1530.0 - ABS Forms Design Standards Manual, 2010  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 25/01/2010  First Issue
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Contents >> Survey Letters >> Survey Letters-Typography


While aspects of these standards will be of interest to those outside the ABS, they were developed for internal use. As such, some information contained in these standards will not be applicable to an external audience. ABS staff should refer to the Corporate Manuals database for the most recent version of these documents, as some details (names, phone numbers etc.) have been removed from the online version.



Typography is the art of organising the printed word on a page. To use typographic contrast effectively, it is essential to use it in a consistent and controlled way. The controlled use of type faces is an important aid to a respondent reading and understanding the letter. See chapter 5 of the main Forms Design Standards for more details.


ABS letters, including the headings, should be written in Times font. Times is a serif face font. (The serifs are the little curls at the extremities of letters.) In general, large slabs of text are more readable when set in serif faces.

Text size

The text sizes recommended in these standards are intended to balance readability with the amount of information which may be fitted on a single page. The text size for the body of letters should be 10 point. Letter headings should be 12 point. Headings within the body of the letter should be 10 point. Larger text may be used where appropriate, for example in cases where many of the target respondents are expected to be elderly.

Correct formatting should help the reader to navigate smoothly down the page in the appropriate sequence while highlighting important information.

Leading capitals

Text should be set in lower case, using capitals for the start of key words in form titles, the first letters of sentences, section headings and captions. Capital letters should also be used for the first letter of appropriate names, titles, and abbreviations. Using all uppercase to emphasise words is poor and should be avoided. This is because the words lose their distinct and easily recognisable shapes, which slows reading.


Bold should be used to emphasis key words. Examples of key words include headings, due date and freecall number. Bold should be used sparingly and consistently.


Underlining words also interferes with the ability of people to use the shape of a word to assist reading. Underlining should be used sparingly and consistently.


Italics should be used when referring to either the Census and Statistics Act 1905 or ABS publications by title.

The purpose of a heading is to increase the ease and speed at which information can be found. Headings can be useful when seeking specific information, or alternatively skipping information which the reader may not think is relevant. This technique of finding information is particularly useful when reading large amounts of text.

DCM recommend that headings on all business survey letters be restricted to those at the top of the page. The reasons for this recommendation follow.
  1. There is not enough information in the letter for it to need a system of navigation. For example, a heading to highlight a one line sentence about the due date is just repeating most of the text, and is redundant when the information is already high-lighted by the due-date itself being bold.
  2. As headings are used to find the information that the reader feels is relevant, it is possible that in such short passages of text, such as those in ABS letters, respondents will be encouraged to skip information under headings they judge to be unimportant. In the case of ABS letters it is important that respondents read the entire letter.
  3. Headings increase the amount of eye movement necessary for the respondent to read the entire letter.
  4. Headings draw attention away from other important bold information in the text, such as the due date and the freecall number. With headings present, the relative importance of this information is reduced.
  5. Headings may cause the standard letter to run onto two pages, which would inevitably increase printing costs and reduce the effectiveness of the letter.
If headings cannot be avoided

If headings cannot be avoided, they should be kept short and meaningful. All information should belong to a heading for consistency and to avoid the reader skipping over 'hidden text'.

Headings should be kept within the body of the text rather than in their own column on the left side, for the following reasons.
  1. Headings on the side force the respondent to read the page in an unnatural progression (having to read headings that are unusually far to the left), increasing respondent eye movement (burden) and disrupting the flow.
  2. When headings are required, having them on the side can make it difficult for the respondent to determine the beginning and end of the section belonging to each heading.
  3. Side headings take up a column of space to the left of the page. In some cases this will cause the letter to unnecessarily run onto a second page.
  4. Laying out the page neatly with side headings and appropriate margins and justification is operationally more difficult than one column of text.


The dimensions for standard ABS letterhead should be as follows:
  • Left margin - 25.4 mm
  • Top right margin - 64mm
  • Top margin - 74 mm
  • Bottom margin - 25.4 mm
  • Gap between address label and letter - 10 mm.


Full justification is suitable for large blocks of text including text of survey letters. For a more professional look, text of paragraphs should be fully-justified. Text is fully justified when the columns of text align to both left and right margins. In order to make the lines of equal length the spacing between words is adjusted or long words at the end of lines are hyphenated. Left justified right ragged text should only be used for short lines of text, for example, the narrow columns of split-page formatted text in many ABS publications. For research on text comprehension supporting fully justified text see, for example, Wheildon (1990).

The heading and type of letter being used (if appropriate) should be centre-justified. Text is centre-justified when each line is centred about a midpoint on the letter.
  • Wheildon, C. (1990) A study of the validity - or otherwise - of some elements of typographic Design, Communicating or just making pretty shapes, Newspaper Advertising Bureau of Australia Ltd., Sydney.

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