ITS 311: IT Communications
Chapter 4: Designing and Producing Documents and Presentations
This chapter discusses basic document layout choices. Objectives important
to this chapter:
- Document design options including fonts, styles, layout, margin, color,
headers, and footers
- Presentation features including front and back matter, index, and bibliography
- Production decisions
Chapter 4 begins with an overview of several features of document design.
In actual practice, you may want to make these choices before you consider
the graphics options in chapter 3.
The layout options for a document are numerous. The author begins with
a suggestion that the design of the first page of a document is crucial
to the reader's perceptions of that document. This is similar to the idea
that a reader will judge a book by its cover. If the reader is not interested
in the document right away, the document may be ignored and your work
on it wasted.
One of the first, and easiest to implement, ideas in the chapter is chunking.
This means using a recognizable pattern in your document. It also
means to break up the document, to use headings and white space that let
the reader take in your material in chunks. In these web notes, for example,
I have placed the course and chapter references at the top of each page,
the navigation buttons at the upper left, the chapter objectives under
the chapter title, and the lecture material under that. A pattern of organization
that is repeated in your document helps the reader find material quickly.
The next concept is called queuing by the author. Her use of that
word is unusual. What she means is to impose a visual structure on the
document. For example, make your headings larger, darker, and aligned
differently from your paragraphs. Make your quoted material different
in another consistent way, such as indenting long quotations and changing
the font used for such material.
A third idea is to use filtering, which means to use visual cues
that tell the reader what kind of information is being presented. For
example, marginal notes may be used for material that supplements the
document, but is not actually part of the presentation.
All of these ideas are related. The text contains several
examples that show a variety of chunking, whitespace, queuing, and filtering.
You can see much the same thing by looking at a newspaper, a magazine,
and a well crafted user manual. Take a minute or two now, and look at
things with this point of view. Think about what the writer is telling
the reader by the use of space, layout, font size, etc.
Some traditional publishing terms are introduced:
- line length - also called measure, this is the limit
to the number of characters on a printed line. This is often about
characters. Too few characters per line will bore readers, but too
many will cause readers to lose their place when they inevitably have
look away and come back to your page.
- leading - the vertical space between lines of type. This goes
back to earlier times, when type was set for a printing press by hand,
and lead spacers were placed between the lines of characters. Word processing
and desktop publishing programs let you modify the leading of a document.
Most users will not need to do this. In general, increase the leading
for small type to make it more readable.
- kerning - the horizontal space between characters on a line.
Most fonts are now proportional, which means that the space before and
after a character varies based on the width of the character itself.
Let's see that line in a font that is not proportional:
Most fonts are now proportional,
which means that the space before and after a character varies based
on the width of the character itself.
The line above is set in a Courier font, which is not proportional.
It is fixed pitch, which means the width of each character is exactly
the same. It is similar to old style typewriter output, and considered
less appealing to readers. Note: I did not change the kerning of the
example line, I changed to a font that uses a different kerning scheme.
Changing the kerning in a document should allow you to use the font of
your choice. I have some different limitations in this web format.
This takes us to more material on appearance of the document.
- Headings are discussed. As noted above, they help organize
the document, break it into acceptable chunks, and help a reader find
material they are looking for.
- Font choices include size, style, and family.
Most fonts fall into one of two groups: serif or sans-serif
fonts. This document is set in 10 point Arial. Arial, Helvetica, and
Swiss are fonts that have no unnecessary extensions on them: no serifs.
The Courier font used here
has serifs. Note the extra horizontal bits on the N, T, f, p, and other
letters. Those are serifs.
For many years, it was recommended that documents use serif fonts, to
lead the reader's eye from one letter to the next. Currently, the fashion
on the Internet is to use sans-serif fonts.
- Margins are another element that add whitespace to a document.
They should be considered for that aspect, and for a related one:
justification. The text
of a document may be justified (aligned) with the
left margin (left justified), the right margin (right justified),
both margins (full justified),
or centered. Each kind of justification has its place. Note
that the author recommends a ragged right margin to make it
easier for a reader to look away, then find the correct line again
This is a feature typical of text that is left justified. Some
authors prefer full justification, which produces smooth left and
right margins, but this often leads to too much whitespace on
The author turns to page elements that provide emphasis:
- This list is an example of a bulleted list. Bullets provide
chunking and whitespace. A numbered list does this as well, but
should only be used when the items in a list follow a sequence,
such as numbered instruction steps. Again, the numbers not only provide
chunking, but they help the user who must read a direction, turn away
to carry out that direction, then return to the text without missing
- Specific words or characters may be emphasized with boldface,
italics, underlining, and other features. If you choose
to use these, be consistent in the meaning you assign to them, and
that meaning clear to the reader. I typically use boldface to emphasize
topic words, and italics to indicate foreign words or variables.
Italics are also correct for book and movie titles. Underlining is discouraged
on web pages, because links are usually underlined. Underlining for
emphasis gives the reader a false impression that the underlined word
is a hyperlink.
- Color is recommended in moderation. It is sometimes useful,
but can obscure your work if readers have color perception problems.
An excellent web site for experimenting with color choices is the Visibone
Webmaster's Color Lab. Take a trip to it, if you have not used
it. Click several colors on the color wheel, and you will see what
looks like in the presence of the others. Very useful.
The chapter continues with a discussion about material that is only
used in formal documents, such as tables of contents, indexes (also called indices),
glossaries, bibliographies, and appendices. The actual layout and use
of each of these
features will vary with the required style of your document. Style requirements
are discussed in chapter 6.