Media / Design

Print Text

In many instances, the messages you write are 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 texts and for visuals that accompany spoken texts.

Considering the Rhetorical Situation

As with all writing tasks, your rhetorical situation affects the way you design a print text.


How you can design your text to help achieve your purpose? Should you present some data in a chart or table? Add a photo?


Do you need to do anything designwise for your intended audience? Change the type size? Add headings or color?


Does your genre have any design requirements? Must (or can) it have headings? Illustrations? Tables or graphs?


How can your design reflect your attitude toward your audience and subject? Do you need a businesslike "look," or a playful one?

Some Elements of Design

Whatever your text, you have various design decisions to make. The following guidelines will help you.


The typefaces you choose will affect your text—how well readers can read it and how they will perceive your tone and  STANCE. For most academic writing, you'll want to use 10- or 11- or 12-point type. 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. 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.

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. 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 single-spaced.


Layout is the way text is arranged on a page. An academic essay, for example, will usually have a title centered at the top and one-inch margins all around.


In general, indent paragraphs five spaces when your text is double-spaced; either indent or skip a line between paragraphs that are single-spaced.


Put information into list form that you want to set off and make easily accessible. Number the items when sequence matters; use bullets when order is not important.


If you 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, using all nouns or all questions, for example.

Make headings visible

When you have several levels of headings, use capitalization, boldface, and italics to distinguish among the various levels. Be aware that APA style provides formats for up to five levels of headings; MLA does not specify heading formats, but capitalizing all principal words is a good rule of thumb. If you're not following a prescribed format consider printing headings in a bold, italic, or underlined font—or use a different typeface.

Position headings appropriately

If you're following  APA or  MLA format, center first-level headings. If you are not following a prescribed format, be sure to position each level of head consistently.

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.


Be careful that any visuals you use contribute to your point.

Select visuals that are appropriate for your rhetorical situation

The kinds of visuals you use, if any—photographs, line graphs, bar graphs, pie charts, tables, diagrams, flowcharts, or drawings—will depend on your content,  GENRE, and  RHETORICAL SITUATION.

Some guidelines for using visuals
  • Use visuals as an element of your text's content, not as decoration.
  • Position visuals close to the related text discussion.
  • Number all visuals, using a separate sequence for figures and tables.
  • Refer to the visual before it appears, and summarize its point.
  • Provide a title or caption for each visual, and add clear labels where necessary.
  •  DOCUMENT the source of any visuals you found in another source, and obtain permission if they will be published in any form other than for a course.

Follow the same procedures for visuals that you use with other source materials.

Evaluate visuals as you would any text

Make sure visuals are authoritative, relate directly to your subject, support your assertions, and add information that words alone can't provide as clearly or easily.

Include any necessary source information

Make sure visuals are accompanied by background and citation information.

Use visuals ethically

Altering photographs in a way that misrepresents someone or something is a serious breach of ethics. If you alter a photo, be sure the image represents the subject accurately—and tell your readers how you have changed it.

Charts and graphs can mislead, too. Just as you shouldn't edit a quotation or a photograph in a way that might misrepresent its meaning, you should not present data in a way that could mislead readers.

Evaluating a Design

Does the design suit its  PURPOSE?

Do the typeface and any visuals help convey the text's message, support its argument, or present information?

How well does the design meet the needs of its  AUDIENCE?

Will the overall appearance of the text appeal to the intended readers?

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?

How well does the design reflect the writer's  STANCE?

Do the page layout and typeface convey the appropriate tone?

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Spoken Text

In school and out, you may be called on to speak in public. This chapter offers guidelines to help you prepare and deliver effective spoken texts, along with the visual aids you often need to include. We'll start with a good example.


Gettysburg Address

Given by the sixteenth president of the United States, at the dedication of the Gettysburg battlefield as a memorial to those who died in the Civil War, this is one of the most famous speeches ever delivered in the United States.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly 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.

You won't likely be called on to deliver such an address, but the techniques Lincoln used—brevity, rhythm, recurring themes—are ones you can use in your own spoken texts.

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 central parts of your talk. The main part should focus on a few main points. The ending should leave your audience with something to remember, think about, or do. Lincoln ends by challenging his audience to "the great task remaining before us."

Signpost language to keep your audience on track

Provide cues, especially  TRANSITIONS, to help your listeners follow your text. Sometimes you'll also want to  SUMMARIZE a complex point.

A tone to suit the occasion

Lincoln spoke at a serious event, the dedication of a national cemetery, and his address is formal and solemn.


Be aware of how your words and phrases sound. Repetition and parallel structure can lend power to a presentation and make it memorable: "We can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow."

Visual aids

Sometimes you will want or need to use visuals—PowerPoint, transparencies, flip charts, and so on—to highlight key points.

Considering the Rhetorical Situation

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


What is your primary purpose? To inform? Persuade? Entertain? Evoke an emotional response? Something else?


Who will you be addressing and how well do you know your audience? Will you need to get them interested? Will you need to provide background and define key terms?


The genre of your text will affect the way you structure it. If you're making an argument, for instance, you'll need to anticipate questions from the audience.


Consider the attitude you want to express—and choose your words accordingly.

Delivering a Spoken Text

As you practice a spoken text, bear in mind the following points:

  • Speak clearly. If listeners miss important words or phrases, your talk will not succeed.
  • Pause for emphasis. pause to signal the end of a thought, or to get listeners ready for a surprising or amusing statement.
  • Try not to read your presentation. If you must have a complete text in front of you, try to write it as if you were talking, 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. And if you stand up straight, you'll project confidence in what you're saying.
  • Use gestures for emphasis. Try to relax, and use your hands for emphasis. Most public speakers use one hand to emphasize points and both to make larger gestures.
  • Practice. Practice many times—and don't go over your time limit.

Visual Aids

Visuals often help listeners follow what you're saying.

Deciding on the appropriate visual

Presentation software, overhead transparencies, flip charts, and posters are some of the most common kinds of visuals. Whatever you decide to use, make sure that the necessary equipment is available—and that it works. Try to check out the room and the equipment beforehand. Also make sure that your visuals will be seen by everyone in the room.

Using presentation software

Here are some tips for using presentation software, such as Microsoft PowerPoint, effectively:

  • Use lists rather than paragraphs.
  • Don't put too much information on a slide.
  • Be sure your type is large enough for your audience to read it.
  • Choose colors carefully.
  • Use bells and whistles sparingly, if at all.
  • Mark your text where you need to call up the next slide.
Overhead transparencies

Here are some tips for using transparencies effectively:

  • Use a white background and large type.
  • Write legibly and large.
  • Position slides carefully.

A handout is useful when you want to give your audience information they can refer to later. Refer to the handout in your presentation, but unless it includes material your audience needs to consult as you talk, don't distribute the handout until you are finished.

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Electronic Text

Like print texts, electronic texts have certain key features and are composed in the context of particular rhetorical situations. This chapter offers some very basic advice about the texts you post online.

Considering the Rhetorical Situation

Consider your particular rhetorical situation carefully; there's often no telling who might read what you write.


Why are you writing? On a website, and often in email, you will need to make your purpose clear.


What kind of readers are you aiming at, what information will you need to provide, and what are their technical limitations? Don't put any writing online that you don't feel comfortable having lots of different people read.


Are you reporting information? Evaluating something? Arguing a point? Proposing an action?


What impression do you want to convey? If you're constructing a website, should it look academic? Hip? Professional?


For email, you'll want the format to be simple. For a website, you'll need a consistent design using color and type to signal key parts of the site.

Key Features / Email

Email has certain features and conventions that writers need to be aware of.

An explicit subject line

Because many people delete 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

Write in the tone you'd use if you were writing the same text on paper. You can use email shorthand with friends, but formal email should observe professional and academic conventions (complete sentences, correct spelling and punctuation).


Short paragraphs work best on screen. When you need to email a longer text, you may want to send it as an attachment.

Speed and reach

Be careful before you hit send. Be sure that your email neither says something you'll regret nor includes anything you don't want the whole world reading.

Key Features / Websites

Here is some advice to help you think about the features that characterize most websites.

A home page

A home page names the site, indicates its purpose, and tells readers what is on the site. Design a home page so that it fits on one screen and can be downloaded quickly.

A clear organizational structure

Here are three common ways of organizing a website:

[As a sequence]

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Use this organization if you want readers to view pages in a specific sequence.

[As a hierarchy]

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Use a hierarchy to guide readers through complex information while allowing them to choose what to read within categories.

[As a web]

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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

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. Put the navigation menu in the same place on every page. Include a button that lets readers return to the home page.

A consistent design

Create a clear color scheme and a consistent  PAGE DESIGN; in addition, use type consistently. If you include images, be sure the illustrations support or add to your point and are not mere decoration. Finally, your design should reflect the site's tone and  STANCE. Formal, informal, academic, whimsical, whatever—your choice of type and color and images can convey this stance.


Links let readers navigate pages on your site—and they allow you to bring material from other sources into your text.


Blogs are online journals. They generally include written entries, photos, links to other blogs or websites, and space for readers to post comments. When you create or respond to a blog:

  • Don't post anything that you wouldn't want your parents, friends, or employer to read.
  • Assume that what you post in a blog is permanent.
  • Since what you write in a blog will be both public and permanent, think twice before posting when you're angry or upset.

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