Media / Design
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.


Print Text

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.

PURPOSE 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.
AUDIENCE Do you need to do anything designwise for your intended audience? Change the type size? Add headings? tables? color?
GENRE Does your genre have any design requirements? Must (or can) it have headings? illustrations? tables or graphs? a certain size paper?
STANCE 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.



Type. 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. 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.



Paragraphs. 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.



Lists. 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:

  1. The ability of a population to expand is infinite, but the ability of any environment to support populations is always finite.
  2. Organisms within populations vary, and this variation affects the ability of individuals to survive and reproduce.
  3. The variations are transmitted from parents to offspring.
—Robert Boyd and Joan B. Silk, How Humans Evolved
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:
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. 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:

Head Forms of Social Groups among Primates
Subhead Solitary Social Groups
Subhead Monogamous Social Groups
If you want to address your readers directly with the information in your text, consider writing your headings as questions:
How can you identify morels?
Where can you find morels?
How can you cook 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. For example:

FIRST-LEVEL HEAD
Second-Level Head
Third-Level Head
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 your text.

White space. 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

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. There 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."

A sample photograph Photographs can support an argument, illustrate events and processes, present alternative points of view, and help readers "place" your information in time and space.
A sample line graph 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.
A sample bar graph Bar graphs are useful for comparing quantitative data. The bars can be horizontal or vertical.
A sample pie chart Pie charts can be used for showing how a whole is divided into parts or how something is apportioned.
A sample table Tables are useful for displaying information concisely, especially when several items are being compared.
A sample flowchart Diagrams, flowcharts, and drawings are ways of showing relationships and processes.

  • Provide a title or caption for each visual to identify it and explain its significance for your text. For example: "Table 1. Japanese economic output, 1965–80."
  • 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 represents.
When you choose visuals and integrate them into your texts, follow the same procedures you use with other source materials.

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 in mind.

A young couple in the 1940s (left); cropped version (right)

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 changed it.

Mug shot of O. J. Simpson (left); newsstand (right)

Fig. 1
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.

Fig. 2



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 or chart?

How well does the design meet the needs of its AUDIENCE? Will the 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? Can you 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?




Spoken Text

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.

Sound. 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.

Visual aids. 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 audience.



Considering the Rhetorical Situation

As with any writing, you need to consider your purpose, audience, and the rest of your rhetorical situation:

PURPOSE What is your primary purpose? To inform? persuade? entertain? evoke an emotional response? Something else?
AUDIENCE 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?
GENRE 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.
STANCE 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.

Speak clearly. 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, practice, and then practice some more. Pay particular attention to how much time you have—and don't go over your time limit.



Visual Aids

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:

  • 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 your point.
  • Mark your text. In your notes, mark each place where you need to click a mouse to call up the next slide.
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.

Overhead transparencies. 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.
Slides created with presentation software

An overhead transparency
  • 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.
See the sample transparency slide above. You might compare it with the PowerPoint slides just above
that—you'll see that it provides identical information.

Handouts. 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.




Electronic Text

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.

PURPOSE 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.
AUDIENCE 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.
GENRE Are you reporting information? evaluating something? arguing a point? proposing an action?
STANCE 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 and punctuation).

Brevity. 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 of pages.

A linear sequence of pages

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.

A hierarchical design

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.

A web design

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.

Links. 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.

Sample Web text, with links

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 in hypertext.

A home page

A content page (top); a linked page (bottom)