choose for brighter colors to catch your reader’s attention. The most effective handouts use reverse text boxes sparingly to increase the importance to those pieces of information.

Add suitable pictures if they are appropriate for your type of handout. Photographs add visual interest and attract attention. Do not add inappropriate pictures that some may find offensive. And don't add too many pictures, as this increases the quantity of ink used and may detract from the professional appearance of your handout.

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