Chapter 2: Visual Elements, Page Design, and Style

Chapter 2 Student Writers: add your names here

Kristen Nussear
Mark Yantorni

Writing Style

The way in which a writer expresses ideas is called writing style. Some writers, such as technical or scientific ones, have a serious, yet simple tone, while others, such as authors or poets, have an embellished or creative tone. Many writers know what it is they want to say, yet they do not know how to portray it on paper.

Writing styles are subjective, since each person has his or her own unique way of writing. The same ten people may all properly follow the rules of grammar and may all be conveying the same message, yet each person’s work is going to sound different.


Some may think that using large words and complex sentence structures are going to make them seem intelligent and that their documents are credible. This, however, should not be the author’s goal when writing the document. The most important aspect of writing the document is making certain that the audience understands its message quickly and easily. On the other hand it is important for the author not to write too informally, as if he were talking to a friend. This makes the document appear unprofessional and may even insult the intelligence of the reader.

One may be asking how the appropriate tone can be achieved. Two questions writers should ask themselves are “What is the purpose of/ why am I writing this document?” and “Who is my audience and what do I want them to understand?” The following subsections will help in answering these questions.


Think of the reasons why you are writing a document. It is vital that you understand the way in which you want to present your document, in order to give your audience an understanding of who you are and how you want the document to be read.

For example, if you are writing an angry letter to your neighbor, complaining about their dog barking in the middle of the night, then you are going to write “angrily”, in order to express your point. Likewise, if you are writing a thank you note to somebody, you are going to express kindness and gratefulness in your note.


In addition to conveying certain emotions in documents, it is important to understand who your audience is. If you are composing a resume for an employer, then your tone should be confident and should express that you are qualified to perform a job. This, as a matter of fact, applies to nearly all business-like documents. The three most important attributes to consider when conducting business writings are confidence, courteousness, and sincerity.

Likewise, an e-mail to your best friend is going to have a vastly different tone than a technical document created at work. The importance of obtaining the right tone is so that unfriendliness, informality, or unprofessionalism do not become a problem.


As mentioned in the above section, in order to present the information of the document clearly, the author must obtain a simple, yet clear tone. Using too many words can confuse, bore, or frustrate the audience. To avoid wordiness, make certain that the ideas of the document are well developed and that there is plenty of evidence to back the ideas up. Likewise, the following constructions will help with eliminating wordiness:


Ex: France bit off more than it could chew in Vietnam, and America's intervention was too little, too late.

This sentence could be improved by re-writing it as such: France obtained too much responsibility in Vietnam, and America’s intervention was insufficient.

Many people do not understand particular clichés. Take a minute to think about what you want to precisely say, and then proceed to write.


Ex: Most people usually think that many puppies are generally pretty cute.

These words are generally distracting and do not help in directing the readers’ attention to the point.

Redundant Words

Ex: Adrienne fulfilled all our hopes and dreams when she saved the whole entire planet.

Pick only one term from each pair of terms. The message will remain the same, but the sentence will be less wordy.

Prepositional Phrases

Ex: The reason for the failure of the economic system of the island was the inability of Gilligan in finding adequate resources without incurring expenses at the hands of the headhunters on the other side of the island.

This sentence can be difficult for a reader to comprehend. Find each prepositional phrase in the sentence and gradually remove one after the other until your sentence is shorter, but still conveys your point. Simply ask yourself, “Who/what did what to whom/what?

Negative Phrases

Ex: The fact that I did not like the aliens affected our working relationship.

A way to improve the sentence would be to write: The aliens must be addressed professionally. Remember to always locate and then communicate the problem. Make certain that no one is represented in a negative light.


It is better to use an active voice rather than a passive voice when constructing a document, for this gives the sentences clarity and simplicity. This gives the reader ease in understanding the point since he or she can more easily locate the noun and the verb in the sentence. Here is a correct use of the active voice compared to the passive, as well as other verb anomalies to avoid when creating a document:

Passive Voice

Ex: The alien remains were lost by the government.(OR) The alien remains were lost.

A sentence containing a “to be” verb and a past participle is a sentence in the passive voice. Here is the above sentence revised with the active voice: The government lost the alien remains. In this case, the subject comes before the verb and the sentence does not possess a past participle.

Active Voice

Ex: The boy threw the ball.

In the active voice, the subject is performing or causing the action, and is therefore placed before the verb. Active voice is much clearer and simpler to understand and should be used when creating a document.


Nominalization is the instance of a verb, adjective, or adverb is being used as a noun.

Ex: The discovery of the aliens was made by the government.

An improved version of the sentence would be: The government discovered the aliens. If there are too many nouns in one sentence, the action (verb) may be disguised as one of these nouns.


Another way to ensure a document can easily be read is by allowing content to be well-spaced. Information about a specific topic should be spaced further away from a different topic. Similar topics should be spaced closely together, while different topics should receive new headings and be placed relatively far apart. Likewise, headings give the reader a sense of guidance and ease while attempting to elaborate on a single subject.

It is additionally important for the document to have white space, in order to give the document a better appearance and readability. White space is merely an area in a document that contains no text or images, such as the space between this paragraph and the above one. Like spacing, indentations give the document more white space and also help to distinguish between paragraphs.

Likewise, it is vital that there need not be too many subsections on one section. For example, if one subsection has only one to two sentences in it, it could probably be combined with another subsection or put in the introduction. Spacing should always be used between titles, sections, subsections, graphics, lists, tables, and the like.


Though information can be organized by paragraph or section, it is also helpful to use either number or bullet lists. When information is organized into a list, it is often much easier to recall. Lists should only be made, however, if a particular point is being emphasized, or if a chapter or section is being summarized. One should not try to incorporate complex or lots of information into a list. In addition, number lists should be used if data needs to be put into a sequential order. Bullet lists, however, can be used if the order of the lists’ items is not important.


When data, a process, or a description of something is difficult to explain or a reader needs to visualize a concept, then charts, tables, pictures, graphs, and figures are helpful. Likewise, they immediately attract the reader’s attention to the information. It is additionally important that the author does not put too many visuals on one page, for it may make the page look too overwhelming or busy. All in all, a document must have a balance between visual content and written content.


Typography is simply the art of arranging type, type design, and text on a page. It is an important aspect in creating any technical document. Though many people think that the content itself is more important than the appearance of the document, they do not understand that typography attracts the reader’s attention to the document in the first place.

Serif vs. Sans Serif Fonts

It is important for the document to be attractive, but its typography must also match the style and tone of the document’s content. One must be careful not to use too many font enhancements, colors, or font types. This will only distract the reader and may change the message of the content.

It is vital to know which type of font is more beneficial to use. Serif fonts are more easily read than sans serif fonts because the letters are more sharply defined. Likewise, variable-width fonts have the same effect. Because their letters are placed closely together, they appear more cohesive, as opposed to fixed-width fonts, whose letters that are spaced apart equally, appearing more awkward. The following picture illustrates the difference between serif and sans serif fonts.


Serif fonts are more likely to be used when composing a more professional, technical, or formal document while sans serif fonts are more likely used in memos, e-mails, or informal documents.

Style Attributes

It is also important that the reader feels comfortable and informed when reader a particular text. Twelve point type font is approximately the preferred font size, for anything larger than 14 seems loud or aggressive, and anything smaller than 10 appears secretive. In addition to proper font size, the style attribute of a text, such as bold, italic, or underline, allows an idea to be more effectively communicated. Style attributes can create emphasis or point the reader to an important point within the text.

The above mentioned style attributes, bold, italic, and underline, are used to emphasis specific words, titles, or phrases in a document and each of them serves a different purpose.


Of the three style attributes, bold face stands out the most. It is used to bring immediate attention to important parts of a text and for easy scanning of a document. It is easy for the reader to locate information in bold face type.


Typically, one does not use italics to initially draw the reader’s attention. The purpose of italics is to emphasis a certain word or phrase as the reader is reading the text. Phrases in different contexts, such as foreign languages, metaphors, similes, and book titles are in italic type face.


Underlining is not typically used in technical documents, but it does not mean it is unimportant. The main function of underlining is to show grammatical errors, such as in Microsoft Word and editing. Likewise, it is used when citing sources in a document.