Document design is concerned with creating text such as books, pamphlets, or posters that integrate words and pictures in ways that help people to achieve their specific goals for using texts at home, school, work, etc. It is the bringing together of graphics (including illustrations and photography) for purposes of instruction, information or persuasion. Remember that reader needs must ultimately drive the design. Document design is the act of writing and designing along with the skillful selection, structuring and emphasis of content with the reader needs in focus.

Use document design to help readers locate information and understand the structure and meaning of your material. Remember that the design of a document has both an informational and a physical aspect format and layout. Format refers to the arrangement of the document content into standard subject areas such as introduction, theory, method and results, discussion, and conclusions sections. Format also refers to the general design of standard document elements such as tables and figures, as well as citations. Format conventions are usually widely followed but may vary from field to field.

Technical Writing departments in their infancy seem to have great difficulty producing documentation that is well designed and consistent in appearance throughout all documents. As the department matures, it attempts to “consistify” the format of the documentation, but, unless there is an experienced template designer on board, this is often a drawn-out process involving focus groups and much squabbling.

A writer needs to consider the visual presentation of their document before writing in order to present the information in a way that increases the readability and understanding of the document.The four areas a writer is concerned with when writing a document are:

  • Organization
  • Order
  • Access
  • Variety

The organization of a document and its design is accomplished by breaking up the information into chunks (chunking). This is done effectively by creating headings and using white space correctly. When the writer orders the ideas with different font sizes, font types and heading positioning, the queuing can make the priority of the information easier to understand.

Access of information can be accomplished by using bullets, numbering, boldface or caps to emphasize keywords. The document design can include underlining and font color too. When using headings with color the meaning of the paragraph stands out but over use of color or underlining can make the document harder to read. Variety of the other areas used effectively uses white space and columns or gutter widths to break up the text and be more appealing to the reader.

There are ways to give your audience easy access to the information that they want. Indenting a new block of text is like opening a door and inviting the reader in. Bullets emphasize important items within the text. Numbering allows for easy access by showing sequence or importance. Boldface draws attention to key words or phrases and all caps highlights a danger or warning. Underlining, italics and highlighting can all be used similarly as highlighting techniques.

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