Page design is an important element in technical writing, though it may not seem so. Most of us don’t see a manual as a work of art; however, design is a necessary part of technical writing. Design helps guide the reader to specific points in a document. It allows for less eye fatigue. And, it highlights important pieces or chunks of information. Chapter 5 covers document design, and I will summarize some of those topics in this lecture.
First, let’s talk about some items to consider for document design. Like the questions you might ask yourself before developing content for a document, you need to consider items specific to audience and purpose in document design. The book lists three really good questions to ask yourself when thinking about document design. Always consider where the document will be used, how the document will be used, and how you want readers to perceive the document.
Building off one of the statements in the title slide, consistent design is important as it helps reinforce a company’s image. Many companies use style guides or style sheets to help with maintaining consistency across a document or many documents.
We are going to develop a style sheet in this lesson, and so I want to give some addition background on style sheets and style guides. These documents are used by technical writers and designers to help maintain consistency in documents. These documents include things like specific header and list styles, wording choices, grammar rules, and information on logo use. For some more detail on style guides, please read in chapter 5 from pages 119-120.
So let’s move on to some of the structural elements of page design: grids and white space. Grids are a useful technique to plan the arrangement of text and graphics in a document. The figures on page 125 in chapter 5 and the examples on the site linked on the slide show some ways of arranging text. White space, which is just open space in a document, is also important to consider. Having ample and well-placed white space will help your audience read your document, and makes a document visually appealing. White space can come in the form of margins, spacing in lines of text, spacing in paragraphs, indentions, and more.
Now let’s move on to content structure. There are really two major elements to consider: lists and headings. Lists, in general, help your audience read through information more easily. They help organize information in certain ways, such as chronologically or by level of importance. Lists should follow specific formatting, be in a numerical or bulleted list, and be parallel. Our reading assignment for chapter 5 includes detail on list formatting.
Headings, considered an element for navigation by our textbook, are “brief labels used to introduce each new section or subsection of text” (Chapter 5, page 135). They serve as as “signpost[s] for the reader” a “grabber to entice readers” and “a visual oasis of white space” (Chapter 5, page 135). When using headings, there are some guidelines you should keep in mind such as using at least 1 heading per page of a document, using substantive wording (wording that actually tells the readers something), using parallel form in wording based of grammatical form (example), establishing a clear hierarchy through text formatting and sizing, and using decimals for longer documents.
Document Design in Technical Writing
Document Design in
Elements of Document Design
“When you are designing your document’s
layout, it is just as important to know your
audience as when you are planning your
– Consistent use of elements creates a sense of a
– Headings and lists help readers note different
Source: Chapter 5, Page 118
Items to Consider for
• Where will the document be used? Consider
materials used for specific situations (at a desk vs. on
a construction site, for example)
• How will the document be used? Will it be used as a
reference? Training manual?
• How do you want readers to perceive the document?
Complex? Friendly? Businesslike?
Consistency is Key
Keeping a consistent design throughout a document
reinforces company brands and general aesthetics.
Consistency also helps readers when they review
your document, as it helps with organization.
Style guides and style sheets are a great way to help
with consistency across a document or documents.
Style Sheet and Style Guides
• Include design elements such as headers, lists,
• Include specific wording choices, such as how to
abbreviate certain titles.
• Include common grammar rules, especially if they
follow something specific such as use or lack of use
of the oxford comma.
• Include use of logos and other graphics to help
writers and designers maintain company branding.
Style Sheet Example
By using grids and whitespace, you can keep content
interesting and clear:
Think about a document in terms of sections, using placeholders to organize
text and graphics. (see figures on page 125 in chapter 5)
Check out this site with great examples:
“Experts have learned that readers are attracted to text when white space
surrounds it” (Chapter 5, page 125).
White space can be used in margins, hanging indents, line spacing, paragraph
length, and paragraph indenting among other textual spacing techniques
(Chapter 5, pages 126-127)
Two major elements:
Help you group information for easier reading, helps
emphasize important points, help organize
Lists should be formatted and follow guidelines such as
keeping items within the list as short as possible and
keeping lists parallel in format.
(Source Chapter 5, pages 128-129)
• Use at least one heading per page of a document
• Use substantive wording (Instead of “Costs” use “Production Costs of
• Use parallel form in wording—headings of equal value and degree
should have the same grammatical form (Using the SmartArt
Tool, Adding New Slides, Arranging Slide Elements, are all parallel in
• Establish a clear hierarchy with formatting/bolding (make sure readers
can tell a heading 1 from a heading 2
• User larger type-size for higher level headings; heading position to
show ranking (center a title, for example); and typographic elements
(bolding, italics, color, underline)
• Use decimal headings for longer, formal documents (view page 138 for
Source: Pages 135-138, Chapter 5
• Document design helps audience understand
a document through visual elements.
• Grids and Whitespace help structure a
document in an easy to read manner.
• Lists and Headings help structure content and
can contain typographical techniques and
formatting to achieve style and organization.