Consciously or not, we design all the texts we write,
choosing typefaces, setting up text as lists or charts,
deciding whether to add headings—and then whether
to center them or flush them left. Sometimes our genre
calls for certain design elements—essays begin with
titles, letters begin with salutations ("Dear Auntie Em").
Other times we design texts to meet the demands of
particular audiences, formatting documentation in MLA
or APA or some other style, setting type larger for young
children, and so on. And always our designs will depend
upon our medium. A memoir might take the form of an
essay in a book, be turned into a bulleted list for a
PowerPoint presentation, or include links to images
or other pages if presented on a Web site. The sections
in this part offer advice for working with PRINT texts,
SPOKEN texts, and ELECTRONIC texts.
USA Today reports on a major news story with an article that includes a
large photo and a colorful graph; the New York Times covers the same story
with an article that is not illustrated but has a large headline and a
pull quote highlighting one key point. Your psychology textbook includes
many photos, tables, charts, and other visuals to help readers understand
the subject matter. When you submit an essay for a class, you choose a
typeface and you may make the type larger—or smaller—as need be. In
all these instances, the message is in some way "designed." This chapter
offers advice on designing print texts to suit your purpose, audience, genre,
and subject. Much of the advice also holds for electronic text and for
visuals that accompany spoken text.
Considering the Rhetorical Situation
As with all writing tasks, your rhetorical situation affects the way you
design a print text.
||Consider how you can design your text to help achieve
your purpose. If you're reporting certain kinds of
information, for instance, you may want to present
some data in a chart or table; if you're trying to get
readers to care about an issue, a photo or pull quote
might help you do so.
||Do you need to do anything designwise for your
intended audience? Change the type size? Add headings?
||Does your genre have any design requirements? Must
(or can) it have headings? illustrations? tables or
graphs? a certain size paper?
||How can your design reflect your attitude toward your
audience and subject? Do you need a businesslike typeface?
Will plotting out statistics on a bar graph make
them seem more important than they would seem in
the middle of a paragraph? Can you use color?
Some Elements of Design
Whatever your text, you have various design decisions to make. What
typeface(s) should you use? How should you arrange your text on the page?
Should you include any headings? The following guidelines will help you
consider each of these questions.
You can choose from among many typefaces, and the one you
choose will affect your text—how well readers can read it and how they
will perceive your tone and STANCE. Times Roman will make a text look businesslike
or academic; Comic Sans will make it look playful. For most academic
writing, you'll want to use 10- or 11- or 12-point type, and you'll
usually want to use a serif face (such as Times Roman or Bookman); which
is generally easier to read than a sans serif face (such as Arial, Verdana, or
Century Gothic). It's usually a good idea to use a serif face for your main
text, reserving sans serif for headings and parts you want to highlight.
Decorative typefaces (such as Magneto, Amaze, Chiller, and Jokerman)
should be used sparingly and only when they're appropriate for your audience,
purpose, and the rest of your RHETORICAL SITUATION. If you use more
than one typeface in a text, use each one consistently: one face for headings,
one for captions, one for the main body of your text. And don't go overboard—
you won't often have reason to use more than two or, at most,
three typefaces in any one text.
Every typeface has regular, bold, and italic fonts. In general, choose regular
for the main text, bold for major headings, and italic for titles of books
and other long works and, occasionally, to emphasize words or brief phrases.
Avoid italicizing or boldfacing entire paragraphs. If you are following MLA, APA,
or some other style, be sure your use of fonts conforms to its requirements.
Finally, consider the line spacing of your text. Generally, academic writing
is double-spaced, whereas LETTERS and RÉSUMÉS are usually singlespaced.
Some kinds of REPORTS may call for single-spacing; check with your
instructor if you're not sure. In addition, you'll often need to add an extra
space to set off parts of a text—items in a list, for instance, or headings.
Layout is the way text is arranged on a page. An academic essay,
for example, will usually have a title centered at the top, one-inch margins
all around, and double-spacing. A text can be presented in paragraphs—
or in the form of LISTS, tables, charts, graphs, and so on. Sometimes you
need to include other elements as well: headings, images and other graphics,
captions, lists of works cited.
Dividing text into paragraphs focuses information for readers
and helps them process the information by dividing it into manageable
chunks. If you're writing a story for a newspaper with narrow
columns, for example, you'll divide your text into shorter paragraphs than
you would if you were writing an academic essay. In general, indent paragraphs
five spaces when your text is double-spaced; either indent or skip
a line between paragraphs that are single-spaced.
Put information into list form that you want to set off and make
easily accessible. Number the items in a list when the sequence matters (in
instructions, for example); use bullets when the order is not important. Set
off lists with an extra line of space above and below, and add extra space
between the items on a list if necessary for legibility. Here's an example:
Darwin's theory of how species change through time derives from three
postulates, each of which builds on the previous one:
Do not set off text as a list unless there's a good reason to do so, however.
Some lists are more appropriately presented in paragraph form, especially
when they give information that is not meant to be referred to more than
once. In the following example, there is no reason to highlight the information
by setting it off in a list—and bad news is softened by putting it
in paragraph form:
- The ability of a population to expand is infinite, but the ability of
any environment to support populations is always finite.
- Organisms within populations vary, and this variation affects the
ability of individuals to survive and reproduce.
- The variations are transmitted from parents to offspring.
—Robert Boyd and Joan B. Silk, How Humans Evolved
I regret to inform you that the Scholarship Review Committee did not
approve your application for a Board of Rectors scholarship, for the
following reasons: your grade-point average did not meet the minimum
requirements; your major is not among those eligible for consideration;
and the required letter of recommendation was not received
before the deadline.
Presented as a list, that information would be needlessly emphatic.
Headings make the structure of a text easier to follow and
help readers find specific information. Some genres require standard
headings—announcing an ABSTRACT, for example, or a list of WORKS CITED.
Other times you will want to use heads to provide an overview of a section
of text. You may not need any headings with brief texts, and when
you do, you'll probably want to use one level at most, just to announce
major topics. Longer texts and information-rich genres, such as pamphlets
or detailed REPORTS, may require several levels of headings. If you decide
to include headings, you will need to decide how to phrase them, what
typefaces and fonts to use, and where to position them.
Phrase headings concisely. Make your headings succinct and parallel in
structure. You might make all the headings nouns (Mushrooms), noun
phrases (Kinds of Mushrooms), gerund phrases (Recognizing Kinds of
Mushrooms), or questions (How Do I Identify Mushrooms?). Whatever
form you decide on, use it consistently for each heading. Sometimes your
phrasing will depend on your purpose. If you're simply helping readers
find information, use brief phrases:
If you want to address your readers directly with the information in your
text, consider writing your headings as questions:
||Forms of Social Groups among Primates
||Solitary Social Groups
||Monogamous Social Groups
How can you identify morels?
Make headings visible. Headings need to be visible, so consider printing
them in a bold, italic, or underlined font—or use a different typeface. For
example, you could print your main text in a serif font like Times Roman and your headings in a sans serif font like Arial or make the headings larger
than the regular text. When you have several levels of headings, use capitalization,
boldface, and italics to distinguish among the various levels.
Where can you find morels?
How can you cook morels?
Be aware, though, that APA and MLA formats expect headings to be in the
same typeface as the main text; APA requires that each level of heading
appear in a specific style: all uppercase, uppercase and lowercase, italicized
uppercase and lowercase, and so on.
Position headings appropriately. If you're following APA format, center
first- and second-level headings. If you're following MLA format, align headings
at the left margin without any extra space above or below. If you are
not following a prescribed format, you get to decide where to position your
headings: centered, flush with the left margin, or even alongside the text,
in a wide left-hand margin. Position each level of head consistently throughout
Use white space to separate the various parts of a text. In
general, use one-inch margins for the text of an essay or report. Unless
you're following MLA or APA format, include space above headings, above
and below lists, and around photos, graphs, and other images to set them
apart from the rest of the text. See the two sample research papers in this
book for examples of the formats required by MLA and APA.
Visuals can sometimes help you to make a point in ways that words alone
cannot. Be careful, however, that any visuals you use contribute to your
point—not simply act as decoration. This section discusses how to use
photos, graphs, charts, tables, and diagrams effectively.
Select visuals that are appropriate for your rhetorical situation.
are various kinds of visuals: photographs, line graphs, bar graphs, pie
charts, tables, diagrams, flowcharts, drawings, and more. Which ones you
use, if any, will depend on your content, your GENRE, and your RHETORICAL
SITUATION. A newspaper article on housing prices might include a bar graph
or line graph, and also some photographs; a report on the same topic written
for an economics class would probably have graphs but no photos. See
the examples below, along with advice for using each one.
Some guidelines for using visuals.
- Use visuals as part of your text's content, one that is as important as
your words to your message. Therefore, avoid clip art, which is usually
intended as decoration.
- Position visuals in your text as close as possible to your discussion of
the topic to which they relate.
- Number all visuals, using a separate sequence for figures (photos,
graphs, and drawings) and tables: Figure 1, Figure 2; Table 1, Table 2.
- Refer to the visual before it appears, identifying it and summarizing
its point. For example: "As Figure 1 shows, Japan's economy grew dramatically
between 1965 and 1980."
||Photographs can support an argument, illustrate
events and processes, present alternative points
of view, and help readers "place" your information
in time and space.
||Line graphs are a good way of showing changes
in data over time. Each line here shows a different
set of data; plotting the two lines together
allows readers to compare the data at different
points in time.
||Bar graphs are useful for comparing quantitative
data. The bars can be horizontal or vertical.
||Pie charts can be used for showing how a whole
is divided into parts or how something is
||Tables are useful for displaying information concisely,
especially when several items are being
||Diagrams, flowcharts, and drawings are ways of
showing relationships and processes.
When you choose visuals and integrate them into your texts, follow the
same procedures you use with other source materials.
- Provide a title or caption for each visual to identify it and explain its
significance for your text. For example: "Table 1. Japanese economic
- DOCUMENT the source of any visuals you found in another source: "Figure
1. Two Tokyo shoppers display their purchases. (Ochiro, 1967)."
Document any tables you create with data from another source. You
need not document visuals you create yourself or data from your own
experimental or field research.
- Obtain permission to use any visuals you found in another source that
will appear in texts you publish in any form other than for a course.
- Label visuals to ensure that your audience will understand what they
show. For example, label each section of a pie chart to show what it
Evaluate visuals as you would any text.
Make sure visuals relate directly
to your subject, support your assertions, and add information that words
alone can't provide as clearly or easily. Evaluate visuals as you would other
source materials: Is the photographer named? Do charts and graphs identify
the source of the data they portray? Where was the visual published? How
was the visual used in its original context? Does the information in the visual
match, complement, or contradict the information in your other sources?
Include any necessary source information.
Make sure visuals are
accompanied by background and citation information: graphs and tables
should cite the source of the data they present, and captions of photos
should identify the photographer and date.
Use visuals ethically.
You may want to crop a photograph, cutting it to
show only part. See, for example, the photo below of a young
couple in the 1940s and the cropped version that shows only the man's head.
You might have reason to crop the photo to accompany a profile or
memoir about the man, but you would not want to eliminate the young
woman (who later became his wife) from the photo in an account of the
man's life. If you crop or otherwise alter a photograph, keep your purpose
But altering photographs in a way that misrepresents someone or something
is a serious breach of ethics. In 1997, when O. J. Simpson was arrested
for the murder of his ex-wife, both Time and Newsweek used the same mug
shot on their covers. Time, however, digitally darkened Simpson's skin,
making him look "blacker." This sort of manipulation misleads readers,
creating visual lies that can inappropriately influence how readers interpret
both the text and the subject. If you alter a photo, be sure the image
represents the subject accurately—and tell your readers how you have
Charts and graphs can mislead, too. Changing the scale on a bar graph,
for example, can change the effect of the comparison, making the quantities
being compared seem very similar or very different, as the two bar
graphs of identical data show in figures 1 and 2.
Depending on the fund-raising goal implied by each bar graph ($800
or $5,000) and the increments of the dollars raised ($200 or $1,000), the
two graphs send very different messages, though the dollars raised by
each fund-raiser remain the same. Just as you shouldn't edit a quotation
or a photograph in a way that might misrepresent its meaning, you
should not present data in a way that could mislead readers.
Evaluating a Design
Does the design suit its PURPOSE?
Do the typeface and any visuals help
to convey the text's message, support its argument, or present information?
Is there any key information that should be highlighted in a list
How well does the design meet the needs of its AUDIENCE?
overall appearance of the text appeal to the intended readers? Is the typeface
large enough for them to read? Are there headings to help them find
their way through the text? Are there the kind of visuals they are likely
to expect? Are the visuals clearly labeled and referred to in the main text
so that readers know why they're there?
How well does the text meet the requirements of its GENRE?
tell by looking at the text that it is an academic essay, a lab report, a résumé?
Do its typeface, margins, headings, and page layout meet the requirements
of MLA, APA, or whatever style is being followed? Are visuals appropriately
labeled and cited?
How well does the design reflect the writer's STANCE?
Do the page
layout and typeface convey the appropriate tone—serious, playful, adventuresome,
conservative, and so on? Do the visuals reveal anything about
the writer's position or beliefs? For instance, does the choice of visuals
show any particular bias?
In a marketing class, you give a formal presentation as part of a research
project. As a candidate for student government, you deliver several speeches
to various campus groups. At a good friend's wedding, you make a toast to
the married couple. In school and out, you may be called on to speak in
public, to compose and deliver spoken texts. This chapter offers guidelines
to help you prepare and deliver effective spoken texts, along with the visual
aids you often need to include.
Key Features / Spoken Text
A clear structure.
Spoken texts need to be clearly organized so that your
audience can follow what you're saying. The beginning needs to engage
their interest, make clear what you will be talking about, and perhaps forecast
the main parts of your talk. The main part of the text should focus
on a few main points and only as many as your listeners can be expected
to handle. (Remember, they can't go back to reread!) The ending is especially
important: it should leave your audience with something to remember,
think about, or do. Davis ends as she begins, saying that she and her
sisters and brother "were so lucky to have such a dad." Lincoln ends by
challenging his audience to "the great task remaining before us . . . that
we . . . resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation,
under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of
the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Signpost language to keep your audience on track.
You may need to
provide cues to help your listeners follow your text, especially TRANSITIONS
that lead them from one point to the next. Sometimes you'll also want to
stop and SUMMARIZE a complex point to help your audience keep track of
your ideas and follow your narrative.
A tone to suit the occasion.
Lincoln spoke at a serious, formal event,
the dedication of a national cemetery, and his address is formal and even
solemn. Davis's eulogy is more informal in tone, as befits a speech given
for friends and loved ones. In a presentation to a panel of professors, you
probably would want to take an academic tone, avoiding too much slang
and speaking in complete sentences. If you had occasion to speak on the
very same topic to a neighborhood group, however, you would likely want
to speak more casually.
Remember that spoken texts have the added element of sound.
Be aware of how your words and phrases sound. Even if you're never called
on to deliver a Gettysburg Address, you will find that repetition and parallel
structure can lend power to a presentation, making it easier to
follow—and more likely to be remembered. "We can not dedicate, we can
not consecrate—we can not hallow": these are words said more than one
hundred years ago, but who among us does not know where they're from?
The repetition of "we can not" and the parallel forms of the three verbs
are one reason they stay with us. These are structures any writer can use.
See how the repetition of "ours was a dad" in Davis's eulogy creates a
rhythm that engages listeners and at the same time unifies the text.
Many times you will want or need to use visuals—PowerPoint or other presentation software, transparencies, flip charts, and so
on—to present certain information and to highlight key points for your
Considering the Rhetorical Situation
As with any writing, you need to consider your purpose, audience, and
the rest of your rhetorical situation:
||What is your primary purpose? To inform? persuade?
entertain? evoke an emotional response? Something
||Think about whom you'll be addressing and how well
you know your audience. Will they be interested, or will you need to get them interested? Are they likely
to be friendly? How can you get and maintain their
attention, and how can you establish common ground?
Will they know about your subject, or will you need to
provide background and define key terms?
||The genre of your text will affect the way you structure
it. If you're making an argument, for instance,
you'll need to consider counterarguments—and to
anticipate questions from members of the audience
who hold other opinions. If you're giving a report, you
may have reason to prepare handouts with detailed
information you don't have time to cover.
||Consider the attitude you want to express—is it serious?
thoughtful? passionate? well informed? funny?
something else?—and choose your words accordingly.
Delivering a Spoken Text
The success of a spoken text often hinges on how you deliver it. As you
practice delivering your spoken texts, bear in mind the following points.
When delivering a spoken text, your first goal is to be
understood by your audience. If listeners miss important words or phrases
because you don't form your words distinctly, your talk will not succeed.
Make sure your pace matches your audience's needs—sometimes you
may need to speak slowly to explain complex material; other times you
may need to speed up to keep an audience's attention.
Pause for emphasis.
In writing, you have white space and punctuation
to show readers where an idea or discussion ends. When speaking, you
need to be the one to pause to signal the end of a thought, to give listeners
a moment to consider something you've said, or to get them ready for
a surprising or amusing statement.
Avoid reading your presentation.
Speech textbooks often advise that
you never read your speech. For some of us, though, that's just not possible.
If you can speak well from notes or an outline, great—you're likely
to do well. If you must have a complete text in front of you, though, try
to write it as if you were talking. Then, practice by reading it into a tape
recorder; listen for spots that sound as if you're reading, and work on your
delivery to sound more relaxed.
Stand up straight, and look at your audience.
Try to maintain some
eye contact with your audience. If that's uncomfortable, fake it: pick a spot
on the wall just above the head of a person in the last row of chairs, and
focus on it. You'll appear as if you're looking at your audience even if
you're not looking them in the eye. And if you stand up straight, you'll
project the sense that you have confidence in what you're saying. If you
appear to believe in your words, others will, too.
Use gestures for emphasis.
If you're not used to speaking in front of a
group, you may let your nervousness show by holding yourself stiffly,
elbows tucked in. To overcome some of that nervousness, take some deep
breaths, try to relax, move your arms as you would if you were talking to
a friend. Use your hands for emphasis. Most public speakers use one hand
to emphasize points and both to make larger gestures. Watch politicians
on C-SPAN to see how people who speak on a regular basis use their hands
and bodies as part of their overall delivery.
Practice, practice, and then practice some more. Pay particular
attention to how much time you have—and don't go over your time limit.
When you give an oral presentation, you'll often want or need to include
some visuals to help listeners follow what you're saying. Especially when
you're presenting complex information, it helps to let them see it as well
as hear it. Remember, though, that visuals are a means of conveying information,
not mere decoration.
Deciding on the appropriate visual.
Presentation software, overhead
transparencies, flip charts, and posters are some of the most common kinds
of visuals. Presentation software and overhead transparencies are useful
for listing main points and for projecting illustrations, tables, and graphs.
Overhead transparencies, like whiteboards and chalkboards, allow you to
create visuals as you speak. Sometimes you'll want to distribute handouts
to provide lists of works cited or copies of any slides you show.
Whatever you decide to use, make sure that the necessary equipment
is available—and that it works. If at all possible, check out the room and
the equipment before you give your presentation. If you bring your own
equipment, make sure electrical outlets are in reach of your power cords.
Also make sure that your visuals will be seen. You may have to
rearrange the furniture or the screen in the room to make sure everyone
can see. And finally: have a backup plan. Computers fail; projector bulbs
burn out; marking pens run dry. Whatever visuals you plan, have an alternative
plan in case any of these things happen.
Using presentation software.
Programs such as Microsoft PowerPoint
allow you to create slides that you then project via a computer. These programs
enable you to project graphs, charts, photographs, sound—and
plain text. Here are some tips for using presentation software effectively:
On the facing page are two slides from a PowerPoint presentation that
Dylan Borchers created for an oral presentation based on his essay exploring
the U.S. presidential election campaign of 1948 (see pages 408–16).
These slides offer an outline of Borchers' main points; the speech itself
fills in the details. The design is simple and uncluttered, and the large font
and high contrast between type and background make the slides easy to
read, even from across a large room.
- Use LISTS rather than paragraphs. Use slides to emphasize your main
points, not to reproduce your talk onscreen. Be aware that you can
project the list all at once or one item at a time.
- Don't put too much information on a slide. How many bulleted points
you include will depend on how long each one is, but you want to be
sure that you don't include more words than listeners will be able to
read as you present each slide.
- Be sure your type is large enough for your audience to read it. In general,
you don't want to use any type smaller than 18 points, and you'll
want something larger than that for headings. Projected slides are
easier to read in sans serif fonts like Arial, Helvetica, and Tahoma
instead of serif fonts like Times Roman. Avoid using all caps—all-capped
text is hard to read.
- Choose colors carefully. Your text must contrast strongly with the background.
Dark text on a light background is easier to read than the reverse.
And remember that not everyone sees all colors; be sure your audience
does not need to recognize colors in order to get your meaning. Red-green
contrasts are especially hard to see and should be avoided.
- Use bells and whistles sparingly, if at all. Presentation software offers
lots of decorative backgrounds, letters that fade in or dance across
the screen, and, literally, bells and whistles. These can be more distracting
than helpful; avoid using them unless they help you make
- Mark your text. In your notes, mark each place where you need to click
a mouse to call up the next slide.
Transparency slides can hold more information
than slides created with presentation software, but someone must
place each transparency on the projector one at a time. To minimize the
number of slides you will need, you can place a lot of information on each
transparency and use a blank sheet of paper to cover and reveal each point
as you discuss it (see an example on page 474). Here are some tips for
using overhead transparencies effectively:
- Use a white background and large type. If you're typing your text, use
black type. Use type that is at least 18 points, and use larger type for
headings. As with presentation software, fonts like Arial and Tahoma
are easiest to read from a distance. If you're making handwritten
transparencies, you might write in several colors.
See the sample transparency slide above. You might compare
it with the PowerPoint slides just above
- Write legibly and large. If you want to write as you speak and have
trouble writing in a straight line, place a sheet of lined paper under
the blank slide. Use a blank sheet to cover any unused part of the
slide so that you don't smudge the ink on the slide as you write.
- Position slides carefully. You might want to mark the top right corner
of each transparency to make sure you put it where it needs to go on
the projector. And have someplace to put the transparencies before
and after you use them.
that—you'll see that it provides identical
When you want to give your audience information they can
refer to later—reproductions of your visuals, bibliographic information
about your sources, printouts of your slides—do so in the form of a handout.
Refer to the handout in your presentation, but unless it includes material
your audience needs to consult as you talk, don't distribute the
handouts until you are finished. Clearly label everything you give out,
including your name and the date and title of the presentation.
College singing groups create Web sites to publicize their concerts and sell
their CDs. Political commentators post their opinions on blogs; readers of
the blogs post responses. Job seekers post scannable résumés. And almost
everyone sends email, every day, rain or shine. These are just some of the
electronic texts you may have occasion to write. These texts differ in a
few obvious ways from print texts—Web sites open with home pages
rather than with plain introductory paragraphs, for instance—but like
print texts, they have certain key features and are composed in the context
of particular rhetorical situations. This chapter offers some very basic
advice for thinking about the rhetorical situations and key features of texts
that you post online.
Considering the Rhetorical Situation
As with any writing task, you need to consider your particular rhetorical
situation when you write something to post online. In fact, you may need
to consider it especially carefully, since the makeup of an online audience
is pretty much impossible to predict—there's no telling who might read
what you write or how efficient your readers' computer systems will be
at dealing with different types and sizes of files.
||Why are you writing—to fulfill an assignment? answer
a question? find or provide information? get in touch
with someone? In email, you may want to state your
topic, and even your purpose, in the subject line. On a
Web site, you will need to make the site's purpose clear
on its home page.
||What kind of readers are you aiming to reach, and what
might they be expecting from you? What are they likely
to know about your topic, and what information will you
need to provide? What are their technical limitations—
can they receive files the size of the one you want to
send? If you're constructing a Web site, what kind of
home page will appeal to your intended audience?
||What do you want them to do—read what you
write? forward what you write to others? write something
themselves? Remember, however, that you can
never be sure where your original readers will forward
your email or who will visit a Web site; don't put any
writing online that you don't feel comfortable having
lots of different people read.
||Are you reporting information? evaluating something?
arguing a point? proposing an action?
||What overall impression do you want to convey? If
you're constructing a Web site for a group, how does
the group wish to be seen? Should the site look academic?
hip? professional? If you want to demonstrate
a political stance, remember that the links you provide
can help you to do so. (Remember too that if you want
to show a balanced political stance, the links should
reflect a range of different viewpoints.)
||MEDIA / DESIGN
||Your medium will affect your design choices. If you're
writing email, you'll want to format it to be as simple
as possible—different colors and fonts are not necessarily
recognized by every email program, so it's best
to write in black type using a standard font. It's best
also to keep your paragraphs short so readers can see
each point without a lot of scrolling. If you're constructing
a Web site, you'll need to create a consistent
design scheme using color and type to signal key parts
of the site.
Key Features / Email
Email is such a constant form of communicating that it can feel and read
more like talking than writing. But writing it is, and it has certain features
and conventions that readers expect and that writers need to be aware of.
An explicit subject line.
Your subject line should state your topic clearly:
"Reminder: emedia meeting at 2" rather than "Meeting" or "Hi." People get
so much email that they need to see a reason to read yours. In addition,
most computer viruses are sent via unsolicited email messages, so many
people delete all messages from unknown senders or with suspicious or
vague subject lines. A clear subject line increases the chances that your
message will be read.
A tone appropriate to the situation.
Email messages should be written
in the same tone you'd use if you were writing the same text on paper.
You can be informal when writing to friends, but you should be more formal
when writing to people you don't know, especially in professional or
academic contexts (to your boss or your instructor). Be aware that your
tone starts with your salutation (Hi Lisa to a friend, Dear Professor Alikum to a teacher). And of course your tone is reflected in the register and
conventions of your writing. You can use email shorthand with friends
(gtg, cul8r), but professional and academic email should observe professional
and academic conventions (complete sentences, correct spelling
Email works best when it's brief. Short paragraphs are easier to
read on screen than long ones—you don't want readers to have to do too
much scrolling to see the point you're trying to make. When you need to
email a longer text, you may want to send it as an attachment that readers
can open separately. If you don't know for sure whether your recipients
will be able to open an attachment, check with them first before sending it.
Speed and reach.
This one's not a textual feature as much as it is a
reminder to be careful before you hit send. Email travels so fast—and can
be so easily forwarded to people you never imagined would read what
you've written—that you want to be good and sure that your email neither
says something you'll regret later (don't send email when you're
angry!) nor includes anything you don't want the whole world, or at least
part of it, reading (don't put confidential or sensitive information in email).
Key Features / Web Sites
The writing you do for the Web differs from that which you do on paper,
in the way that you organize and present it—and in the way your readers
will approach what you write. Here are some of the features that characterize
most Web sites, along with general advice to help you think about
each feature when you write for the Web.
A home page.
The home page functions much like the first page of an
essay, giving the name of the site, indicating something about its purpose,
and letting readers know what they'll find on the site. It also gives the name
of the site's author or sponsor and includes information about when the
site was last updated. Plan the text for a home page so that it fits on one
screen, and make it simple enough graphically that it downloads quickly.
A clear organizational structure.
Web texts are presented as a number
of separate pages, and when you compose a Web site you need to organize
the pages so that readers can get to them. Unlike print text, in which
the writer determines where a text begins and ends and what order it follows
in between, most Web texts are organized so that readers can choose
which pages they'll look at and in what order. There's no sure way that
you can know what sequence they'll follow. Here are three common ways
of organizing a Web site:
As a sequence. A simple way to organize a site is as a linear sequence
Use this organization if you want readers to view pages in a specific
sequence. Though it still doesn't guarantee that they'll follow your
sequence, it certainly increases the chances that they'll do so.
As a hierarchy. A hierarchical design groups related Web pages in the
same way an outline organizes related topics in an essay.
Use a hierarchy to guide readers through complex information while
allowing them to choose what to read within categories.
As a web. A web design allows readers to view pages in just about any
order they wish.
Use a web design when you want to present information that readers can
browse for themselves, with little or no guidance from you.
An explicit navigation system.
Just as a book has a table of contents,
so a Web site has a navigation menu. The navigation menu shows what's
on your site, usually in a menu of the main parts that readers can click
on to get to the pages. The navigation menu should appear in the same
place on every page. One item on the menu should be a button that lets
readers return to the home page.
A consistent design.
Design is important—for creating a visual tone for
the site, highlighting features or information, and providing a clear focus
and emphasis. You need to create a clear color scheme (all links in one
color, for example, to distinguish them from the rest of the text) and a
consistent page design (for example, a navigation bar at the top of each
page and a background color that stays the same and doesn't detract from
the content); in addition, you need to use type consistently (for example,
one font for the main text, another for the headings).
You can also use color and type to create emphasis or to highlight
particular types of information. Though you can't know which pages readers
will go to, careful site design can help you control what's on the page
they'll see first. You can also include images—drawings, photos, maps,
and the like. Be sure, however, that the illustrations you include support or
add to your point, and that they are not mere decoration. Take care also that
you don't include so many graphics that the site takes a long time to open.
Finally, your design should reflect the appropriate tone and STANCE.
Formal, informal, academic, whimsical, whatever—your choice of type
and color and images can convey this stance.
Web sites include links among the pages on the site as well as to
material elsewhere on the Web. Links allow you to bring material from
other sources into your text—you can link to the DEFINITION of a key term,
for instance, rather than defining it yourself, or you can link to a SOURCE
rather than summarizing or paraphrasing it. You can also provide a list
of links to related sites. When you're writing a text for a Web site, you can
link to some of the details, giving readers the choice of whether they want
or need to see an illustration, detailed description, map, and so on. For example,
page 482 shows how my literacy narrative (on pages 25–27) might look
as a Web text.
How text on the Web links to details from other sources.
As the text
above shows, links from my narrative might include a brief
biography of my grandmother, Court TV's account of the Sheppard murder
case, a site presenting excerpts of news coverage of the trial, and a
poster from The Fugitive. Such links allow me to stay focused on my own
narrative while offering readers the opportunity to explore issues mentioned
in my story in as much depth as they want.
A Sample Site
Here and on page 484 are examples from a home page, a content page,
and a linked page from a Web site created by Colleen James, a student at
Illinois State University, as part of an online portfolio of work for a course