Professional and Technical Writing/Design

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Designing Documents[edit | edit source]

Anderson Chapter 11: “Writing Reader-Centered Front and Back Matter”[edit | edit source]

  • In your professional life you will strive to succeed and advance within your company. What better way to make an impression than to create documents that stand out from the rest. Using Transmittal Letters, Covers, and Front and Back matter will increase the usability and persuasiveness of your document. Knowing how and when to use these tools for success is an acquired skill, but with practice mastering this ability will pay dividends!
  • According to Paul V. Anderson's text, Technical Communication: A Reader-Centered Approach, there are several ways in which to enhance a document's usability and persuasiveness. The first thing is to figure out how to help the audience find what they need. In technology documents especially, making it easy for the reader to find out exactly what they need is essential. Technical documents are usually very long so a necessary part of your document should be a table of contents and an index. These two items, generally located at the front and back of the document respectively, allow the reader to quickly find what they are inquiring about. Another thing that should be considered to make your document easy to navigate is the title itself. An accurate title will allow the reader to find your document easily and quickly in a stack of related topics.
  • The Anderson text explains how to enhance your document by including an abbreviated summary of the document's main points. It is called an abstract or executive summary. Including one of these summaries for your document's main points is vital in the business world. The summary called the executive summary really means a summary for the executive who is most likely your boss. This summary is the very first thing the executives will go to. The decision makers for your document are generally very busy people and they need a summary to get an idea of what you're going to be presenting. The executive summary needs to contain a brief summary of the information in the entire report. The most important and basic information goes here. A tip that goes along with the abstract piece, is to create a favorable initial impression on your audience. I can guarantee that you will not create a favorable impression on your bosses if they flip to the executive summary and it doesn’t exist.
  • Other ways to enhance your readers' impressions are to create appealing titles and to carefully choose the most attractive font. Creating your document that creates this favorable initial impression is the most important aspect of creating a document that stands out from the rest. The human brain makes judgments on all types of stimuli before we actually realize our decision. We don’t even know it but the human brain has already made its choice before we can even begin to rationalize and try to make the educated choice. Based on this knowledge, an appealing cover and choice of design really can make all the difference in your document's success. The right colors, font, and style of the cover can mean everything.
  • Yet another tip that coincides with the design aspects is to properly organize your document. A document that is designed and organized well generally lasts longer in an company because of its usefulness and future employees will be able to use your quality document over and over again. The design element of business documents cannot be overlooked. Having a quality design not only makes your document look good but it can also alter your audience's perception. Depending on how you organize the layout of your document can change what people think about the content of the document. A good design will make your document seem more professional, which gives the document more credibility. A good design also can guide your audience into getting what you want them to learn from the document. Depending on the fonts and styles you choose to incorporate, you can make certain points stand out.
  • The design of professional documents can persuade the audience to read it, but in order for the actual document to persuade your audience, you have to begin by writing with the audience in mind. The Anderson text tells us “by thoroughly understanding your readers goals, values, and attitudes, you can determine what should be included and emphasized in the executive summary to lead readers to make the decision or take the actions you advocate(p. 307)." The reader should only have to read the executive summary and get the point of your document. Guiding the readers in this fashion is especially important in feasibility studies. Feasibility studies are conducted to find out if a solution is feasible. So it’s very important to send a consistent message to your audience. As the author you know the subject matter better than anyone so you have to let the readers know the vital information of the feasibility study. If you don’t get across the important information your study will lack impact.

  • Remember: APPEARANCE MATTERS! Whether it's the use of photographs, your favorite font, a chart to explain your data findings, or something as simple as page numbers and headings, the visual appearance and presentation of a document is extremely important and should be taken with care. When writing business documents in any setting, a professional looking document is necessary to convey the message of the document. With proper organization and appropriate use of design elements, a document can speak volumes not only in content, but in visual appeal.

Typical type settings and design elements:[edit | edit source]

Fonts[edit | edit source]

  • Use a classical serif typeface when writing professional style documents. Examples of serif typeface include Times New Roman, Garamond, and Baskerville. These font styles are the most commonly used because they are styled best for readability of large bodies of text and add a revered professionalism to the document. These fonts have distinct main lines, which means that the main parts of each letter are distinct and easy to see.
  • Using styles like italics can be helpful for emphasis, but using them too often can cause the text to become too difficult to read. Try not to use italics for more than one sentence at a time.
  • Capital letters are also good for added emphasis but should not be used for more than a few words at a time. The similarities between shapes of capital letters make them less identifiable when reading for a long period of time.

Headings and Subheadings[edit | edit source]

  • Make use of proper headings and subheadings. These are extremely useful for the reader when navigating a document. They separate sections of the document and provide a basic outline of information given in the document. Headings should stand out from the text of the main body to ensure the reader can clearly recognize when a section is beginning or ending. A sans-serif typeface (Arial, Franklin Gothic, Myriad, Helvetica, and Gill Sans) is most appropriate since it is easy-to-read and can visually separate headings from body text. These typefaces should be bold and slightly larger to distinguishing headings clearly. An easier way to distinguish heading and subheadings is to use the already formatted headings a word processing software, which can also create a table of contents from the headings/subheadings one incorporates into the document.

Headers and Footers[edit | edit source]

  • Headers and Footers are used in large documents to aid reader as they move through the text. Headers can be used to distinguish one section from another by re-stating the section or the selected page the material may reside. Headers can also add to the overall uniformity of a document. A common use of the header is placing the title of the work on each page, as well as generating page numbers automatically. This ensures the reader understands that the document is to be read as one or to organize pages of text in case they get separated during reading of the document. Footers can also contain useful information. Footers can also contain page numbers or footnotes which describe certain aspects of the text which may have been confusing to the reader and are in need of further clarification. Another use of footnotes is each individual page allows for readers to more easily read citations and supplemental information rather than placing the footnotes in the back of the document. Page numbers help with navigation and give purpose to the table of contents.

Use of Visuals[edit | edit source]

  • Visuals can be used in a wide variety of business and career documents. Thoroughly explained in {Charts and Graphs} and {Photographs and Illustrations}, the use of visual aids can add quality and interest to the document. While charts and graphs are used as supplemental information in the form of visuals to explain data or certain informational material, photographs and illustrations are more commonly used a supplement in the form of visuals that add to understanding of the content for the reader. When used properly, these visual aids can add professionalism to a document and make it enjoyable to read. Be sure to pay close attention to placement of visuals in the body of the document.

Note: One should place images at natural breaks in the text. Between paragraphs or sections is most common. This way, the image does not interrupt the flow of reading and confuse the reader as to where the document goes next. Be sure to use logical placement to ensure the image supplements the text near or around it.

Line Elements and Color[edit | edit source]

  • Line elements and color are two more elements more uncommonly employed in formal written documents. Generally, text is kept to black on a white background. This standard for writing documents is easiest to read and allows the information to be presented successful and prevents complex visuals or other distractions from taking away from the document. Color can be used when writing, but carefully and meticulously in professional documents. Typically, a logo or headings will use color to distinguish itself from the body copy. In headings, colors are generally blue, red, or green to call attention without distracting the reader. Logos are kept small and placed in the upper corners of the document or in the footer. It is uncommon to break text with logos or lines. And colored words within a body copy make it extremely hard to read. Lines can be used to separate sections or distinguish headers from footers. These should be light and a fine width as to match the text and not cause unnecessary visual weight to the document.

When these elements are used correctly and tastefully, they add interest and professionalism to a document. Supplementing the information with visuals and organizational elements helps guide the reader through the document.

Quick Tips[edit | edit source]

  1. Keep your messages brief.
  2. Use short paragraphs.
  3. Use the subject line to specify your message.
  4. Use headings to identify the sections of your message.
  5. Avoid distracting colors and backgrounds.

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