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The chapter summaries below are intended as study guides for the course textbook, Technical Communication, 9th ed., by John Lannon. These summaries are not intended as a substitute for the textbook!!! (See my Getting Started page for information on ordering the text.)

In terms of practical reality, it may be that a student will be forced to make do with my summaries of the first six chapters, though much more value can be gained if you can find time to read the chapters themselves. Also, sometimes students take this course from locales other than Odessa College, and thus experience delays in acquiring the textbook. These summaries are a crucial aid to such students. However, everyone must note two very important points:

  • The farther we go into the course, the more crucial it will be to actually read the chapters themselves. To be more specific, it will be very difficult to pass this course if you cannot read the entire chapters which deal with specific types of workplace documents which you will be assigned for major grades.
  • Secondly, you will find that this link contains no summaries for later chapters. By that point, a student is expected to own the textbook. 

Dr. Mark Jordan ~ ENGL 2311: Technical Writing

Chapter Summaries: Chpts. One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six

These chapters are "overview" chapters. Taken together, all amount to a detailed discussion of this remark, taken from the Preface to the 9th edition of this text:

"Whether handwritten, electronically mediated, or face-to-face, workplace communication is more than a value-neutral exercise in 'information transfer'; it is a complex social transaction. Each rhetorical situation has its own specific interpersonal, ethical, legal, and cultural demands" (Lannon xix).

Below are highlights of these overview chapters.

Chapter One Summary

Chapter One introduces you to technical writing by noting that technical documents are user-oriented and strive for efficiency; that writing is nowadays part of most careers; and, as noted in the above quote, that a communicator, to be effective, must realize that communication has both a practical and a human side. To be truly user-oriented and at the same time efficient in accomplishing the purpose at hand (whatever it may be), technical writers must consider a range of issues, some practical and some more people-oriented--that is, rhetorical.


Chapter Two Summary

Chapter Two discusses four key issues in trying to bridge the practical and rhetorical issues of document research, design, and composition: the information delivery problem in itself; the problem of delivering information persuasively; the problem of delivering it ethically; and the need to be able to work collaboratively. The student should note that this chapter 's four-way division also serves as a preview of chapters three through six.


Chapter Three Summary

Chapter Three discusses the information delivery problem. One highlight is its discussion of the features of three types of documents, categorized according to the knowledge level of the audience. The first type is the highly technical document, written in technical language understandable only by a reader with a high degree of professional training (example: an accident report which uses terms only a medical doctor will understand). The second type is the semitechnical document, which as the name suggests, is written for a reader with some "insider" knowledge of terminology, but not so much as the first type. The third type is the nontechnical document, written in terminology and sentence structure intended for a general readership, like the newspaper. The point of this is that you must always be consciously aware of which type reader you are writing for, and adjust your vocabulary accordingly.

This chapter also deals with the more complex writing situation of writing for an audience which is mixed: some readers of one level of technical understanding, and some of another. The question then becomes Which reader is your primary audience, and which is your secondary audience? The advice here is to identify the main (primary) audience and write the document to that level of technical knowledge, then accommodate the secondary audience with such supplements as an abstract, glossary, appendices, etc.--these are called supplementary documents which we will study and use later in the course.


Chapter Four Summary

Chapter Four deals with the fact that even the most apparently "information-oriented" document still has a persuasive element. Specifically, even if your purpose is strictly to deliver information or data--for example, a set of instructions on how to install a software program in a purchaser's computer--you must realize that part of your task is to persuade this purchaser that the program just bought is a worthwhile purchase and is simple to install. Put differently, you must persuade the end user that you, and by extension the company or organization you represent, know what you are doing. And of course, many documents, for example an analytical report tracing the cause of some problem--to use a recent example, the blackout of the entire Eastern Seaboard of the United States--have persuasion as a more central part of their purpose.

One highlight of the chapter is a discussion of four different goals of a persuasive document:

  • Arguing to influence the reader's opinion--can be a subtle purpose behind an informative document
  • Arguing to enlist the reader's support--can also be fairly subtle, but a tougher goal
  • Presenting a proposal--a very specific type of persuasion requiring a formal "yes or no" decision on the part of the reader
  • Arguing to change the reader's behavior--the most difficult goal of all

The point: Because persuasion can range from a subtle "subtext" of an informative document to the primary goal of a document, it is important as a writer to be consciously aware of what your persuasive goal is.

Another of the chapter's highlights is a discussion of five distinct contraints which a persuasive writer must work within:

  • Organizational constraints--you must work within the rules of your organization
  • Legal constraints--you must work within the law
  • Ethical constraints--you must consider deeper ethical rules which go beyond even the law
  • Time constraints--you have only a finite time to write a document
  • Social and psychological constraints--you must consider the social and personal circumstances of the reader, as well


Chapter Five Summary

Chapter Five expands on the discussion of ethics from the previous chapter. I want to declare at this point that workplace ethics is a crucial issue to me, and at times becomes what you might call a "pet peeve" of mine, so some of what I say below may depart somewhat from your text.

Plagiarism, of course, is an obvious and serious breach of ethics, in the workplace just as it is in school, with severe penalties in either context. However, there are more subtle forms of unethical behavior in the workplace and in technical communication. In an ideal world, a writer would never allow either social or personal biases to influence judgment; that is, he or she would always work for the common good. However, it is also true that there is no one who is "value-neutral;" that is, no one of us can live without values. Even the absence of traditional values amounts to living by a different set of values. In other words, each one of us has values and opinions. Moreover, we always and inevitably must be influenced to some extent by our personal values when working , writing, and making workplace decisions. Or put differently, in the real world we live in, we must simultaneously work for the greater good, yet at the same time not suppress our true values and opinions. In my opinion, most ethical breaches occur because of a huge gap between working for the common good and working only for our own interests: A person will claim to be working only for the common good of all, while "behind the scenes" will be working only for his or her own selfish interests.

In fact, this tendency becomes an important clue to unethical behavior: Whenever a person claims that their own values or opinions play absolutely no role in their workplace decisions, then that person is almost certainly doing one of two things: either that person is working with no conscious awareness of his or her true values, or else that person is trying to hide a very personal, self-serving agenda. Put in everyday language, either that person is so clueless as to be a danger to both self and others, or that person is lying.

The key, then, to ethical workplace communication and decision making is threefold:

  • Be consciously aware of your own values and opinions. Be particularly aware of any contradictions between some values and others, and between your values and your behavior. We do not live in a perfect world, but we should make some effort to keep our values and our behavior consistent with one another.
  • Constantly monitor and examine your values and your behavior and how they both "play out" in your workplace. This sort of constant self-examination leads not only to a better workplace environment for all, but also leads to personal growth, corny as that may sound. If one's values cannot stand close scrutiny, then either they are not very closely held, or else they are questionable values in themselves.
  • Most importantly in terms of technical writing, when you are writing a document which has an important persuasive aspect, you should openly declare your position up front. It is not ethical to write and work with a "hidden agenda." But because, as noted above, we each will inevitably hold some sort of opinions, and will always be working from some sort of agenda, it is ethical behavior to state your agenda at the outset.

A side note but an important one: What if you find that you are working in an environment where the organizational values run very counter to your own? In such a case, there are various options, but the most positive ones are to openly but respectfully work to change those organizational values, or if that proves impossible, it is sometimes best to move on, if it is possible and practical to do so. When neither option is viable, one is sometimes forced to "hunker down" and do one's best to reconcile the contradictory values of self and organization, but this option can often be quite costly in terms of one's spirit. I mean that seriously; I am speaking from experience.

Now, with that quite personal (on my part) background on workplace ethics, below is a list from Chapter Four of various quite specific kinds of "communication abuse" which may arise when a person does work merely for personal gain, or with a hidden agenda:

  • Suppressing knowledge the public needs
  • Hiding conflicts of interest
  • Exaggerating claims about technology
  • Falsifying or fabricating data
  • Using visual images that conceal the truth
  • Stealing or divulging proprietary information (data belonging to your organization)
  • Mususing electronic information
  • Withholding information people need for their jobs
  • Exploiting cultural differences


Chapter Six Summary

Chapter Six completes the discussion of the four previewed workplace communication issues by examining the dynamics of working collaboratively in teams. You should note that while the realities of this course will preclude the kind of intense experience in this area which would be most helpful to you as a student, we will do some collaborative work in this course; but more importantly, you should note that in today's workplace, collaboration is more the rule than the exception.

With that reality in mind, this chapter covers some of the practicalities of group work. One highlight is to name three sources of conflict in such situations: interpersonal differences (personality or personal value conflicts), gender differences, and cultural differences. The chapter also lists three specific types of abuses in collaborative contexts: intimidating one's peers; claiming credit for the work of others; and hoarding information. Along with the above analysis of causes of group conflict, the chapter includes an important strategy for dealing with such conflict in a helpful manner: active listening, which includes these sequential stages:

  1. Hearing the speaker clearly
  2. Focusing on the message by tuning out distractions
  3. Decoding the message, deciding what it means
  4. Accepting the message as the speaker intended, without distorting it through one's own biases or preconceptions
  5. Repeating the message back to the speaker to signal listening and acceptance: "So what you're saying is..." (Note: this step is not in your text. I have learned it elsewhere.)
  6. And lastly, storing the message for later recall, either in memory or in writing

Incidentally, both Lannon and I myself agree that the above strategy of listening can be an extraordinarily helpful one in the context of personal relationships as well as in the workplace!


Note: For more details on these chapters, you should of course read them! However, because we are covering this overview material rapidly, the above summaries will do in a pinch. Also, you can see Lannon's own summaries of these chapters by going online to the following URL:



Dr. Mark Jordan ~ ENGL 2311: Technical Writing

Chapter Summaries: Chpt. Fourteen,

Designing Visuals

Below you will find a study aid for visuals. This study aid is not so much a summary of Chapter Fourteen, actually, but rather it is my summary of several general ways to produce visuals of whatever type.

Ways to Produce Visuals

I am familiar with several ways to produce visuals; others may exist. Those I am familiar with, to one extent or another, are using CAD (computer automated drawing) software, copying noncopywrited clipart from the Web, scanning existing images, photocopying existing images, and creating simple visuals with readily available, "low-technology" tools.

Using CAD Software

If this is the option you choose, presumably you own the software and so know how to use it. Of course, to use this option you must have such software on your own computer. If you have such software but are unfamiliar with it, your best resource is the documentation which presumably came with it, or else the help function which should be accessible from the main menu of the program.

Note: it is quite possible that your word processing program itself contains rudimentary CAD features which might be all you require to produce simple but effective visuals. Check your documentation or check for access to available Toolbars which you may not have noticed because you have not needed them.

Copying Clipart from the World Wide Web

Much public domain, uncopywrited clipart is available on the Web. While it is true that much of this material is more focused on general website construction and so would not be useful for specific technical writing documents, that might not always be the case. Also, it might be possible to access a website for a particular field or product and copy a diagram or other visual which would be specifically useful for your document. Even though these images are copywrite-protected, fair use as it is usually interpreted permits them to be copied for academic work so long as in your caption for the visual, you credit your source.

On most systems, it is possible to copy web graphics simply by pointing your mouse at the desired image and right-clicking. You should see a small menu appear which will contain, among other options, the choice to save the image to your harddrive as a gif or jpeg file.

Once that is accomplished, it should be possible with most current word processor programs to integrate the image into a text file without too much trouble. On MS Word 97, these are the steps. They will be similar for other word processing programs:

(1) First, locate a suitable visual and save it.

(a) Point and right click on the image you have chosen.

(b) You should see a dialogue box. Choose "Save as image file."

(c) Save the image into the desired folder on your hard drive.

(2) Second, copy the image.

(a) Open the folder containing the image file.

(b) Point at the icon for the image and right click.

(c) In the dialogue box which should appear, choose "Copy image."

(3) Next, paste the image into your document file.

(a) Create or open your document file.

(b) In the general area you want to place the image, point and right click.

(c) Choose "Paste" from the dialogue box.

(4) Last, modify the image as to size, location, etc.

(a) Click and drag the image to the desired location more exactly.

(b) Turn on the Picture Tool Bar (Choose "View," then "Toolbars," then "Picture").

(c) Experiment with the different features of the Picture Toolbar to adjust the exact position, size, image quality, text wrap (which allows you to place text alongside the visual), and so forth.

(d) Last, with experimentation it should be possible to type in a title, caption, credit, and so forth just above and below the copied image.

Note: The above procedure is similar in most ways to integrating a scanned image into a text file.

Scanning Existing Images

That brings us to the next option, using scanned images. Obviously, you must have access to a scanner in order to use this alternative. Our lab in WH206 on the OC campus has one, and you may have access to a scanner at your place of business, or even at your home.

This option is in many ways the best alternative of all. It allows you to photocopy any image from, for example, a textbook, magazine, or company procedures manual, convert that image to a digital image file, and place the image within your document text file. This way, you have sophisticated electronic access to pre-existing visuals which are specifically appropriate for your document. As with copywrited images from the Web, fair use permits them to be copied for academic work so long as you give credit to the source in the caption of your visual.

The scanner in Wilkerson Hall is an Epson Perfection 636 model. The following instructions are based on that scanner, but other brands will be more or less similar in many cases. Here are the steps:

(1) Set up the document and access the scanner.

(a) First, make sure the scanner is turned on. Trying to access the scanner on the computer desktop while it is turned off can lock up the computer, making it necessary to reboot.

(b) Place your chosen document face down on the scanner glass, just as with a photocopier.

(3) Access the scanner from the computer desktop. On the Epson model in question, this is done by double-clicking on the Paper Port icon. Other arrangements will show a similar shortcut icon, or perhaps have access under Programs. On the Epson, your monitor screen should now show the scanner desktop. You will see upper and left-hand toolbars, and the rest of the screen will show small thumbnail images of recently scanned documents.

(2) Adust the scanner settings and scan the document.

(a) On the Epson, go to the File menu and choose "Acquire" to tell the scanner to "see" your document. A similar command will be necessary on other scanner types and configurations.

(b) Now your screen should show numerous icons and text descriptions of setting options. Usually, you can ignore most of these, simply using the default settings. On the Epson, the main settings are those of Scan Mode, Original (type of document to be scanned), Scan Type (color or grayscale, for example), and Filter. But if you know of no specific changes which are needed to the settings you find, I suggest you make no changes until you have attempted a scan and examined the results. Often, your results will be fine having made no changes to settings. For example, on a test scan, the only change I made was to select grayscale as Scan Type because I was scanning a black/white diagram rather than a color image.

(c) Next, click on Prescan to see your selected image, which on the Epson scanner will appear in a large box filling most of the screen.

(d) If the desired image is visible and positioned as you wish, click on Scan. Wait a few seconds for the scanner to finish.

(e) Click on Quit.

(3) Do preliminary editing of the image (selecting exact image area desired, cropping, modifying background or image itself, etc.) and then copy it.

(a) Clicking Quit should have returned you to the desktop screen which shows the multiple images of recent scans, among which yours should now be visible. If you are not at this screen, look for an icon which is labled Desktop and click.

(b) Use the editing icons to adjust image quality. For example, you can brighten the image, lighten it, mute the background if it contains unwanted detail which has inadvertently copied through from the other side of the scanned page, and so forth.

(c) Now locate the Select Area icon and click. Then use the mouse to click and drag to select the image area you want to use (often the initial scan will contain unwanted areas). Click in the upper left corner, imagining a box around the desired image area. Drag the mouse diagonally to the right lower corner of the desired box while holding the left button and you should actually see dotted lines forming both vertically and horizontally, boxing off the selected image area. If you "miss," you can repeat this step.

(d) Right click inside the selected image area.

(e) Choose "Copy" from inside the dialogue box which should appear. The image is now copied and ready to paste into your document.

(4) Next, paste the image into your document file. (Note that these last two steps are identical to the last two steps for incorporating an image copied from the Web.)

(a) Create or open your document file.

(b) In the general area you want to place the image, point and right click.

(c) Choose "Paste" from the dialogue box. After several seconds, the image should appear.

(5) Last, modify the image as to size, location, etc.

(a) Click and drag the image to the desired location more exactly.

(b) Turn on the Picture Tool Bar (Choose "View," then "Toolbars," then "Picture").

(c) Experiment with the different features of the Picture Toolbar to adjust the exact position, size, image quality, text wrap (which allows you to place text alongside the visual), and so forth.

(d) Last, with experimentation it should be possible to type in a title, caption, credit, and so forth just above and below the copied image.

Photocopying Existing Images

You can also use existing visuals without need of access to a scanner, simply by using a good quality photocopier. You will also need some scissors--or, better, a straightedge and an Xacto knife--and some double-stick Scotch-type tape. If you have located a suitable visual, integrate it into your document by following these steps:

(1) Decide where you will place the visual in your document. Desired size has a bearing on this; even more important is to keep the visual as close to related text as possible. Worst choice: On a separate page "tacked on" to the end of your document. Frequent best choice if using only a single visual: Either at the very end of the Introduction--often at the bottom of page one--or at the very beginning of the Main Body, usually at the top of page two. If you are using a "tall and skinny" visual, a columnar arrangement works well, with text on the left and visual on the right.

(2) Locate a high quality photocopier which can reproduce the visual without either deleting fine lines or detail, and without adding dark smudges. Your choice of visual counts here. Worst choices: Photos, multicolored visuals (especially with light-colored inks), any very "busy" visuals. Best choices: Black ink on white background, crisp lines, with needed details but not overwhelming amounts of detail. Tables of data, black-on-white charts, flowcharts, black-on-white diagrams or line drawings all reproduce very well.

(3) Compose a rough draft of the appropriate page of your document where you will place the visual. Go ahead and compose a title, a number (if more than one visual), an explanatory caption if more explanation is needed beyond the title, and a credit line if the image is from a copyrited source. Locate these items, at this point, simply by estimating where they need to be. You can fine-tune their location later. Also note that the title and perhaps others of these elements may already be included in the existing visual. Note that any later changes to this draft whatsoever will require you to go through the entire following procedure again, unless you do not actually attach the visual (Step Five) until the draft is finalized.

Most importantly, allow enough room for the visual itself. You can do this either by simply hitting "Enter" repeatedly or, if the visual will be at the bottom of a page, insert a page break at the end of the text, and this will leave the rest of the page blank. If you desire columnar placement, you can utilize the columns feature if your word processor has that, or you can manually create an empty right-hand column simply by pressing "Enter" and ending each line approximately halfway across the page.

(4) Make several copies of your desired visual, perhaps of different sizes, so you don't have to return to the copier repeatedly. Whether to use the image at full size or whether to reduce or enlarge it can be decided once you have chosen its location, and is simplest if you have already printed a draft of the appropriate page of your document (steps 2 and 3). If there is a suitable work area available, note that you can do Step Five while you are still at the copier, thus saving a return trip.

(5) Is your draft finalized, at least far enough for your complete rough draft submission? If so, now attach the visual to the appropriate document page. Do this by first cutting it to a suitable size. Scissors will work, but a straightedge (any ruler) and an Xacto or safety razor blade are better. This is because straight cuts will not only photocopy better, but will enable you to more easily "square" the visual with the page.

After you have cut the photocopy of the visual to size, turn it over and carefully place a short strip of double-stick clear tape in each corner. Then just as carefully, position the visual properly and press it down, being careful to get it positioned as square to the text as possible and also perfectly flat, without ripples, creases, or folded corners.

(6) Next, photocopy the page with the visual attached, to achieve a clean, professional copy. Never turn in a final draft with the visual only taped to the page! If you are doing this for a rough draft which will be faxed, while it is true that the fax machine will produce a similar result as the photocopier, most faxes have auto-feed, so it is still better to make this photocopy rather than putting the page with the taped-on visual through your fax machine. That could create a paper jam in the fax machine.

(7) Lastly, check your finished page for neatness.

  • The visual should be placed where you intended, with suitable white space and placed appropriately in relation to text, title, caption, etc.
  • It should be square to the page and its text (this can be judged best by any text that already existed within the visual, or by straight ruled lines within the visual).
  • There should be no distortions caused by having failed to attach the visual perfectly flat to the page.
  • There should be no deletions of fine details within the visual, nor smudges, nor should there be "cut lines" (black lines caused when the copier picks up the cut edge of the visual on the page).

This last feature is also the test for the quality of your chosen photocopier, because you are making a second-generation photocopy (a copy of a copy), and if the copy quality is mediocre or poor, the image will deteriorate badly. On the other hand, if you began with a good crisp image, worked carefully, and had access to a quality photocopier, your result will be indistinguishable from professionally produced work.

Creating "Low-Tech" Visuals

Many students do not have CAD programs. Additionally, there will be documents for which you need a visual but for which you know of no suitable pre-existing visual for scanning or photocopying. In such cases, it is often possible to produce a simple but useful visual using nothing but inexpensive tools which are easily acquired, coupled with meticulous effort. This method can be used when you have no other way to produce a suitable visual. Using this method you can produce simple flowcharts, pie charts, graphs, tables of figures or information, and depending on your skill level, perhaps even line drawings or diagrams.

Follow these steps below to produce the visual, then follow the steps of the previous procedure in order to integrate it. Reguired tools are the previously mentioned straightedge, blade, and tape, and additionally you will need a high quality, black, razor-tip marker and if possible a plastic, inexpensive draftsman's tool possessing several templates for drawing circles, right angles, and other simple geometric figures. (These can be bought at most office supplies).

(1) Unless you are highly talented as an artist or draftsman, keep the concept of your visual simple. This means you should stick to such type visuals as flowcharts (text within boxes), tables (text or data in columns and rows), or very simple line drawings utilizing basic geometric shapes like squares or rectangles.

(2) Begin with some rough sketches on scratch paper. If you will use basic geometric shapes like rectangles or circles, just rough them out to get an idea as to size and placement on the page. Also, decide whether your visual will require text within it, or whether it can be a simple line drawing or diagram.

(3) If your chosen visual is a line drawing or diagram requiring no text other than a title or caption, attempt a final draft using the straightedge and/or drafting tool to produce the desired shapes. Work directly with the razor-tip marker; do not try to first pencil in a drawing or shape. When producing straight lines, always use a straightedge rather than drawing freehand; when producing standard geometric shapes, use the draftsman's template or other geometric shape template, rather than drawing freehand. You may choose to print out a copy of the page which will hold the visual and then draw directly onto that page in the appropriate place, or you may choose to construct the visual on a separate sheet of paper and then attach it to the page using the double-stick tape.

(4a) If your visual requires additional text within it, you have several options. One option is to first produce the text, either by hand or on your word processor, and then draw the shapes around the text. Either way you produce the text, you must first consider the shape it must fit within. If you produce the text by hand lettering, use the straightedge as a base for each character as you letter it, so that your text is not uneven. However, a better result can be obtained if you type the required text on your word processor, manually ending each line at a suitable length to fit within whatever size and shape geometric framing figure you have chosen. (Sans-serif fonts are suitable for this use, perhaps in 9 or 10 point size. ) Then print out the text.

Now, carefully draw your chosen geometric figure(s) for a frame around the text. If you are using geometric shapes like squares or circles, carefully build them around the printed text, either with the draftsman's tool (carefully tracing a circle with it, for example) or by equally carefully using the straightedge and/or a right angle template from the draftsman's tool, if it has that feature.


(4b)You may reverse the above sequence, first building the shapes and then placing the text within them. To do this, first carefully draw the desired shapes. Let them dry before proceeding to avoid smudges. If you are lettering by hand, use the straightedge to avoid wavering lines and letter your text directly onto the paper on which you have drawn the shapes which will frame the text. If you are typing your text, type it with consideration for the space available for it. Print it out. Next, cut it down to a size that will fit within the chosen framing figure. Use the double-stick tape to attach it within the drawn rectangles, circles, etc. In doing this, be careful to square the text in several ways: It should be square (that is, parallel) with any other boxes of text in your visual, and if the framing shapes are squares or rectangles, the text should also be square with the horizontal lines of these shapes. The straightedge can be of help in squaring the text.

(5) Now refer to the steps of the procedure (above) to integrate this image within the appropriate page of your document

Dr. Mark Jordan ~ ENGL 2311: Technical Writing

Chapter Summaries: Chpt. Fifteen,

Designing Pages and Documents

This chapter is in a sense the most important one in the text. That is because it presents all the various formatting features which are common to all technical documents, no matter what specialized use the document is intended for. So these features are fundamental to this course. You will be expected to learn to use them. Study this chapter with this use in mind--first on an open-book quiz, then on the various assigned documents of the course.

Page Design in Workplace Writing

Page design determines the look of a page, the layout of words and graphics. An audience's first impression tends to be a purely visual, esthetic judgment. Well-designed pages invite users in, guide them through the material, and help them understand and remember it. Page design is important because of the following realities about reading and writing in the workplace:

Technical documents are designed differently from most other forms of writing.

Instead of an unbroken sequence of paragraphs, users look for charts, diagrams, lists, various typesizes and fonts, different headings, and other aids to navigation.

Technical documents rarely get users' undivided attention.

Busy users often only skim a document, or they refer to certain sections during a meeting or presentation. Amid frequent distractions, people must be able to leave the document and return to it easily.

People read work-related documents only because they have to.

If they have easier ways of getting the information, people will use them.

As computers generate more and more paper, any document competes for audience attention.

People resist any document that appears overwhelming. They expect a usable design that announces how the document is organized, where they are in the document, which items matter most, and how the items relate.

Desktop Publishing

The norm in today's business world is for employees to utilize desktop publishing capabilities to take charge of all stages in document prep: word processing, typesetting, graphics, and overall design. For this reason, you need to know all aspects of document formatting.

Creating a Usable Design

What follows are all the crucial features of document design.

Shaping the page

Shaping the overall look of the page includes the following elements:

Use the right paper and ink.

Use black ink and standard white 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper for routine documents. For more important documents, use "ragbond" paper, which has some cotton fiber added, and is normally identifiable by a watermark. If you are unsure whether colored ink or paper is appropriate, assume it is not.

Use high-quality print or type.

Avoid dot-matrix printers if possible; instead rely on inkjet or laser printers. Beware of removing sheets too quickly from inkjet printers, as the ink will smear. If your only resource is a typewriter rather than a word processor, make sure it is in top shape and the keys are clean.

Use consistent page numbers within headers and/or footers.

Don't neglect to number your pages, starting with the first text page (more later on using Roman numerals for pages prior to the first page of text). Ideally, learn how to number using a header or footer, which is an extra line in the top or bottom margin, usually in smaller type, and often not only providing the page number but the author's name and/or an abbreviated title.

Use a grid.

Readers make sense of a page by looking for a predictable and consistent underlying structure, with the various elements located where they expect. By subdividing a page (or screen) into square and rectangular modules, a grid helps you organize your layout. Options are a vertical grid (two columns), a horizontal grid (corresponding usually to the paragraphs of text on the page), or a combined grid using both layouts on different parts of the page--perhaps a page-wide paragraph followed by columns, for instance.

Use adequate white space.

White space is all the space not filled by text or images. Use white space to divide a document into small, digestible chunks. Here are three uses:

  • Keep related elements together by using less white space between the related elements (related paragraphs, or text and related image), while using more white space between those elements and other, unrelated elements.
  • Isolate important elements for added emphasis.
  • Provide breathing room between blocks of information: between paragraphs, sections, before a new heading or subheading, etc.
    Provide ample and appropriate margins.

Narrow margins crowd the page, making the material look difficult, and leaving no room for any possible annotations by the reader. Standard margins are one to one and 1/4 inches all around. In some cases, it is permissible for visual images to use narrower margins as a way to help set them off from the text and also to allow for them to be larger and clearer.

You should also be aware of the choice between a justified or unjustified margin. A justified margin makes the right-hand margin even; an unjustified margin leaves a "ragged right" margin. I much prefer the unjustified , ragged right type margin.

Keep line length reasonable.

Assuming standard margins, the number of words per line is determined by the size of the type font. Standard size for normal use in sentences and paragraphs is 12 point, which gives nine to twelve words per line with standard margins.

Keep line spacing consistent.

Line spacing is the number of blank lines left between lines of text or other elements. In technical writing, unlike most academic writing, single spacing is standard within the paragraphs of the text. Double space to signal the beginning of another paragraph, instead of indenting the first line.

Tailor each paragraph to its purpose.

Learn to begin each paragraph with a topic sentence. For a useful review in this and overall paragraph organization, go to my ENGL 1301 site at the Three-Part Format link.

Also, learn to avoid orphans and widows. An orphan is when you leave a paragraph's first line by itself at the bottom of a page; a widow is when you leave the last line of a paragraph by itself at the top of a page. Another type of orphan is leaving the heading of a paragraph at the bottom of a page; avoid these as well.

Use lists for easy reading.

Rely on vertical lists, rather than standard sentence format, whenever you have a sequence of items to communicate. There are two main types of lists. If the items require a certain sequence, then use a numbered list. If they don't, use a bulleted list, such as was used earlier in this chapter summary. Here, in a bulleted list, are other characteristics of both types of list:

  • Introduce your list with an explanation.
  • Use parallel grammatical form on all items--meaning, for instance, that if one item is presented as a complete sentence, all should be, or if one is just a noun and an adjective or two, then all should be.
  • Always begin with a capital letter.
  • Your items need periods only if they are presented as complete sentences.
  • A very long list may be broken up into two roughly equal columns.
  • Set off a list with extra white space above and below.

    Styling the Words and Letters

In styling words and letters, consider typographic choices that will make the text easy to read.

Use standard type sizes.

Type sizes commonly used in a document run from nine point to twenty-four point; there is some variance to the same size among different fonts, also. Standard size for text (sentences and paragraphs) is from ten to twelve, usually twelve. Larger sizes are commonly used for headings and subheadings, with the larger sizes reserved for the more important headings, such as those signalling the introduction, main body, and conclusion, or other similarly significant sections. Smaller sizes are sometimes used for captions for visuals and for headers or footers. It is very important to use the same size type consistently for similar elements.

Select appropriate fonts.

A font, or typeface, is the style of individual letters and characters. Each font has its own personality or look, and so can influence the way readers greet your ideas; font choice can also affect reading speed by as much as 30%. There are two main categories, used in differing ways by countless fonts. These categories are serif and sans serif. Serif fonts (such as Times New Roman or Palatino) feature, on each character, very tiny lines, usually horizontal, extending from the ends or peaks of the main strokes of a letter. Sans-serif fonts (such as Geneva or Helvetica) lack these tiny lines. It is generally agreed that a serif font increases reading speed because the tiny horizontal lines lead the reader's eye from letter to letter. Below are some guidelines for choosing fonts for a document:

  • As a rule, use a serif font for the normal text (sentences and paragraphs).
  • In the normal text, stay with the same font even when using emphasis such as bold, italics, etc.
  • For contrast in headings, use another font, usually a sans-serif font.
  • Also use a sans-serif font for captions for visuals and for the data itself within visuals such as charts, graphs, etc.
  • In almost all cases, use conservative, businesslike fonts; particularly avoid the more ornate fonts such as Gothic, Park Avenue, etc.
    Avoid using all caps in normal text.

Although all caps is at times desirable for headings or for emphasis, it makes for difficult reading in the sentences of your main text. This is because the characters are all of the same height, and thus lack the distinctions which make it easier for the eye to flow from letter to letter.

Highlighting for Emphasis

Various sorts of highlighting can help the reader tell what parts of a document are more important. Kinds of highlighting usually available are bold, italics, underscore, FULL CAPS, and others; they may also be used in combination. Other word processing features which can be used along with these kinds of highlighting are changing type size, changing fonts, using color,enclosing words within a box (as the note at the beginning of this link), or including graphic images which catch the attention and may also help characterize the nature of the message, such as a red stop sign by a warning. However, it is important not to get carried away and make a page too busy with highlighting, or the purpose of clear emphasis of selected crucial elements is defeated.

Using Headings for Access and Orientation

The use of headings and subheadings is perhaps the most important difference between technical documents and most academic documents (though they can be used to advantage there too). They are also perhaps the most difficult feature for many students to understand. Yet learning to use them is important, because headings are the main feature which allows a busy reader to meaningfully jump about in a document. Headings clearly show organization and help break the document into easily digestible chunks. They also help readers remember information. Below are the main features of headings and subheadings.

Make headings informative.

Try to word your headings informatively rather than using overly vague or general wording. For example, "How to Format your Document" is better than "Document Formatting" because the first wording makes it clear that step-by-step instructions will be given; the second wording is more vague. Specifically, three different useful types of phrasings are as topic headings (just a key word or several: "Usable Page Design"); as statement headings (longer, using a complete sentence or at least a complete, explicit phrase: "How to Create a Usable Page Design"); or as questions ("How Do I Create a Usable Page Design?").

Make headings specific as well as comprehensive.

Focus the heading on a specific topic; for example, write "The Effects of Acid Rain" rather than just "Acid Rain." Also, make your use of headings more comprehensive by using a heading for every major section (usually three) and subheadings for the subsections within them. Headings and subheadings can be adapted from the outline you have used to write your document.

Make headings grammatically parallel.

Like items in lists, similar headings--headings for one level of your outline, like introduction, body, and conclusion--should match grammatically. That is, if one heading within a certain level (see the explanation of levels of headings below) is a question, then word all similar headings as questions; if one heading is just a noun and a few modifiers, do other similar headings that way; if one is mainly a verb, do other similar ones that way.

Make headings visually consistent.

As mentioned above, you should use headings and subheadings for each level of your document, working if possible from your outline. For example, the main body should have a heading, but its various sections should also have subheadings. So to avoid confusing the reader, it is very important that all headings or subheadings of the same level of importance should be visually identical in regards to font, size, and type of emphasis. In other words, the introduction, body, and conclusion headings should match each other visually; the subheadings for the sections of the main body should also match each other, but should be less emphatic than for those of the introduction, body, and conclusion.

Lay out headings by level.

The most important feature of headings is to give a different look to each level of heading and subheading, reserving the greatest emphasis for the most important headings, normally those used for the introduction, body, and conclusion. So while headings of the same level should be identical, visually speaking, headings of decreasingly important levels should be decreasingly less emphasized. In contrast to your book's method of labeling these different levels of headings, I like to describe them this way (notice I am also illustrating the use of decreasing visual emphasis):


Level One Headings

Level two sub-headings

Level three sub-headings

Level four sub-headings, if needed, might even be included as a part of the first sentence, as I have done here. Keep in mind that you may choose your own styles of emphasis, within reasonable boundaries; I have used these as examples.

This chapter summary itself will illustrate how these various levels of headings work together. Note that I used the Title style for the title of the summary for Chapter Fifteen. Then I used the Level One style for the main sections of the chapter, of which there have been three so far (five total). I used the Level Two style for the four large sub-sections of the present section (the last of these sub-sections is this very one, dealing with headings). Then I used the Level Three style for the lowest level used in the chapter, an example being this very sub-section, "Lay out headings by level."

Now would be a good time to scroll all the way back up, then back down through this chapter summary, carefully noting the title and three levels of headings I have used, all of which I have taken from the text but given my own styles of emphasis to. A similar use of headings will be needed on every assignment you turn in except brief emails.

Audience Considerations in Page Design

A good writer will always make page design choices with two things in mind: the audience (including its cultural expectations) and its intended use of the document. Here are some guidelines to use when making page design decisions:

  • If people will use your document for reference only (as in a repair manual), use plenty of headings.
  • If users will follow a sequence of steps, show that sequence in a numbered list.
  • If they will need to evaluate something, give them a checklist of criteria.
  • If they need a warning, highlight the warning so that it cannot possibly be overlooked.
  • If users have asked for a report or resume' with a one-page limit, save space by using the 10-point type size.
  • If users will be facing complex information or difficult steps, widen the margins, increase all white space, and shorten the paragraphs.

Designing On-Screen Pages

Lastly, here are some typical differences between document design for hardcopy documents, and for web sites or other documents intended to be read on-screen:

  • Sentences and paragraphs may need to be made shorter and more concise.
  • Sans serif type is sometimes preferred for on-screen readability.
  • The main point usually appears close to the top of each screen.
  • Each "page" should, if possible, be designed in screen-sized chunks.
  • These "pages," or links, are often linked as hypertext, sometimes following some organization pattern other than the traditional introduction-body-conclusion pattern.
  • Links, navigation bars, hot buttons, and help options are displayed on each page; this Chapter Summary link features most of these characteristics.


Dr. Mark Jordan ~ ENGL 2311: Technical Writing

Chapter Summary: Chapter Nineteen, Letters and Employment Correspondence

Elements of Usable Letters

Though most letters should be no more than one page in length (if you expect anyone to read them!), writing a professional-looking, effective letter is not as easy as it may seem. Over the years I have taught this course, I frankly have not read very many effective letters written by my students, so this Fall 2003 semester I have decided to emphasize letter writing more. Specifically, I am assigning only three major document assignments rather than four as in the past, with the tradeoff being that you will write two or perhaps three letters with each of those major document assignments, and/or several letters independent of the major documents. As you can see in my Course Requirements within the Syllabus link, these letters will count, together, as 15% of your course grade. With that in mind, here you can begin to study both the standard format of a professional letter and its rhetorical design (how you word it).

Note: This chapter summary on letters is only a stopgap measure. You will need to read the chapter itself. This summary, because it is only a summary, omits some information without which you may not fully understand the format or rhetorical design of a letter. Also, there is one confusing element to the model letter I have supplied below: elements such as the inside address and return address look double-spaced here on my web page, but that is deceiving; they are SINGLE-SPACED, with a double space between those elements, not within them. This confusing layout is unavoidable due to my fairly old HTML editing software. So I repeat, please read Chapter 19 from your book itself!

Here are the basic characteristics of virtually any letter you may write:

  • It should whenever possible be written to an individual person, addressed to that person by both name and professional title, not "to whom it may concern".
  • It is almost always persuasive in purpose.
  • It is signed by you and thus may serve as a legal document, binding you to your words.
  • It should convey the proper tone, normally one of even-temperedness and respect, even in adversarial situations.
  • It should normally be no more than one page long, because longer letters often go unread.
  • Basic types of letters are inquiry letters, claim letters, application letters, and also letters of transmittal (cover letters), which are discussed in Chapter Sixteen.
  • The text of a letter should use the basic three-part writing format of a brief introductory paragraph, one or several short body paragraphs giving necessary details, and a brief concluding paragraph.
  • Any letter should end by stating specifically what you want to happen next.
  • The two standard letter formats are block and modified block, both of which include several standard elements, discussed below.

    Basic Parts of Letters

    The basic parts of any letter are these seven, in this order (your book combines the first two):

  1. Date
  2. Your return address
  3. Inside address
  4. Salutation
  5. Text (including intro, body, and conclusion)
  6. Closing
  7. Your name--both your signature (handwritten), and your typed name.

Below you can see the basic layout of these elements in the block style, the simpler of the two styles. The borders in the format below are intended to show the edges of a sheet of paper and the side margins; of course, there is no ruled side margin line on your actual typing paper. Also realize that the names of the elements, seen below in the left margin, do not appear in the letter itself.

Following this layout sample are explanations for each element. Note also that there are some useful specialized elements, such as an attention line for use when you do not know the individual recipient's name but do know the title or department. These are discussed in your textbook.



Return Address



Inside Address


Introductory Paragraph
















Typed Name



Double-space between date and return address
Two to six spaces between return address and inside address: six if your letter is short
Double-space between inside address and salutation


Double-space between salutation and first paragraph
____________________________. _______________________________________
Double-space between each paragraph; no tab indent to begin paragraph
_________________. __________________________________________________
____________________________. ______________________________________
________________. ___________________________________________________
Double-space between body paragraph and conclusion
________________________________. ____________________________________
Double-space between concluding paragraph and closing


Leave four to six spaces for your signature, depending on how large you write



Use standard one & one-quarter margin on all sides.


The date is the first line the reader sees. If your stationery is a company letterhead, place the date several lines beneath the logo and company name, against the left margin. In the block style, all elements are placed against the left margin. If you are using a blank sheet, the date begins one and a quarter inches below the top of the page--which is the standard margin most word processors are set up for, so you simply begin typing on the first line in your screen, and the computer spaces the top margin for you.

Return Address

The return address is your mailing address, including street or P.O. box, city, state abbreviation, and zip code. It will be included in the preprinted letterhead so you don't have to type it again, but if using a blank sheet, normally you should place it against the left margin, double-spaced below the date. The return address does not include your name, which appears at the end of the letter.

Inside Address

The inside address consists of the name and title of the individual you are writing, plus that person's complete mailing address. This same information will appear as the address you type on the envelope. Locate the inside address against the left margin and anywhere from two to six lines below the return address. Adjust this space depending on the length of your letter, so that everything is not either stacked at the top of the page or at the bottom of the page. Read your text for avoiding sexist usage in titles and salutations.


The salutation should also be against the left margin, placed two spaces below the inside address, and ends in a colon. There are different styles of wording. The traditional salutation begins with the word "Dear" followed by Dr. or other title, or in the business world, either Mr., Ms., or (very rarely) Mrs. ("Ms." is generally used nowadays for both married and unmarried women, a fact which you normally will not know anyway. "Miss" is almost never used.) Generally, you should never address a business letter to a person only by that person's first name. Another issue is that some writers (like myself) feel somewhat pretentious using the word "Dear" when the recipient is not, in fact, someone dear to them, so the salutation may omit that, at the slight risk of seeming too abrupt to a more tradition-minded recipient. Note that if you do not know the individual recipient's name, an attention line is better. See below under Specialized Elements.

Letter Text

The text itself--as with everything you write--needs an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The introductory paragraph begins two spaces below the salutation. In this first part, you should identify yourself and your purpose for writing, usually in no more than five lines. Then explain more fully the details of your purpose in one or several brief body paragraphs. The concluding paragraph, about the same length as the introductory paragraph, should sum up what you have said, and should encourage some action: that is, state specifically what you wish the recipient to do in response to your letter: call you, write you back, issue a refund, etc.

It is customary in professional letters--and in all professional writing--to not use tab indents to signal the start of a new paragraph, but rather to skip a line. The paragraphs themselves should be single-spaced within, not double-spaced. Also, the text can be either justified (that is, even) on the right margin, or unjustified (uneven). I myself, in this class, want you to use the unjustified right margin.

Complimentary Closing

Locate the complimentary closing two spaces after the conclusion to the text, and against the left margin. You should be careful not to be overly intimate or familiar with this element; the two best choices are "Respectfully," and "Sincerely," both with a comma after.


For some reason, many of my students omit their signature. Please don't; your letter is unfinished until it is signed. Use your normal legal signature, against the left margin, and leave yourself four to six spaces for it, depending on how large your script is. Believe it or not, even the way you sign your name conveys part of the tone of the letter; you should develop a confident signature, by which I mean one which you have used often enough to write it fluidly, without conscious thought. This will leave a positive impression, and conversely, a herky-jerky, apparently seldom-used signature will leave the impression of uncertainty, even timidity. You want the last thing your recipient sees to send the message that you are a person to be reckoned with, not someone who can easily be ignored.

Typed Name and Title

This last element "frames" your signature between it and the closing, with (as noted) four to six spaces between for your signature itself. This line is important as many signatures are hard to read; it is the only place your name appears, typed, within your letter. Also, if you are writing as the formal representative of a company or organization, type your precise title, in caps, on the line just after your typed name. If you are simply writing as a student, an independent individual, then type only your name.

Below you will see a sample of a typical letter written in block style; it is a letter of inquiry. Please note that my HTML software makes it appear that the elements such as return address, inside address, etc., are double-spaced within themselves, but that is incorrect; they should be single-spaced, with a double-space between all elements except between the return and inside addresses. See your textbook for a better sample!




August 20, 2003


1714 N. Graham

Odessa, Tx 79761


Ms. Tanya Hughes

Director of Financial Aid, Odessa College

201 W. University Blvd.

Odessa, Tx 79764


Ms. Hughes:

I am wishing to attend Odessa College and am interested in whatever financial aid packages might be available to me.

You know better than I what might be available, but I am especially interested in any grants, scholarships, and/or work-study positions, because I do not want to accumulate an enormous loan debt by the time I graduate. To help you know what aid might apply to me, my present circumstances are that I am 21 years old, I have not lived with my parents in several years (and am not shown as a dependent on their tax return), and I work thirty to forty hours per week at Target here in Odessa.

Please email me at jogivens@cableone.net or give me a call at 520-7768, or have one of your staff contact me, so I will know what my next action should be. I know you have many students to deal with, so I want you to know that I appreciate your time.




Jo Givens



Specialized Parts of Letters

 Your textbook discusses various specialized parts of letters, including an attention line, subject line, typist's initials, enclosure notation, distribution notation, and postscript. However, I will only cover three of those below, those you will most likely need.

Attention Line

This is used when you write to an organization and you do not know the proper recipient's name, so you are instead directing the letter to a specific department or position (knowledge you sometimes must gain with a preliminary phone call). It is placed two spaces below the inside address, against the left margin, and takes the place of the salutation. An attention line looks like this:

Attention: Director of Research and Development

Subject Line

I myself normally only use a subject line when I am already using an attention line. It is placed immediately below the attention line, or as some prefer, two lines below, and against the left margin. It usually appears one of two ways:

Subject: Request for Student Enrollment Data

In place of "Subject" you may also use "Re." which is short for "Regarding":

Re.: Request for Student Enrollment Data

Enclosure Notation

Use this when your letter is a "cover" letter, one which alerts a recipient to the nature and purpose of some longer document accompanying the letter. An enclosure notation may also be used when you are sending some sort of documentation along with your letter, such as a photocopy of a canceled check, etc. Place the enclosure notation immediately below your typed name, against the left margin, like this:


or, if more than one enclosure, note how many:

Enclosures 3

Design Factors

Your textbook discusses several design factors, including quality of stationery, uniform margins, headers for more than one page, and the envelope itself--an item hard to produce on many word processors and printers. Here I will only comment on the font and the paper (stationery) quality: For font (the style and size of type), it is customary to use a businesslike choice--many are acceptable, but you should not use script or overly fancy or hard to read fonts. It is also customary to use 12-point size type, although sometimes a person may use 14 pt. when the letter text is very brief, or perhaps 11 or even 10 pt. when the letter is fairly long but still needs to fit on one page.

Concerning paper, it is customary to use high-quality, 20-pound bond paper, 8 1/2 x 11 inches, normally white except occasionally for resumes. High-quality paper will be what is known as "ragbond", meaning that it has cotton in it and is not made entirely of just wood pulp. The package tells you this, and such paper itself will be watermarked: When you hold a sheet of ragbond up to the light, you can see a faint logo or wording constructed into the paper itself (not printed on it). For the purposes of this class, however, I will accept letters written on standard copy paper, so long as it is the standard size and white.

Interpersonal considerations in Workplace Letters

Your textbook discusses several "people" considerations, issues which you deal with in how you word your letter. This is the rhetoric of the letter. Note that I am only listing these here; please read further details in your text. Here are several important interpersonal (rhetorical) considerations:

  • Focus on your recipient's interests: the "you" perspective.
  • Use plain English, not an inflated vocabulary.
  • Focus on the human connection: To whom are you writing? What is your relationship to this person? And most importantly, What do you want this person to do, think, or feel?
  • Anticipate the recipient's reaction.
  • Decide on a direct or indirect approach in the text: placing your main point in the first paragraph, or at the end. Generally, even when delivering bad news, the direct approach is better; rather than beating around the bush, try instead to avoid just blurting out the bad news by placing it up front, but with carefully considered wording. Your textbook gives examples.

Inquiry Letters, Claim Letters, andResumes / Job Applications

These various types of letters have fairly subtle nuances; you will need to read about them in your textbook itself.

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