Professional and Technical Writing

13.1 Format Overview

This learning unit includes information on formats, headings, sub headings, markers, chunking, and white space.

Information in reports needs to be formatted in a hierarchical structure. The first heading is the title of the report.

After this first heading the structure is a coordinated into four sections, so The Business of Writing Cover Pageeach section of a report shows the same order of information.  Headings identify the sections of information: Major Headings; Division of Major Headings; Sub Division of Major Headings; Sub-Sub Division of Major Headings.

Not every report needs four headings. A report may have two sections, three  sections, or four sections. However, a report cannot have more than four hierarchal sections. If your report needs more than four sections, you need to reorganize the information in the report. 

Within each section, markers are used to identify specific points.  Chunking and white space are used to make information more accessible.  Markers can be bullets, numbers, underlining, bold font, italics, etc. Chunking is creating small sections of information, surrounded by white space. White space is empty space that separates sections of text.

When using bullets to mark several items, be sure to chunk items into groups. Lists of items that are continuously bulleted become solid text and the effect of marking information is lost.

See example:

Example – How to Use White Space in Technical Writing




  • Technical Writing. Authored by: Dr. Elizabeth Lohman. Provided by: Tidewater Community College. Located at Z Degree Program. LicenseCC BY: Attribution


13.2 General Design Concepts

Designing Reader-Centered Pages and Documents

You build your communications out of visual elements: the dark marks of your words, sentences, and paragraphs against the light background of the page, as well as your drawings and graphs and tables. Your readers see the visual design of these elements before they read and understand your message. And what they see has a powerful effect on the success of your communications, on its usability and persuasiveness.

Here are ways that good design enhances usability.

  • Good design helps readers understand your information.
  • Good page design helps readers locate information quickly.
  • Good design helps readers notice highly important content.

Here are some ways good design affects readers’ attitudes, thereby increasing a communication’s persuasiveness.

  • Good design encourages readers to feel good about the communication itself.
  • Good design encourages readers to feel good about the communication’s subject matter.

Same Web Page on Multiple Devices

A Reader-Centered Approach to Design

Because page design can have such a significant impact on your communication’s usability and persuasiveness, you should approach design in the same reader-centered manner that you use when drafting text and graphics. Think continuously about your readers, including who they are, what they want from your communication, and the context in which they will be reading.

Design Elements of a Communication

It is helpful to think about the building blocks of a page design in the way that professional graphic designers do. When they look at a page, they see six basic elements.

  • Text. Paragraphs and sentences.
  • Headings and titles. Labels for sections of your communication.
  • Graphics. Drawings, tables, photographs, and so on — including their captions.
  • White space. Blank areas.
  • Headers and footers. The items, such as page numbers, that occur at the top or bottom of each page in a multipage document.
  • Physical features. These include paper, which may take many shapes and sizes, and bindings, which come in many forms.



  1. Identify places where graphics will increase your communication’s usability.
  2. Identify places where graphics will increase your communication’s persuasiveness.

Note: Make sure not to add graphics to areas that will alter the flow of the document/communication. Add graphics in places in between paragraphs or other logical breaks in the document.


  1. Select the types of graphics that will best support your readers’ tasks.
  2. Select the types of graphics that will effectively influence your readers’ attitudes.
  3. Select the types of graphics that will best support your case.


  1. Design graphics that are easy to understand and use.
  2. Design them to support your readers’ tasks.
  3. Design graphics that your readers will find persuasive.
  4. Keep your graphics simple enough for easy use.
  5. Label content clearly.
  6. Provide your graphics with informative titles.
  7. Address the graphics with a sort summary of results or caption about the graphic.

Using Color

  1. Use colors to support your message.
  2. Use color for emphasis, not decoration or too distracting from the body text.
  3. Choose a color scheme, not just individual colors.
  4. Provide high contrast between text and background.
  5. Select colors with appropriate associations.
  6. Limit the number of colors.
  7. Use color to unify the overall communication.Graphic Design is a Universal Language

Integrating with the Text

  1. Introduce each graphic in the text first.
  2. Tell your readers the conclusions you want them to draw from the graphic.
  3. Provide all explanations your readers will need in order to understand and use each graphic.
  4. Locate each graphic near its references.

Addressing an International Audience

  1. Check your graphics with persons from other nations for clarity when possible.
  2. Check your graphics with technology for problems when intra-converted between computer systems.

Using Graphics Ethically

  1. Avoid elements that might mislead your readers.
  2. Obtain permission from the copyright owner of each image that is not in the public domain.
  3. Give credit to all involved in the development or research of the graphic.
  4. Be sure the graphic will benefit the document overall and will not just add unnecessary clutter.

1 From Paul V. Anderson’s Technical Communication: A Reader-Centered Approach

13.3 Brochure

Brochures are small promotional or informative documents ranging from a tri-folded piece of paper to a small collection of pages on a single topic. Typically, they are used to give external audiences information on products or services. Brochures rely on skillful design and use of graphics in addition to quality writing. 

Rhetorical Context 

Brochures can be written for a range of topics though you can broadly define them as a mix of informative and persuasive content. A brochure on how to use a service at your library might be mostly informative. A brochure about a local cancer support charity might be mostly informative but have persuasive elements to elicit donations. Brochures marketing a new product might be more persuasive but will still need to provide sufficient information to be convincing.  

While often used to promote a product or service, brochures can also be used to give information to customers or clients as part of a larger marketing effort. For example, a yoga studio might give new members a brochure detailing basic postures and information on class times. 

Given the range of content that can be present in a brochure, you’ll want to carefully analyze your purpose and audience before you start crafting your brochure. Once you have a clear sense of your specific purpose and the basic needs of the audience, consider the following questions to help plan an appropriate level of detail and an effective design: 

  • How interested is my reader in this material?  
  • How will the material be distributed?  
  • What role does the brochure play?  
  • How will the brochure be read? 

Knowing the readers’ interest level can help you to determine appropriate depth when developing your content and can help you select organizational strategies that suit the engagement levels of different audiences. Understanding how the material will be distributed can help you to consider design choices for your brochure. 

Much like with websites, there is a lot of variety in design for brochures. Something that may be very helpful for creating your own designs is to look at brochures you consider effective. Analyze and evaluate their purpose, content, and design to determine what is and is not effective. Such evaluations will help you to generate ideas for your own design. 

How interested is my reader in this material? 

Brochures are typically written for external audiences, some who are eager for the information, and others who you’ll have to entice to take it and read it. 

If your reader is eager for the information, you’ll want to anticipate their likely questions, and make sure you provide all the information they would want. It’s very important to be thorough when you have an eager reader—you don’t want to disappoint their expectations. 

If your reader is not eager for the information because they don’t know why they would need it, you may want to aim for less detailed content. A less dense, skimmable page of content reduces the amount of reader work. They’ll feel more open to reading if the document doesn’t appear like a burden of reading. Lots of interesting images can also help keep these less interested readers engaged. 

How will the material be distributed? 

How the brochure will be distributed can have an impact on your design choices. 

A brochure that will be placed on display for potential readers to pick up needs to have a large, clear title that makes the purpose of the brochure obvious to readers. This will help interested readers easily find the brochure. A clear and purposeful title may also lure other readers to examine the brochure even though they didn’t seek it out. For these uninterested readers, an eye-catching front page can entice readers to pick up the brochure and read it. 

For example, if your brochure is likely to be distributed by hand or displayed on a small stand, potential readers will almost always see the cover of the brochure first. If a brochure is going to be laying flat on a table or in another situation where the material could be flipped over by people passing by, you may want to make both the front and back visually appealing. 

What role does the brochure play? 

Usually a brochure is part of a larger communication or marketing effort and will provide readers with a means of getting more information or access to the product or service being discussed. This might be a website, phone number, or other means of contact. It might even include an address and location hours if the purpose is to entice readers to visit. 

How will the brochure be read? 

There are a variety of designs for brochures to meet the various purposes they serve. Some are multiple pages while others are a single page. Some single page brochures are folded in different ways. 

To effectively reach your audience, you should carefully consider how much space you need and how best to break up your content using panels or pages. It may seem old-fashioned, but creating a blank version by folding or stapling some paper can help you visualize how a reader is going to navigate your brochure. Knowing how they are likely to navigate will help you know where to place key information when planning your layout and making design choices. 

Also, while interested readers are likely to skim through the whole brochure, your design should draw in less interested readers. For all readers, your design choices need to help draw attention to key information. White space, headings, lines, colors, lists and many other design elements can help emphasize that key information to help readers easily access what’s important and draw them into the document. If the emphasized details engage readers, they’ll be more likely to read the rest of the brochure. 


Brochures should make use of design elements and graphics to not only draw reader’s attention but also to make for a quick and easy read. Typically, space is at a premium with a brochure, particularly with ones made from a single folded sheet of paper, so the language needs to be concise and focused on the reader’s needs and interests in relation to the topic. At the same time, you will want to balance use of white space and visuals so the material is not intimidating to readers. 

As you produce any brochure, aim for the following features:  

  • Eye-catching and attractive colors and visuals  
  • A clear, engaging title 
  • Design that makes flow of the document clear 
  • Design that emphasizes key information 
  • Concentrated content that meets the needs of your reader 
  • A means for your reader to get more information (e.g. web address or email)
  • Clear identification of the organization who produced the brochure

Goins, Anna; Rauh, Cheryl; Tarner, Danielle; and Von Holten, Daniel, "Workplace Writing: A Handbook for Common Workplace Genres and Professional Writing" (2016). NPP eBooks. 8.

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