Technical Writing Design Elements

This manual instructs users on the principals of design elements for technical writing. Users will learn the CARP Principles, the Psychology of Color, the Principles of Layout and Design, and the Rules of Text. Each section includes test questions for users to check their understanding of these concepts.  

Test Your Current Knowledge

Which color group uses tints and shades of all the same color?

  • Complement
  • Split-Complement
  • Monochromatic
  • Analogous
  • Primary

Using red font on a blue background is a an acceptable choice.

  • True
  • False

What is the standard margin size for most professional correspondence (memos, letters, resumes, etc...)?

  • 1 inch on all four margins
  • 1 inch on the top and bottom
  • 1 inch on the sides
  • 1.5 inches on the top and bottom
  • 1.5 inches on the sides
  • 1.5 inches on all four margins
  • 2 inches on all four margins

What type of font is used for Headings?

  • Serif
  • Sans-Serif
  • Mixed
  • Fancy

Select all of the heading groups that are grammatically parallel with each other. You will have multiple answers.

  • -Understanding Common Goals -Communicating Goals to Teammates -Setting Goal Deadlines
  • -How Do I Contact the Department? -Where Do I Meet the Team? -How Will I Know What to Do?
  • -Apply to UNT -Select Technical Communication -Achieve Your Goals
  • -Who to Call -What to Ask -How to Set Up an Appointment
  • -What is a Weige -Understanding Cats -Where to Buy Fluffy Cats
  • -What Books to Use -Where to Find Good Books -Visiting a Book Store

Use gray for heading colors when you are printing in black and white.

  • True
  • False

You should always capitalize every word in a heading.

  • True
  • False

What punctuation should you avoid completely in headings?

  • Colons, Semi-colons, and Periods
  • Hyphen, Question Mark

Headings should always be in a color different than the body text color.

  • True
  • False

What alignment works best for headings in most professional, business, or technical documents?

  • Centered
  • Left Alignment
  • Right Alignment
  • A Combination of Alignments

Writers should never use all caps in headings.

  • True
  • False

Headings should always be in sentence format.

  • True
  • False

If your design uses colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel, you are using a _________ color scheme.

  • Monochromatic
  • Primary
  • Secondary
  • Split-Complement
  • Analogous
  • Complement

When you use white space, blank space, or negative space to group or separate items on a page, you are using __________ in your document design.

  • Repetition
  • Contrast
  • Alignment
  • Proximity

In business, professional, and technical writing, what font size do we usually use for captions?

  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 9
  • 8
  • 14

When you are creating a piece of communication, what is the most important thing to consider?

  • Audience
  • Readability
  • Design
  • Theme
  • Usability

The Design Process

What is the Design Process?

The Design Process

The design process is defined in numerous different terms. Almost every industry that "produces" something, including technical writing, follows the same general pathway to design. The two most common processes used are the Document Development Methodology  and the Discuss and Describe method. The terms used to explain the stages may differ and some explanations may include more steps, but the process remains the same. For the purpose of this manual, we will stick to one set of terminology.  We will use the terms Plan, Create, Use, and Assess.

Step 1: Plan

Discover your client and audience by learning who they are, what they need, and why. Ask questions about the client and audience and generate an Audience Profile. 

Step 2: Create

The creative phase combines all the information gathered in your planning phase and combining it with technical writings principles and design principles. The creative phase is when you get to combined all of the previously mentioned principles in this manual such as CARP, Color rules, text rules, etc. Your creation should be unique to your audience and clients needs.

Step 3: Use

Put your creations to use! View them in a preview setting and allow others to view them and comment on them. Test the documents to make sure someone without prior knowledge on the subject can follow and understand. 

Step 4: Assess

Set up a way for the audience to assess the documents. You will need to revisit the documents from time to time for updates and major changes. Also, take your audience feedback into consideration and make any changes necessary.  

Another Pathway

This explanation of the design process uses the terms "analysis, design, implementation, testing, and evaluation. These means parallel the steps detailed above.

Another Pathway

This example uses the terms "planning, concept & design, production, testing, and product launch." Again, the same flow as the other explanations but with different terminology.  

An In-Depth Pathway

This pathway has more steps but the overall process remains the same. This example takes tasks that fell under major topics in the previous pathways and makes them into major topics. Different companies and industries use their own pathways and terminology so be prepared to see divergences.

Step 1: Plan

The Planning Phase 

The planning phase should take as much time as necessary to research and plan your project to the appropriate scope and detail needed. The planning phase involves researching your client/audience, brain storming, and possibly planning Gantt charts for estimated completion dates. This section will detail getting to know your audience, audience profiles, and other planning techniques.

Discover the Client and Audience

Determining who your audience is, what they need, and why, will help you create the best materials for them. 

Ask yourself this questions:

(Audience/Clint) needs _____________ because/so that __________________.

The audience needs should always be at the forefront of your mind throughout the design process. A great idea is for you to fill in the above statement and have it visible at your work station.

The audience and their needs is the most important element of the design process. 


Thinking of Your Audience

This video highlights the stages of thinking through a design with your audience in mind. No matter your client or audience, meeting their needs and not your own is the most important.

Answer the Following About Your Audience

Some of the questions you should answer ask and answer during the discover stage:

  • Are the readers internal or external? If they are internal, what position are they in?
  • What is the education level of the audience? How much do they know about the subject? Are they experts, novices, the general public, etc. 
  • How will they use this material? Will they read the entire document front to back or flip to the sections they need?
  • Where do they live and what kind of environment to they work in? Is this document going to be used for their job? How much time do they have to review the document when it is needed? 
  • What are the audiences demographics?
  • Does the end-user identify with a particular culture?
  • Is the client trying to persuade the audience? What will persuade the audience? How will the end-user react? 

All the information you gather about your audience should be complied in an Audience Analysis document for your project.

Broad Audience Analysis Example

In this example, the client is the UNT Technical Communications Department Chair and the audience is Current Workplace Professionals. The task of this project is to recruit the audience into a UNT Tech Comm program. This audience profile details information about a broad group of people including information that might be helpful to the writers.

Specific Audience Analysis Example

In this audience analysis, the audience is the Bank of America in Dallas, TX. The client is the UNT American Marketing Association. This profile has specific information about possible contacts and some broad information on the company as a whole. Specific audience analysis can be done on a group of people, a company, or an individual.

Why Focus on Audience and Do an Analysis? 

Once you have asked and answered questions about your audience/client and completed an audience analysis a clear image will appear. The image being of your end-user and client needs. Completing this research will ensure you and your team stay focused and produce materials tailored to the audience and their needs. You may be surprised by the information you find while completing an audience analysis. That information may be useful to you throughout the process.  

Other Aspects of Planning 


•Idea mapping

•Looking at what others have done in similar situations 

•Gantt Chart if needed

Idea Mapping

Idea mapping is an effective tool that engages your entire brain by using a visual tool.  It uses color, keywords, lines and images to connect thoughts associatively. The idea is to enhance:

  • Memory
  • Note-taking
  • Planning
  • Creativity
  • Communication
  • Thought organization

Gantt Charts

Gantt charts are used to easily display a time table of activities and phases of projects. This is an effective planning tool for projects with lots of steps, components, or team work.

Step 2: Create

The Creative Phase

The creative phase combines all the information gathered in your planning phase and combining it with technical writings principles and design principles. The creative phase is when you get to combined all of the previously mentioned principles in this manual such as CARP, Color rules, text rules, etc. Your creation should be unique to your audience and clients needs.

Before you Begin Designing

Creating Thumbnail sketches is a great way to layout general design ideas. They can be drawn on paper like the one on the right or they can be more clean proto-types on a computer.

Style Sheet

Style sheets are a nessacary part of technical writing. Every design format you choose such as text sizes, text colors, photo formats, etc. should be documented. This helps the writer keep things uniform, helps a team build cohesion, and helps the client. When you complete a project, the style sheet serves to assist those who may work on it in the future.

An Example of Design Principles in Use

Although you can not read this image, you can clearly see the CARP principles implemented. The colors and theme also work well together.

Step 3: Use

Testing Usability 

To test how effective your designs and writing style are in a document, you need to establish feedback. In the early stages of testing, hand your documents to someone unfamiliar with the project and have them follow the directions, view the designs, and use the materials. Find out what they thought about it as a whole. Was it effective? Did they get the intended information from it? Was any of it unclear? Did any of the text or designs look "off" to them? 

Even after publishing documents, you should seek feedback to improve. For example, if you publish an online manual, make a tab specifically for feedback or ask questions after each section and have the results sent to you. Maybe something was not explained clearly enough and everyone misses the same question. Or set up an e-mail account for the sole purpose of receiving feedback from printed documents. Or you include postcards asking for feedback in your printed materials. 

Step 4: Assess

Assessing the Work for Changes

Once you receive feedback, reevaluate the content and design to improve it. Your opinion and preference does not matter, the users matter. 

Also ask yourself, have programs changed? Has data in the material been updated? Has the company changed their logo? 

Any of these changes would require updating your documents. The advantage of publishing online is that revisions are quick and easy to make. Revising printed materials often requires updating an entire section and mailing those sections out to replace the old version.  

What are the Steps of the Design Process?

  • Plan
  • Create
  • Use
  • Assess

What is the most important element of the the design process?

  • Evaluating who your audience is, what they need, and why
  • Developing an effective design
  • Focusing on excellent communication
  • Adhering to the principles of CARP

The CARP Principles

Introduction to the CARP Principles

Why are the CARP Principles important? 

The CARP Principles consist of:

  • Contrast
  • Alignment
  • Repetition
  • Proximity 

When these concepts are implemented in a documents design, the end product is clean, reader friendly, and organized. Using these principles while designing helps the writer constantly evaluate and enhance the aesthetics and convey the content effectively. 


Creating Contrast

Making elements of your design different increases understanding, adds visual interest to a page, and forces readers minds to notice something different. Contrast comes in many different forms: 

  • Contrast of colors
  • Contrast of fonts
  • Contrast of sizes

Contrast of Colors

Contrasting colors in design and documents forces the viewer to notice the difference. What stand out the most in this photo? The red apple. A great way to contrast colors in documents is by choosing different colors for titles, headings, subheadings, etc. 

Contrast of Fonts

Contrasting font forces the reader to slow down reading speed so bolding or coloring the font of headings and titles is effective. You should be able to view a document from a distance and distinguish the different sections by bolded and colored headings. 

Contrast of Sizes

Contrasting the sizes forces the reader to notice the difference, therefore focusing on what you want them to see. Notice how much larger the word 'Food' is in the above image and the massive size of the photo compared to the text. 

All Over Contrast

This magazine color displays over all contrast. The fonts, colors, and sizes are all contrasting each other. What stands out the most? The Magazine name followed by the major title of the issue. What do you notice next? The larger and bolded texts followed by the smaller and less bolded text. The reader will naturally view and read the items in this order. 


Creating Repetition

Humans love repetition and it makes them feel comfortable. Repeating your design or elements of your design throughout a document or series of documents helps lead the reader through them. Almost any aspect of a document can be repeated. For example, colors, bullet points, fonts, images, spacing, etc. 

Repetition in Documents

The colors in the document repeat themselves. Notice the shades of blue on the left hand side are monochromatic and there is a patch of blue in the upper right hand side with the photos. Notice the font is also in white which contrasts the blue font and the photos all have the same repeating white border around them.  

Repetition in the World Around You

Repetition can be scene in almost every building you walk into. Do the doorways look the same? Do they have the same shapes? Is there a pattern of wall colors repeating? This image shows repeating arches and lamps. 


Forming Alignment 

Alignment prevents your documents from looking messy and guides the reader through the document. You can use alignment as a means of contrast to draw attention to important information. 

Text Alignment 

Without reading the words, which alignment is easiest to read? The one on the right because the words are all aligned on the left hand side. Alignment produced uniformity. 

Image Alignment 

Which document is easiest on your eyes? The one on the left because the photos and text are all aligned. Notice the photos are the same size and aligned on the same grid line as the text. 


Establishing Proximity 

Placing items on your page closely together implies a relationship and putting distance between items implies less of a relationship. Putting white space between objects can push elements of your document into a group or apart from each other. 

Proximity of Text

Which text is easiest to read? The one on the right because the bold headings with the slightly indented list below and space between topics allows the reader to distinguish the headings from the list and the various groups.  

Proximity of Photos

Notice the differences between the left and right photos. The right photo has a title with a subtile with close proximity, implying a close relationship. Notice the odd paragraph on the right hand side under the photo in the images on the left. By moving that text directly under the photo it implies that text relates to the photo. By eliminating the gap between the two chunks of text, your indicate the text is continuous and goes together.  

A Review of CARP

When you use the same image, layout, and color schemes, you are using __________ in your document design.

  • Repetition
  • Contrast
  • Alignment
  • Proximity
  • Themes
  • Color Palette

When you use white space, blank space, or negative space to group or separate items on a page, you are using __________ in your document design.

  • Proximity
  • Repetition
  • Contrast
  • Alignment

When you use different colors, sizes, and font types, you are using __________ in your document design.

  • Contrast
  • Proximity
  • Alignment
  • Repetition
  • Color Scheme
  • Color Palette

Which image represents contrast the most?

The Psychology of Colors

The Impact of Color

Do colors really matter? 

Yes! Colors can stimulate a variety of emotions in the reader. You can motivate, divert, persuade, or impress readers based on the psychology of the color you choose. Research shows that colors produce a negative or positive reaction within 90 seconds when viewed in print and 30 seconds when scene on the web. 

Choosing colors that correlate with emotions can help your reader remember the content better. For example, blue reflects trust and therefore most banks use blue in their logos and materials. 

You can not always predict a person's emotions based on color. For example, if someone's mother died of cancer in a yellow room, they may not associate yellow with happiness. 

A Representation of Colors in Branding

The above image displays forms of emotions and characteristics associated with various colors. Notice how many of the brand logos match the color with the image they want people to associate with them.

Knowing your Audience is Important 

The first key principle of technical writing is knowing your audience. The importance of audience is carried through every aspect of a document, including the colors used. For example, the image above indicates the favorite colors of men and women. Knowing this information is important for marketing and reaching your target audiences. According to Joe Hallock’s work on “Colour Assignment,” cultural perception plays a strong role in dictating color appropriateness for gender, which in turn can influence individual choices. Cultures also influence color choice, for example, in China the color white is used for mourning rather than black.  



  • Authority, strength, power, elegance, formality
  • Mystery, often associated with the unknown (black holes)
  • Can also imply evil, submission, or have a negative connotation (blacklist, black humor, Black Death)
  • Is a color of grief in America
  • Timeless and classic
  • Appears very strong on white or light backgrounds
  • Can be hard then paired with other colors
  • Responds well with wealthy people and gothic audiences

The Symbolism of Black Cats

A black cat crossing one's path is considered bad luck and the church associated them with witches. In other countries, black cats are considered lucky. What's important about them is their color, not their age or breed.

The Black Tuxedo 

Who wears tuxedos? Important and wealthy people who have an event to attend. This attire was introduced in the 1860s as a gentlemen's dinner jacket. During that time period not many people could afford clothing to be worn only for a few hours. The black tuxedo did, and still does, represent class, sophistication, and elegance.



  • Clarity, light, innocence, purity, sterility
  • Only usable in print with reverse outs
  • The most common background color
  • Works well with darks but not lights

'The Ditchley Portrait'

Queen Elizabeth I of England loved wearing pearls and white, both symbolic of her abstinence and purity. The Latin inscriptions enhance the angelic look of her gown by pronouncing, 'She gives and does not expect'; 'She can but does not take revenge', and 'In giving back she increases'. These portraits were a form of propaganda and the way she wished to be scene is evident in her clothing choice. 

The Symbolic White Dove

The white Dove often symbolizes love and peace. The white dove is generally an optimistic symbol. It is viewed as the opposite of black and evil. It appears in religions and institutions such as Judaism, Christianity, Paganism, and Militaries. 



  • Traditional, conservative, authority, earnestness, practicality, creativity
  • Excellent for screens
  • Great for textbox fill colors. 
  • Can come across as elegant like black if used right
  • Should only be used in black/white documents or as an accent color

Gray Hair

Gray hair may remind you of older, wiser people who are often in authority positions in business or family. Many older individuals choose to dye their hair but those that stay with the traditional, naturally aged gray look very elegant.

Gray Clothing

Gray clothing is very versatile and practical because it is appropriate for almost every occasion and any season. Gray is also a staple color in business attire. You ca get creative and mix colored pieces with gray and still have a conservative outfit.



  • Richness, helpfulness, politeness, effectiveness, solid, reliable, genuine
  • Implies earth and is an abundant color in nature
  • Used for less important documents 
  • Appears muted and subtle in documents
  • Usually a secondary color or accent 

Brown in Nature

Brown is an abundant color in nature and represents the solidness of the ground, the effectiveness of animals natural instincts, and natures reliability.

Brown in Wood

Brown's and wood work well for male audiences. The colors are rich and not as harsh as black. Many brown leather and wood products are also marked with 'genuine.'



  • Strength, passion, aggressiveness, excitement, happiness, warning
  • Can appear arrogant or confrontational
  • Commands attention 
  • Ideal for bold accents

The Red Chinese Dragon

The color red has been important to numerous cultures, including China. Chinese dragons traditionally symbolize potent and auspicious powers, particularly control over nature. The dragon is also a symbol of power, strength, and good luck for people who are worthy of it. Note, most aggressive communist regimes incorporate red into their flags, logos, etc.  

Red Lights & Signs

Red lights and signs can signify for traffic to stop. In Buddhism, meditating on the color red transforms the delusion of attachment into the wisdom of discernment. When visiting Taiwan, you will notice red lights dotting the landscape from the glow of their shrines. Red lights also alert people to the passions of the 'Red Light District' which promotes sex.  



  • Excitement, cheer, strength, ambition, endurance 
  • Good for highlighting information, particularly on graphs and charts
  • Should be used as an accent color unless it's a dark orange
  • The perfect complement to blue
  • Be care when using because it can be associated with Fall

Excitement & Cheer

Easter, spring, summer, vacation, all of these things are associated with bring colors such as orange because of the excitement and joy they bring.

Strength & Endurance

Firefighters display strength, endurance, and perseverance while putting out fires.



  • Warm, bright, sunny, energetic, uplifting
  • Represents goodness and joy rather than cowardice and caution
  • Can be powerful when used correctly in design but should be avoided on light background
  • Works well with blue

Yellow Vacation

Yellow makes you happy and conjures images of the sand, surf, and sun. Yellow mentally takes you to warm, bright, and uplifting thoughts.

Blue and Yellow

Blue and yellow are the most frequently used color combinations for Power Point Presentations. Together, they make a powerful combination that is striking yet peaceful.



  • Health, environmental, freedom, freshness, fertility, tranquility, jealousy 
  • Has a calming and refreshing effect
  • Shows status and wealth in business
  • Easiest color for your eyes
  • Research shows writing in green improves memorization 

Refreshing Green

Research shows walking in nature has a refreshing effect on the human mind and body. It's relaxing to stroll through a fresh green forest and feel free from problems.

Don't Forget with Green

Writing, typing, or seeing green can help you remember things. Even using green paper, highlighters, or other green tools can improve your memory of information.



  • Gentleness, well being, and femininity
  • Has a gender stigmatism attached to it
  • Use it carefully and be highly aware of your audience

Audrey Hepburn in Pink

A celebrity icon of female beauty, Audrey Hepburn looks dainty and soft in pink. Pink represents a gentle kind of love and tends to calm people. It suggests safety and security.

Delicate Pink Petals

Many flowers need to be nurtured to reach optimum blossom color and size. The color pink is associated with nurturing, sweet, playful, tenderness, and cute.



  • Luxury, wealth, sophistication, authority, royalty
  • Appears upscale and artistic
  • May be sad, mystic, meditative, or mournful 
  • Is expensive to use in print
  • Can appear mournful or feminine if mixed with blue 

Purple Yacht

What represents wealth and luxury more than a private yacht with purple lights reflecting in the water? The purple sets the ship apart from the water as if it's floating on a carpet of purple.

Royalty in Purple

Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, is pictured in a portrait wearing a purple silk gown. Throughout history, several societies have limited the wearing of purple to royal families. 



  • Peace, trustworthiness, security, faithfulness, tranquility, exemplifies water and sky
  • The most popular color and the most recent for the human eye to detect
  • Can appear depressing or cold
  • A popular color among banks

Tranquil Water & Sky

The blues of the sky and lake are striking in this photo. Who wouldn't be at peace looking upon this scene?

Trustworthiness of Blue

Blue is considered the most trustworthy color which is why banks use it so often. Banks want people to feel secure leaving their fortunes with them. The use of blue helps consumers believe the promises of bankers.

Test Your Knowledge of Colors

  • Authority, Power, Strength, Classic, Timeless
  • Clarity, innocence, sterility
  • Authority, earnestness, practicality, creativity, traditional
  • Richness, helpfulness, solid, reliable, genuine
  • Strength, passion, excitement, aggressiveness
  • Cheer, excitement, strength, endurance, ambition
  • Warm, bright, sunny, energetic, joy
  • Health, fertility, freedom, freshness, tranquility, jealousy
  • Gentleness, femininity, nurturing, well being
  • Royalty, luxury, wealth, authority, artistic
  • Peace, tranquility, faithfulness, trustworthiness, security

What is the most popular color?

  • Red
  • Blue
  • Green
  • Black
  • Purple
  • Orange

Page Layout & Design

Organizing Content

Choosing How to Layout Information

Based on your audience  needs and why, choose the most fitting organization of information while also considering the material itself. What is the most logical manner of providing the audience the needed information? Answering this question will allow you to begin building a thumbnail sketch and planning your documents.  

Types of Organization 

First, choose what type of documents are needed based on your audience/client. Are you creating an online manual or a print manual? Are you creating marketing materials? If so, what kind? Book marks, posters, flyers, postcards, brochures, etc. How are you going to organize the information? What is the most effective organization method for the item(s) you are creating and your audiences needs? 

There are numerous different ways to organize documents. 






•Order of Importance 


Spatial Organization

Spatial organization refers to the manner in which objects are arranged in space or scene by a user. Spatial organization can be top to bottom, bottom to top, side to side, outside to inside, inside out, and more. The example on the left organizes information spatially from top to bottom. Most documents are organized this way because it helps the reader move through a natural flow of reading. 

Inductive Organization 

Inductive organization lists reasons and facts first then a summary follows explaining them, leading to a conclusion.  This method is useful when rumors or previously drawn conclusions have caused confusion in the minds of a target audience.

Deductive Organization 

The deductive method begins with a main argument followed by a set of supporting evidence, the opposite of the inductive method. This method is most common for academic document. 

Compare/Contrast Organization

Comparing and contrasting information is great for product reviews or anything being compared. It can make organizing documents easier by grouping together information about topic A, topic B, and then comparing and contrasting the data of both. 

Geographic Organization 

Geographic organization arranges information based on location. Many international or national companies are organized this way. For example, a national company may have regional directors for the North West, South East, etc. and each regional consists of smaller states.  

Order of Importance

Ideas or steps are prioritized by the writer or speaker according to a hierarchy of value. Information can be structured from most important to least important or least important to most important. This structure is great for showing relationships such as a company hierarchy.

Chronological Organization 

Chronological organization is the most popular for procedures and instruction. This organization walks the reader through a process from start to finish in a prescribed order, usually steps or time. 

Choose all of the ways this document is organized

  • Spatial
  • Inductive
  • Deductive
  • Compare/Contrast
  • Geographic
  • Order of Importance
  • Chronological

Paper Size, Orientation, & Margins

Placing Information on the Page

First, you need to know what type of document is needed and what form of organization you want to use. Then you need to choose page sizes, margins, formats, etc. 

Choosing Paper

The size of paper has more to do with the users experience and perception than anything else. Our human scale tends to govern how we see and judge other sizes. Note, the focal zone our eyes focus on and read is the size of our head. So a tabloid twice the size of our head requires our eyes to move around it to "view" the entire page in sections. Another thing to consider when choosing the size of paper is if it will be folded. If so how? 

Choosing Orientation 

Orientation refers to how a page looks in front of us. For example, a vertical page directs the readers attention inward but a horizontal page directs eyes outward to the margins. We naturally hold wide pages further from our faces so our field of vision can capture the entire page. The visual center of the page is not geographically in the center, it's at eye level or slightly above. This is true for the center of vertical and horizontal pages.   

Choosing Margins

Margins frame and contain material on the page. In business, the rule is 1 inch margins on all sides for 4A (letter) documents.  But when your designing other materials such as flyers, brochures, booklets, etc. those can change.  If your document has content front and back and opens like a magazine, you will have a landscape page. That turns two vertical pages into one larger horizontal spread being viewed in tandem. Or if you are creating a book, what size gutter (the inside margins of a book where it is bound) do you choose?  These are things to consider and take into account when choosing paper, orientation, and margins.

How to do Page Layouts in Microsoft Word

The above video details how to format your pages with margins, columns, orientations, etc.

What is the standard size for margins for 4A documents?

  • 1 ich margins on all sides
  • 1.5 inch margins on the left and right sides
  • 1.5 inch margins on the top and bottom
  • 1.5 inch margins on all sides
  • 1 inch margins on the top and bottom only

Arranging Texts and Images

Arranging Text and Images

How you physically place text and images on a page correlates with your audience, needs, and document type. A cover page layout will look different from a table of contents or the data section of a manual. A manual does not need the same level of design creativity as a marketing flyer or postcard.  No matter what you design, always follow the CARP Principles. 

Below is a review of CARP principles and how they can appear.  

Working with Images

This video details the process of finding appropriate photos, editing them, and using them in documents.

What is important when arranging text and images? (multiple answers)

  • Contrast
  • Proximity
  • Alignment
  • Repetition
  • White Space

The Color Wheel

Introduction to the Color Wheel

Knowing how to work with colors is an important skill. You can use colors to convince people, bring out emotions, remember information, persuade them, and more. Colors bring balance to your designs and can emphasis information you want your audience to remember. 

Shades, Tints, and Hues

Shades - Are colors with the color black added to darken them. 

Hues - Are the purest form of color without any black or white added. 

Tints - Are colors with white added to lighten them.

Primary Colors

Primary colors are the three colors red, blue, and yellow which can be combined to form all other colors. Primary colors always go well together.

Secondary Colors

Secondary colors fill the gaps midway between the primary colors. They form the color made when the adjacent primary colors are mixed. For example, mixing red and blue will produce purple. The secondary colors are green, purple, and orange.

Complementary Colors

Complementary colors are colors directly across from each other on the color wheel. Complementary colors always go well with each other. Be careful about using green and red because in America people tend to immediately think 'Christmas.'

Split Complementary Color

Split Complementary colors are more complex than regular complementary colors. Choose a color on the wheel, then find it's complement. You will focus on the first color chosen and the complements adjacent colors. Usually the original color chosen is used as an accent and the main two colors are the pair adjacent the complement.


Monochromatic is the safest choice to use because it uses various tints, shades, and hues of the same color. Any shade, tint, or hue within a color's range counts as monochromatic.


Analogous colors are also a safe choice because these colors share similar undertones. For example, ranges of greens to teals. Using an analogous pallet makes documents look classic and upscale while not taking as much effort as they appear.

Test Your Knowledge of the Color Combinations

  • A design using colors that are all shades and tints of red, yellow, and blue.
  • A design using colors midway between primary colors.
  • A design using colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel.
  • A design using three colors that are equally distant from each other on the color wheel.
    Split Complement
  • A design using colors that are all shades and tints of the same single color.
  • A design using three colors that are all next to each other on the color wheel.

Drag and drop the term that best describes each layout

  • Monochromatic
  • Analogus
  • Complementary
  • Primary

Creating the Perfect Color & Palette

How to Create Your Own Colors

The three important numbers needed to create your own color are Green, Red, and Blue. You can create these colors in Microsoft word or other programs because many have an option for custom colors. 

A good trick  for making colors is to choose a photo, use the eyedropper tool, then read the GRB values given. You can pull colors from any photo and from any object in the photo to create a custom palette. 

Below is an example of pulling colors from a photo to create a custom palate.

Step 1: Choose a photo

Step 2: You can choose to pixelate the photo to get blocks of color or just use the eyedropper on an un-pixelated photo. By pulling from the hair, face, jacket, etc. we see a palate emerging. 

Step 3: Choose the colors from the palate fitting a mood or message you want to get across.

Step 4: Choose one of the previously mentioned color palate choices. In this example, complementary colors are being used. Notice that both colors fall into a monochromatic scale of the colors pulled from the photo. Also, think back to the psychology of colors.  

Some Colors Work Together

  • Remember, match your colors to the subject, mood, and image you want to portray
  • Red, blue, or green headlines and subheadings work with black type
  • Yellow on a black background gets attention
  • Earth tones (for specific subjects)like orange, green, and brown work nicely together

Some Colors Do Not Work Together 

  • Colors that make your document hard to read
  • Colors that do not fit the subject, mood, or image
    • Example, using pink in a car engine manual 
  • Colors that clash or give opposing implications such as purple and orange
  • Pastels on light backgrounds
  • Red on blue or blue on red do not work together

What three color numbers do you need to know when creating a custom color?

  • Red, Blue, Green
  • Yellow, Green, Purple
  • Red, Blue, Yellow
  • Green, Orange, Purple
  • Red, Blue, Orange

A Visual Explanation of Color and Its Uses

Tips & Tricks

Tips & Tricks

  • Test your ideas on other people
    • View your documents from different angles and distances. 
    • Have people with different levels of eye site review your document. 
    • The colors, fonts, designs, alignment, that work for your eyes might not work for others.
  • Only use color to communicate - if color is used incorrectly it can distracting

The Rules of Texts

Fonts Styles, Size, and Emphasis

Learning the Dynamics of Font

Font is one of the most powerful elements of any document. As a writer, you have many choices to make regarding the font you choose. Style, size, color, and emphasis are crucial for readability. This section will detail choosing font styles, sizing and when to change it, colors and when to use them, and when emphasis is needed. 

Types of Fonts

All fonts can be categorized into four different groups, regardless of the program you use. The groups are as follows: 

  • Sans-Serif 
  • Serif
  • Mixed
  • Funky

Sans-Serif Font

"Serifs" are semi-structural details or small decorative flourishes on the ends of some of the strokes that make up letters and symbols. The "Sans" means not, therefore, a Sans-Serif font does not have small structural details like the Times New Roman font. Sans-Serif implies the text is clean cut and straight.

Serif Font

Serif fonts have slight decorative or structural additions that are not nessacary for a reader to comprehend them. According to research, the Serif font is easier for the eye to read than Sans-Serif.

Mixed Font

Mixed fonts are a combination of Serif and Sans-Serif. They contain elements of both. For example, a font style with even strokes with serifs is neither Sans or Sans-serif but a combination. This font is slightly more difficult to read than Serif or Sans-Serif.

Funky Font

Funky fonts do not resemble the other three groups at all. These fonts have been created with artistic creativity and are not designed for use in the body of a document. If you choose to use a funky font you should have a good reason and limit it to the cover page or title of something. This font is the most difficult to read and not user-friendly.

When to Use Each Font

Sans-Serif - This font should be used for headings, titles, and captions. 

Serif - This font should be used for body text.

Mixed - This fonts usage is debatable. It depends on the document as to if or how to use it. 

Funky - This font should be limited to the cover page, titles, or special documents (such as wedding invitations).

What Size and Emphasis to Use 

Title - never smaller than size 18 never bigger than 28  

Headings level 1 - usually 16  

Heading level 2 - usually 14 

Heading Level 3 - usually size 12, not bold

Captions - usually size 10, not bold or italicized 

All titles and headings should be in color, most of them in bold.  

Bold is the strongest emphasis you can have. The Italics emphasis has medium emphasis.  

Do not use underline as an emphasis because the line goes through the serif letters. If you want to use a line as an emphasis, draw one under the letters so they do not touch.

Do not use all Caps because it is very difficult to read.

What type of font is this?

  • Sans-Serif
  • Serif

Pick out all the funky and mixed fonts

In professional, technical, and business documents, what font size fonts are common for the different heading levels? (Headings and Titles are different)

  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 14
  • 16
  • 18
  • 20
  • 22


Formatting Headings

Headings require special attention because they are heavily used to visually separate documents, show relations, and guide the reader through the document. Most headings should be bolded and in color (Heading Level 3 is not bolded). If you are printing in black and white, use gray headings. This makes them stand out and notifies the reader of a new section. 

Headings do not have to be full sentences but they should be more than one word for optimal clarity. 

Headings should not include the following:

  • Be in all Caps, italicized, or underlined
  • Colons
  • Semi-colons
  • Periods
  • Commas

Headings can include the following: 

  • Hyphen
  • Exclamation Point (Limit this to one per document) 
  • Question Mark 
  • Capitalized acronyms like UPS and USPS are acceptable 
  • Quotation Marks

Example of Headings

The colors and size distinguish levels 1 and 2. They are both bold and in Sans-Serif font and the body text is in Serif. By placing the headings in Sans-Serif you slow down the reader enough for them to notice and focus on the heading. Both headings are more than one word but not full sentences. The headings are also grammatically parallel.

Grammatically Parallel Headings

Grammatically parallel headings bring unity to the document and repetition. It's easier to read a list or follow headings when they all start the same. 

The following sets are grammatically parallel:

  • Coming to America
  • Staying in America
  • Leaving America 

What do these have in common? They all start with verbs ending in -ing.

  • Organization in helpful
  • Retaliation is not helpful
  • Rehabilitation is helpful

What do these have in common? They are modifiers ending in -ation

  • Who stole the cookie
  • Why they stole the cookie
  • How they stole the cookie

What do these have in common? They all start with who, what, when, where, how, why.

What is wrong with the last two sets of grammatically parallel headings? 

Only the first word is capitalized. Everything in a heading should be capitalized unless it is an article.

You should always capitalize every word in a heading.

  • True
  • False

What punctuation should you avoid completely in headings?

  • Periods
  • Semi-colons
  • hyphens
  • Colons
  • Exclamation points
  • Question Marks

When do you use underline in headings?

  • Anytime
  • When the underline is far enough away to avoid interfering with readability (such as using a rule line)
  • When you want to make it stand out
  • When there are no subsections
  • When there are multiple subsections

Alignment of Text

Alignment of Text

Alignment is a CARP Principle and it extends past the over all layout of the design all the way to text fonts. How the test appears on the page is important. 

The Reading 'Z'

Americans read left to right, top to bottom and in doing so their eyes are trained to read in a 'z' pattern. Disrupting this pattern slows down the reader and can ultimately frustrate them.

Avoid Mixing Fonts

Look at the example to the left. Where does the text become easier to read? The answer is 'storm through the' because it changes to serf font. Serif font is easier to read. Do not mix fonts, it is distracting and there is no need to change the body font.

Full Justification 

Full justification is widely used in journalism, however, for technical communications it should not be used because it creates uneven spacing between words and letters. Also, it does not have a jagged edge which helps the readers eyes find the next line. 

Left & Right Alignment 

Left alignment is standard for business but right alignment might be required some times. For example, other languages read top to bottom right to left. Both of these alignments have a jagged edge on one side and a flush edge on the other. 

Avoid Mixing Alignments

The example on the left is difficult to read because different alignments are used. Using a mixture of alignments is difficult to read. If you use left alignment on the first half of a document, try to keep the entire document left aligned. 

Use One Color

Use one color for all of your body font. Black is standard but a dark blue is also acceptable. Using all red, pink, orange, etc. font hurts the eyes and is difficult to read. The fonts to the left are unacceptable. They hurt your eyes don't they? Your eyes do not want to continue the 'Z' pattern does it?

In Summary

In Summary

This manual covered the aspects of design principles for technical communications. Students at UNT and the public can use this as a future reference when planning technical documents. The key elements users should have learned are the CARP Principles, the Design Process, the Importance of color, text, and font, and Audience! 

The audience is the most important thing to remember when designing. Knowing who your audience is, what they need, and why contributes to every design choice you make. You write and design for the user, not yourself. Stick to the principles in this manual and you will undoubtedly be successful in your design endeavors.



In Summary

This manual covered the aspects of design principles for technical communications. Students at UNT and the public can use this as a future reference when planning technical documents. The key elements users should have learned are the CARP Principles, the Design Process, the Importance of color, text, and font, and Audience! 

The audience is the most important thing to remember when designing. Knowing who your audience is, what they need, and why contributes to every design choice you make. You write and design for the user, not yourself. Stick to the principles in this manual and you will undoubtedly be successful in your design endeavors.