Document Design &
Arts and Letters
English 549: Document Design & Usability Testing
BAA 324 (Babbitt Academic Annex; no physical office hours due to Covid-19)
Undergraduate writing instruction in composition classes begins with writing for self-expression. We then learn academic writing that relies on the process of citing scholarly material to support our academic judgments & arguments. Professional writing is not writing for self-expression. It is not narrative writing. It is not academic writing. It is not creative writing.
Professional writing is mostly about offering help to readers in the workplace & in various professions or documenting workplace processes, activities, or events. It is also about helping SME (subject matter experts) colleagues write material for their colleagues in professional journal articles as well as write to explain technical processes & ideas to nonprofessionals. In this class we concentrate on these objectives:
Even though we analyze texts, the emphasis in our course is on synthesis, on being able to produce effectively designed documents. Your posts in the course should reflect or illustrate this concern. They should illustrate document design principles, which include using headings, decimal outline, bold, & bullets. Your posts should not offer a solid block of text that you expect others to read from beginning to end. Your writing should illustrate logical, not narrative, organization using the principle of division under logical headings.
Texts 1. Charles Kostelnick & David D. Roberts. Designing Visual Language: Strategies for Professional Communicators. Allyn & Bacon. isbn 0-205-20022-2. Amazon. Required.
There are 2 editions of this old text. Either will do.
I apologize for using such an old text, but it is the only one I know that addresses a graduate student level of tech writing that is concerned with both theory & practice. More recent books on information design (such as Lipton's) address Website developers focused on commercial or sales interest, rather than technical concerns.
2. Ronnie Lipton. The Practical Guide to Information Design. Wiley. isbn 13-978-0-471-66295-2. Amazon. Required. 3. Robin Williams. The Non-Designer's Design Book. Amazon. There are 4 editions. Any are better than none. Not required.
This text is most concerned with designing print documents. Many of the principles are applicable to Web design & online documents, but Kosterlnick is only secondarily interested in Web documents. One of the reasons for this is that Kostelnick's book is not a "how to do it" manual, which is obvious from its primitive appearance. Kosterlnick's assumption (& that of most academic texts) is that if you know document design theory, concerns, or principles, you can learn how to use PageMaker or FrameMaker or another desktop publishing program, together with PhotoShop, or another graphic program, to put together commercial products.
Unlike Kostelnick, Lipton addresses a more commercial & marketing community rather than a technical or scientific community. Consequently, we may need to compare or contrast what he offers with what we find in professional, technical, & scientific publications.
This is a simple & popular book. You should be able to find a used copy without too much trouble. Williams was thinking about print documents when she wrote her book, but her principles are also useful for Web design. Some people find the book very helpful. I think the current edition is from 2014 (4th ed.).
Course Lessons: each lesson parallels chapters in Kostelnick's text & in Lipton's book.
There is no single right way to develop complex documents. In recent years research & technical journals have shifted the work of editing "camera ready copy" to authors by developing fairly meticulous requirements for the document design of submitting manuscripts. There are also traditional expectations for business correspondence, proposals, resumes, manuals, & other such documents. There has also been a somewhat quick development in regard to expectations for business or professional Web sites, such as the expectation to find an "About Us" page. Instead of looking for a right answer, we hope to cultivate skill in regard to many document design concerns. This is done by reading the theory, working through a case or model, & then comparing our work with that of others.
Course Grades: A -- 90% of the points offered in assignments
B -- 80%
C -- 65%
Submission Deadlines: A day or two late is acceptable with no explanation required. Watch the calendar. I will not accept material from lessons two units prior to the one we are studying. If the calendar says we are working on unit 5, I will accept late work from units 4 and 3, but not earlier. The grade for work submitted a week late is reduced by 10%; two weeks late by 20%.
Discussion is only meaningful when we are involved in the activity being discussed. Please follow the calendar.
Incompletes can only be requested, if you have finished 60% or more of the course & experience some unforeseen crisis or difficulty.