Creating and Evaluating Visual Elements: Paper-Based Documents

Since certain prescribed forms are common in professional and technical writing, document format is even more important than it is in most academic writing. The visual appearance of the document serves a rhetorical purpose as well as an aesthetic one, since readers expect to see certain elements of a document laid out in a particular way. Readers expect to see a certain kind of heading in a memo or letter, for example, and the same expectations hold true for reports, newsletters, brochures, and other kinds of paper-based documents.

Unlike academic essays, pieces of technical and professional writing are likely to incorporate visual features that call attention to information, such as bulleted lists, charts, graphs, tables, and illustrations. These serve to increase reader comprehension of the material in several ways:

1. They provide additional details about the information in the main body of the text.
2. They present the information in a visual form, thus allowing the reader to have two different methods of understanding the information.
3. They illustrate concepts or objects that are difficult to render in text form, such as the workings of a mechanism or the components of a theory.

Although our focus is on professional and technical research reports, the purpose of visual elements is similar in other kinds of print-based documents: