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The Mayfield Handbook of Technical & Scientific Writing
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Section 1.14.2


Use layout to give emphasis and clarity to your document. You can emphasize content by manipulating the physical appearance and arrangement of the document page. Effective layout reduces the density of technical material by simplifying the material, highlighting key points of its content, and giving an attractive look and consistency to the whole. Good page layout helps readers find the message easily and understand its importance in the total scheme of things.

The following approaches are frequently used together.

  1. Subject headings and subheadings give the reader labels that identify the contents of a given section of text. They are highly effective tools for clarifying and emphasizing material and should be used extensively.
  2. Headers and footers appear at the top or the bottom of a page and provide a running identification of the topic of the page. Most word processing programs allow you to expand a page number header or footer using such materials as your name or a topic. Avoid putting in lengthy headers or footers. See Example of Page Layout.
  3. Lists (chunking). The arrangement of material into lists or topical chunks of text is another very effective means of organizing, simplifying, and highlighting material. Bulleted or enumerated lists not only help readers find materials but also convey logical information about the coordinate and hierarchical importance of the material. See Example of Page Layout and Enumeration.
  4. White space. Another feature that simplifies the page is the white (empty) space, which can be used to isolate and thus highlight text. The top, bottom, and side margins of a document should be ample, normally at least an inch. Indenting paragraphs and double-indenting blocks of text effectively set off and thus emphasize material. Using extra spacing between the lines of text may also reduce the density of the text. See Example of Page Layout.

  5. Typography. Use fonts and typefaces to give emphasis to material. Capital letters, italics, boldface, underlining, and font size may all be used to highlight certain kinds of material. See Example of Page Layout.

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