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This is a Professional Document
Prepared by Peter T. Pumpkineater January, 2011






This is a paragraph, even though you don't think it is a paragraph. It is pithy, arresting, and effective. This too is a paragraph—a bit longer, and more involved. Perhaps in this paragraph I am supporting the arresting claim that I made above. I am setting the scene here for the work that follows. I am giving you a roadmap, and you will follow the roadmap of my argument with the clear and effective signposts [ q ] that I'll provide in the rest of the document. This is metadiscourse. And this is a claim—a grounded claim well-supported by evidence—evidence from secondary research that I will synthesize for you, and/or from primary research that I and my colleagues have conducted.








This is a serif font—11pt Baskerville to be exact. It could just as easily be Palatino, or Optima, or even Cochin. Serif typefaces are great for body text, as the serifs generally make large blocks of text easier to read. You should always write body text in 11pt font or smaller, preferably with serifs. 12pt is way too big and clunky. Get over it. “Generally, if standard fonts & formatting are Here are Five Principles for Choosing and Using Typefaces. a » This is a Subheading about Margins «
ignored, documents stay at the bottom of my inbox for quite a while.” ~Associate Editor, Big Name Site

The margins of this document are set at a uniform 1”. Despite what Microsoft Word wants you to do, your margins should never be set at 1.25”. Never. (Yes, that was a paragraph). Sometimes you may wish to push the boundaries. Out, not in. In other words, you might adjust the heading margins outward, as I have above, to create better visual hierarchy among design objects on the page. Did you notice that? (Yep, paragraphs, headings, and lines are design objects too). But don't adjust them inward, unless you've got a very, very, very good reason. 1.25” margins have been known to physically hurt people—you don't want to hurt anyone, do you? Did you see that little line between “people” and “you” in the last sentence? It's called an em dash. It's super handy, and much nicer looking—and more professional—than the unsightly double hyphen. On a Mac, you can make an em dash by simply pressing shift + command + hyphen.

Headings Needn't be Small Caps, Nor Need They Push Margins
What they do need to be is consistent throughout your document. Professional documents are distinguished by their design consistency, or lack thereof. Your design decisions, of course, should be grounded in the needs and expectations of your audience. For example, I will expect you to design professionally consistent and rhetorically effective documents in 204, in single-spaced paragraphs. There are some general hallmarks of effective documents; I've noted several above. Here are some more:

— Use bullets judiciously + Did you know that you can control the look and feel of bullets? Sometimes simple, clean, and elegant bullets are non-standard. Like these. Bullets that don't look like bullets, yes? — Stay away from fonts that draw attention to themselves. There are many nice fonts, to be sure, but use fonts that support your design ethos, buttressed by coherent and considered rhetorical decisions. Sometimes you can outthink yourself. Don't. — Use ample white space; it's generally a good thing. It's not always above and below, for the record. — Use block paragraphs. Double spacing is for First Year Composition and Middle Schoolers. Professionals don't double space (except on the rare occasions when it's appropriate for a specific audience; then professionals will understand the governing gaze of said audience and adjust accordingly, kicking much ass in the process). — Use an en dash in between two numbers; see you Tuesday, 9:30–10:45!

Images, Graphics, Visual Cues
When it suits your argumentative direction and is consistent with your design ethos, deploy images, screenshots, graphics, et al.:

You know what they say about visuals in professional documents, yes?

Affordances, Gestalt, Etc.
Take advantage of the affordances of the medium in which you produce and distribute professional documents. Consider carefully the gestalt principles potentially at work in your document; think holistically. Sketch. Plan. Experiment with a purpose. How do you make your well-designed document look the same on everyone else's device? Make a PDF. Don't know how? LMGTFY...