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Good, The Bad, and The Ugly About Desktop Publishing
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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
About Desktop Publishing
With all the great software packages
and economical home computers available today, almost anyone can claim to be
an "expert" desktop publisher. Advertisements for these software packages claim
to help users "take a quantum leap in the production process!" Desktop publishing
workshop brochures promote "the easiest, fastest, and smartest ways to create
professional projects that get attention and results....no matter what your
skill level, and in just ONE day!" These messages promise hope for many technical
communicators pressed to produce more documents and stay on top of rapidly changing
technology. However, many businesses have the idea that desktop publishing is
simple to learn and use, resulting in serious negative impacts for technical
communicators and for the workplace. This ease-of-use belief along with the
notion that design and writing skills are not necessary for effective desktop
publishing leads to mixed results in business and in the classroom.
Desktop publishing originated in
the military between 1957 and 1969, the product of initial studies done in human-computer
interaction. "Computer hackers" took over where the military left off in 1969
and developed hardware and software in a non-military climate that developed
into one of the most competitive industries in the world today. The attraction
of desktop publishing revolved around three basic themes: 1) Desktop publishing
would expand access to the means of print production; 2) Desktop publishing
would change the way people work; and 3) Desktop publishing would alter the
aesthetic appearance of printed materials. With goals of increasing production
and decreasing costs, desktop publishing has been and continues to be introduced
into every level of graphic production. And, unfortunately, the perceived simplicity
of desktop publishing results in the assumption that everyone will quickly become
an expert without the effort it takes to effectively use complex programs and
stay current in the field. Inevitably, one or two people become experts and
the rest of the organization relies on them for their skills and knowledge about
software packages or hardware options.
The good news is that desktop publishing
has produced several positive and long range effects. First, it allows for immediate
and actual visual feedback (WYSIWYG formats) which help writers and designers
refine their ideas instantaneously. Secondly, turnaround time decreases significantly,
especially for long repetitive jobs like newsletters and magazines. Writers
can see the results of their design decisions and quickly respond to feedback.
If that feedback is good, regardless of whether it comes from other writers or,
in a classroom situation, from an instructor and peers, writers can receive an
almost immediate sense of accomplishment and gratification. Finally, in a classroom,
students can apply their knowledge of the conventions of typography and design
in their assignments.
A template or a one-day seminar will
never replace the valuable skills that all technical communicators have: knowing
the audience, understanding the message, and analyzing the situation. In addition,
knowledge of the workplace and its perception of desktop publishing skills will
prepare the technical communicator for the situations they may face in the industry.
Experience in the classroom with different computer platforms and with a wide
variety of software packages will supplement writing and design skills inherent
in the goal of desktop publishing to create an effective document. Just like
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by Richard Rohlfing
In my company, we are moving from
work instructions text work instructions to primarily graphical instructions.
Although they are a larger investment, visual-based instructions have several
advantages over text driven instructions.
Visual information takes up less
space and is easier for users to comprehend. People tend to understand visual
information more rapidly and tend to retain it longer. Visuals also speak to
a wider audience range; they break down reading level differences and language
But despite the differences in the
nature of graphics versus text, some of the same strategies used in creating
effective text-based documentation can also be applied to graphical elements.
In text documents there are always
some lines that are more important than others, headings and key points for
example. To indicate this importance, writers use strategies like bolding, underlining,
or changing the type size or color.
To be useful, drawings must emphasize
certain features of an object or objects and downplay others. Emphasizing features
in drawings can be done in many ways. Exaggerating the size, changing the angle
of view, changing the line weight or type (e.g., solid versus dashed), showing
only part of the object, increasing the size of part of the object with a lens,
changing color or color strength, and using labels or other typographical cues
are all ways to highlight features in drawings. However, when creating emphasis,
the technical illustrator must be careful.
If the drawing doesn't represent
the actual object closely enough, if the dimensions, features and relative proportions
are different, users may not understand what they are looking at, causing documents
to lose credibility.
In text, diction and sentence structure
highly influence a document's tone. Writers choose tones that depend upon the
purpose of their documents. Instructional drawings also have a tone. Orthographic
(two-dimensional) views are generally considered formal. Although they are difficult
to create, try to use perspective drawings (three-dimensional views with either
actual or suggested converging lines) to make instructions more user-friendly.
In my company, we also use exploded drawings to show how different parts are
Good writers spend a lot of time
researching and planning their documents. The same strategy is applicable for
visuals. Since effective drawings can be a big investment in time, before sitting
down at a computer, it is import that you devise a well thought out plan. Carefully
plan the type of drawing, decide what features should be emphasized, and determine
how the drawing should relate to other drawings in the instructions.
And like text, visuals should also
be edited for clarity, and content. The drawing must make sense, both by itself
and in relation to other drawings. The parts of the drawing must be coherent,
and the users must be able to identify and interpret what they see.
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by Bobby McFall
Point and shoot, digital, medium
format, automatic, manual, it doesn't matter what type of camera you use as long
as you're able to compose pictures that command attention and deliver your message.
Whether viewing a website or printed
material, our eyes are drawn to photographs first. For that reason, they must
introduce and accurately represent their corresponding text.
In general, good pictures result
from careful attention to some basic elements of composition Ð and, in some
cases, more than a little luck. There is no "right" way to make a picture. Three
photographers recording the same scene may create equally appealing photographs
with entirely different composition.
When composing a picture, the most
important question you must ask is, "What message do I want my photograph to
Here are a few guidelines to get
- Point of Interest: Identify
a primary point of interest before taking the picture. When you've determined
which area is most important to you, you can compose to emphasize it.
- Viewpoint: You can often
change a picture dramatically by moving the camera up or down, or by stepping
to one side. One of the best ways to compose a prize-winning photograph is
to find a unique point of view.
- Simplicity: Be sure that
only the things you want your viewer to see appear in your picture. Background
clutter will garble your message. Imagine a photo intended to portray a serene,
"back to nature" setting. All integrity is lost when your viewer's eyes are
drawn to a power line intruding in the background. If you can't find an angle
that successfully isolates
your point of interest, use depth of field control to keep the background
out of focus.
- Contrast: A light subject
will have more impact when placed against a dark background and vice versa.
Contrast may be used for emphasis, but may become distracting if not carefully
- Framing: A "frame" in a
photograph is something in the foreground that leads the viewer into the picture,
or provides a sense of where the viewer is. For example, a pine bow framing
a mountain scene effectively places the viewer into the scene, causing their
eyes to meander through the entire view, just as you did when you composed
- Direction of movement:
When the subject is capable of movement, such as an animal or person, it is
best to leave space in front of the subject so it appears to be moving into,
rather than out of the photograph.
- Balance: As a rule, asymmetric
or informal balance is considered more pleasing in a photograph than symmetric
balance. Place the main subject off-center for a more effective end result.
- Rule of Thirds: This is
perhaps the most important principle in distinguishing a good photograph from
a "snapshot". The rule of thirds is based on the theory that the eye goes
naturally to a point about two thirds up a page. Also, by visually dividing
the image into thirds, either vertically or horizontally, you achieve the
informal or asymmetric balance mentioned above.
The most important thing to remember
is that your photograph must tell a story that accurately corresponds with your
message content. Careful composition will capture your reader's interest and
enhance your message. In upcoming Techniques issues, watch for more photographic
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The First Annual Undergraduate Research
Conference recognizes and celebrates undergraduate research and creativity activities
at Minnesota State University, Mantkato. The URC was held in the MSU Centennial
Student Union April 15 and 16, 1999. Below are two research summaries from members
of the Techniques staff.
The Right Colors
by Brandi Maon and Angie Pinson
Color in website design is one of
today's hottest topics. However, many people in designing web pages ultimately
choose a color or colors that are very inappropriate and quite unattractive.
The reason for this misuse of color is a direct result of there not being any
clearly defined color principles that pertain to web site design. More importantly,
there has not been any significant research done to dictate users' color preferences
in viewing these sites.
Our research study was based on finding
these user preferences in hopes of evaluating the most effective and eye-catching
color combinations in producing online documentation. The way we went about
finding this information is by setting up a online color combination questionnaire.
We combined two separate colors per page, and asked that our research subjects
fill out surveys explaining if they liked the color combinations or disliked
them. And if they disliked them, we encouraged them to tell us why, to allow
us to gain extended insight as to why these combinations do not work.
The conclusions that our research
provided to us were: Users prefer white backgrounds with dark colored text,
links, and any other informational objects such as blue or black and also users
dislike dark colors such as purple or green as background colors regardless
of text and link colors.
Hopefully our research project summary
will provide you with insight as to what users like and do not like when they
look at web sites. Keep in mind that even though your site may have a lot of
great information, if it is unattractive and distracting in color, many users
will disregard it right away and lose interest in the company or its products.
by Cyndie Davis and Ann Freir
Do you feel it is important to keep
up on current events? If so, where do you get your daily news from? This was
the focus of our research project. The title of our project, which was presented
in poster form, was "What Source of Media are Adult Americans Attracted to for
Their Daily News and What Are the Reasons for the Attraction to a Particular
Our project involved 130 randomly
selected Minnesota State University, Mankato
students that were kind enough to fill out our questionnaires and also we selected
five students to participate in a videotaped focus group to discuss the issue.
What we discovered was that most
students remained current on public events through the use of two or more sources
(television, radio, internet, etc.), with television being the primary source
for staying on top of the news. The reasons students opted for the television
is they felt television is more convenient and accessible. When asked what they
perceive the future of the media to be, students overwhelmingly felt that the
internet will take over as the primary news source for people.
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by Soren Erickson
Writing for a news publication can
be an excellent and enjoyable way for one to polish his or her writing skills
and pad their resume. Smaller publications, particularly school papers, are
usually very accepting of potential writers and copy editors with strong English
and technical writing skills. However, there are many differences in style and
organization that potential first-time news writers should keep in mind.
Organization is likely the most
challenging thing for new writers to grasp when working for a news publication.
Without a doubt, the lead paragraph is the most important ingredient
of a successful news article.
There are basically two types of
Both leads should be no more than
two sentences long, however one sentence is preferred. Delayed leads generate
interest in the story and should be catchy. While delayed leads generally do
not tell readers much about the article's topic, they make readers curious enough
to read on. Delayed leads should be avoided when writing about serious topics.
Most news articles begin with an informative lead. Use the most important point
of the story so readers know what happened even if they do not finish the article.
Unlike an introduction to a non-fiction paper or technical document, leads should
get right to the point.
Another organizational standard for
news writing is the inverted pyramid. When writing a news article use
the most important information toward the beginning and background information
at the end of the story. This is done for two reasons. One, people tend to read
only the beginning of news articles and want to get the gist of the news without
digging through background information. Secondly, when editors cut stories to
fit the amount of space they are budgeted for, they often cut from the bottom
up. Keeping this in mind, do not save important information for the end of your
article as it may be cut later.
Styles vary from paper to paper but
most news publications use Associated Press style. An AP Stylebook can
be purchased at any bookstore for a reasonable price ($10-15). If possible,
writers should familiarize themselves with AP style. Copy editors, however,
must be fluent in AP, and should keep their stylebook by their side at all times.
More often than not, questions on style can be found in the stylebook in a short
amount of time.
Being aware of things such as whether
to indent paragraphs, how many spaces go after a period and other details that
vary from publication to publication, are good ideas for writers who want to
impress their editors.
Also, from both a reader's and an
editor's standpoint, the most important part of news writing is accuracy. Misspelling
proper nouns is a cardinal sin and doing so can cause legal as well as ethical
problems and should be avoided at all costs.
Working for a news publication is
a great way to meet people and improve your editing and writing abilities. Each
day is a new learning experience and students, or anyone else looking to work
as a writer or editor should strongly consider working for a newspaper.
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If anyone has suggestions for articles
for future Techniques issues, please email any one of the editors with your
In case you need further proof
that the human race is doomed these are actual label instructions on consumer
On Sears hairdryer: Do not use
while sleeping. (Gee, that's the only time I have to work on my hair!)
On packaging for a Rowenta iron:
Do not iron clothes on body. (But wouldn't that save more time?)
Children's cough medicine:
Do not drive car or operate machinery. (We could do a lot to reduce the rate
of construction accidents if we just kept those 5 year olds off those fork
On a child's superman costume:
Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly. (That's right, destroy
a universal childhood fantasy!)
On a string of Chinese-made Christmas
lights: For indoor or outdoor use only. (As opposed to use in outer space?)
Karen Luepke is currently a Minnesota
State University, Mankato senior. Karen is majoring in Psychology and double
minoring in Technical Writing and Therapeutic Recreation. She will be graduating
in May with a Bachelor of Science degree.
Karen is involved in the Psi Chi
Psychology Club, Alpha Sigma Alpha Sorority where she acts as President, Techniques
where she is a writer and copy editor, and she is also a member of STC.
In her free time, Karen works at
Harry Meyering Center, and spends time with friends and her pets. Karen's work
experience includes working at a Psychiatric hospital for adolescents, and also
as a waitress at Happy Chef restaurant. After graduation, Karen hopes to travel
to either Europe or England for two years. After that, she would like to return
to the states to attend graduate school to pursue her Master's degree in Psychology
at the University of Minnesota.
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