New Layout for Legislation

As part of ongoing efforts to improve access to justice for Canadians, the print and PDF versions of federal legislation have been given a new appearance effective January 2016. The new layout does not change the wording or meaning of the legislation, but does make it more user-friendly and easier to read.

What’s new?

Overall, the design is more modern and clean; the new appearance includes the following changes:

Longer lines

While the French and English versions are still side-by-side, the lines in each column are longer, with more space between them. This change brings the layout of legislative text into compliance with current best practices in document design. To achieve this longer line, all the text that was previously in the right and left margins has been moved into the body of the text.

Use of different fonts

Different styles and sizes of fonts are used to give greater prominence to certain elements and to help direct readers’ eyes more easily through the text. The structure of the legislative text (headings, sections, subsections, paragraphs, etc.) has been made more evident in order to improve readability.

Because headings and sub-headings are larger, they are more noticeable, helping readers to find the information they are looking for, and their sans-serif font helps draw the eye down to the body of the text.

The use of a font with a serif for the denser body of the text helps draw the eye along the length of each line and helps readers distinguish similarly-shaped letters.

Information at the top of the page

Information now appears in the header to help readers orient themselves within the text. The header for a given page contains the title of the text that is being consulted, the titles of the Parts of the text, if any, and the provisions on that page.

Why was it changed?

The layout of federal legislation had not been modified since 1969, after the adoption of the Official Languages Act. At that time, the government of the day decided that the English and French versions of all federal laws had to appear side-by-side.

In those days, typewriters and other tools used for formatting text offered many fewer options for font styles and sizes, making it difficult to give any particular part of a document more prominence. Also, since the font used was relatively small, the overall effect was to create documents that appeared dense and cluttered. This, in turn, made laws that were difficult for many people to read, particularly the visually impaired.

Since then, much has been learned about how page layout affects the readability of documents. At the same time, advances in computer technology have made it easier to apply that knowledge when designing the layout.

In developing the new layout, Department of Justice officials referred to best practices and consulted with experts in the field of document design to ensure that the end result would be as user-friendly as possible.

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