Writing for Business and Industry



Document and Information Design



Week 1 -- Design readings

Week 2 -- Design readings



Word formatting (answer key: how to do the word formatting) Yes, I'm showing you how to do it. I expect this style of formatting on all work. (avoid two consecutive returns when creating a document).

Email me your formatted document. Be sure to use proper file naming or it will be returned to be fixed.


Complete the Design quiz in Blackboard. The quiz is open book (the browser is not locked down), but you can only take it once.


In-class work

Purpose of design. Write up a 100-150 word response to the week 1 discussion question.

Heading layout

Rank headings


List practice

Design a book


Discussion questions

Week 1

Q 1.

I'll claim that the following paragraph sums up why you are required to take this course. How does it consist of more than just writing text (or writing a report)? Does it involve more than just "prettying up" the text with nice headings, lists, etc? How does it relate to making management level decisions in the corporate world?

Understanding a situation requires mentally integrating many pieces of information. It requires understanding both that the information exists and how it is interrelated to the situational context and other pieces of information. People often know something is occurring or that a particular piece of information exists, but they do not understand how it relates to the overall situation. What they need from the data is to gain the knowledge required to understand the situation in its current context and make some type of decision about it.

weak answer: Using business or technical writing to understand a situation involves more than simply writing and formatting. It is about understanding the need to effectively communicate ideas and information and effectively doing so. Having the skills to do this allows you to effectively get across an idea while relating it to the big picture impact. Being able to do this to various audiences makes for a successful company. Learning about the proper design of writing goes far beyond making it simply look good. The good design provides the ability to reference certain sections of a business report when a manger needs to make decisions without difficulty. Managers rely heavily on many different types of reports for financial and personnel decisions and having a clear and concise document will save time, effort, and possibly money.

weak answer: How does this course relate to making management decisions in the corporate world? Making management decisions involves effectively communicating information. Effectively communicating involves many things: knowing your audience, understanding why your reader is reading (his purpose), and understanding your reader’s environment. When you understand these three areas, you can best format your document to match these needs. For example, if your goal is to communicate a set of instructions, using a numbered list would be a good idea. Another example would be the actual medium the document is on. If a manager primarily reads his emails via a mobile phone, formatting the font to be large enough on a smartphone screen is important.

Week 2


Recent research has found that headings should be written as declarative statements. Tell the person what is in the section using a phrase. Rather than saying Electrical System, say "Design of the Electrical System" They've also found that PowerPoint slide titles should be a full sentence ....basically, take what is typically the first sentence on the slide and make it the title.

How does this translate into writing business reports? Does it mean you should have not sections with headings like Introduction, Analysis, Options, Recommendation? What other options are there? What are the audience expectations?

weak answer Headings can be very useful in any business reports. Very detailed headers can break down difficult text and technical writing into subgroups that allows each audience member to control how they approach the information. Simpler, more generic headings such as introduction, analysis, and recommendations could be useful depending on your target audience. Experts may have different expectations then someone with no knowledge of the topic. Also, primary vs. secondary audience members may expect more detailed headers versus shorter, more generic headers depending on how the information is going to be used. Knowing your target audience, presenting well organized information, and formatting the document/presentation to be visually appealing are all key elements in business reports.


Bring the file to class.

One design source says "Most Oldstyle designs, typefaces such as Bembo, Caslon, Garamond, and Adobe Minion, for example, do not require leading beyond the 120% mentioned above. Transitional designs such as Baskerville and Times Roman require a bit more, and Moderns such as Bodoni and Walbaum require even more still." Create a long paragraph (8-10 lines) and format it in different fonts. Play around with the leading to see how it affects different fonts, and be sure to use both serif and sans serif fonts. (You still want to give the reader an impression of a single spaced page.)

Create multiple identical lines set at 12 points but with different typefaces ( you can pick your typefaces, but for example use, Times, Arial, Garamond, Gil Sans). This works best if you have about 2 lines of text. Explain why they are different lengths.

Using different proportional fonts, figure out how proportional fonts handle numbers. Clearly, 1 needs less space than 8.

Write up a summary of your findings and post them to the discussion board.

You should print these lines out for your comparision. They will display slightly different on paper and on a screen.

Try formatting variations on the following:

You may need to ask someone else to give some feedback on looking the fonts since you'll overload on this very quickly.

weak answer Here is a sentence formatted in five different fonts. They are different lengths.


These samples are annotated with various good and bad points.

Design sample 1 Design sample 5 Design sample 8
Design sample 2 Design sample 6  
Design sample 3 Design sample 7  

Learning to use Word

This will be helpful for the rest of the class and the rest of your career. You must control the word processor and not let it control you.

Basic Formatting

Making Word less helpful

Track changes

Thoughts to ponder


A student's comments on design at work

When I first started working after college and I would write reports for my supervisor. I found myself often frustrated when he would repeatedly ask me questions, the answers of which I knew I had included in the reports I had sent him. It took me longer than it should have, but I came to the understanding it was not that he was not reading my reports, but rather he could not understand the information I was sending him. There nothing technically wrong with what I had sent him, but rather the format of my writing was not a style that matched his need. He was inundated with information, and my college essay style reports with their long prose and lengthy paragraphs did not stick.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned since leaving college is my supervisors are in some cases less knowledgeable about my specific work area than I am. Nor do they have any interest in according that knowledge. That is why they hired me. But there are many situations where my supervisor is required to make a decision based on my knowledge, often with limited time. Therefore, any writing technique I can use to improve my supervisor’s ability to understand a topic is an important element of effective communication. So I have found making a document easy to navigate for him by using bullets, lists, and headers is an essential aspect of communication, and not just an exercise of aesthetic aerobics.


A previous student's comment

This is very interesting for me to realize considering I haven’t give this much thought to how something looks on the page as opposed the contents and information they contain.  My initial thought regarding this course is we would cover ways to get information conveyed in a dry manner.  I thought technical writing was how to get the most information across in an effective manner.  I think it is really refreshing to see just how changing the formatting can allow the information to be easily read and understood with techniques such as white space, proper font selection, and lists.  It is good knowing I can use some of this information when I have more reports and articles to write for my company, that a little formatting can help get my message across much easier.


Good technical skills in document design alone will not make a stellar manager nor a stellar author or analyst. But understanding the real objective in effective document design exposes the criticality of this skill in being successful as a manager or any type of professional. Your responsibility is to provide effective, well-organized information that is useful to the audience; the opportunity is to influence the course of action of others, sometimes individuals, sometimes governments or corporations. Influence is less of a factor in a very objective, descriptive writing effort such as a technical manual, as it is in a normative writing effort such as an analytical report. However, the same skills in understanding the audience, choosing the mode of the language, and designing and organizing the document, will apply in all cases.


Design by Michael J. Albers Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.
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